Archive for M. Night Shyamalan

Film: M. Night Shyamalan: The Happening (2008)

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , on January 21, 2009 by baker

It’s hard to overstate what a monumental achievement is M. Night Shyamalan’s brand new major motion picture.  No longer need M. bravely navigate the vast, deep sea a mid-sized fish among whales and sharks; with the masterful orchestration of dramatic and emotional turmoil that is The Happening, M. establishes once and for all that he is a great big aquatic creature who can chomp on all the littler fishes and eat their bones too.  He exhibits a twenty-first century understanding of man’s subconscious, while exposing the inherent deceit in conventional drama and tapping into a wondrous new arena of fear, heretofore unexplored by modern art.

The Premise, familiar to anyone who has read the title, is that a thing is taking place.  Hardly new territory for the developing master, M. plums the existential, faintly mythological, terror inherent in such an occurrence in the opening scenes.  Helpfully stereotyped New Yorkers become uncharacteristically catatonic as Something happens around them, after which they kill themselves in inspired ways – a hairpin through the neck, a flying leap off a construction site.  To be fair, M. has the most trouble with these opening scenes of mass death, allowing them to adhere too closely to disorienting, unpredictable naturalism, and not close enough to M.’s superior insight into man’s true nature.  It’s a mistake he won’t repeat.

For very soon The Unseen Force unleashes not widespread panic and extensive social disarray, but something akin to meditative complacency, as millions of New Yorkers quietly abandon their lives aboard trains bound for Bucks County, with narry an obstructive thought to destination, nor even further action.  Faintly, I am aware that M. knows something.  Something I don’t know.  Something, maybe, none of us know.  It’s as though he, M., has projected himself into the very living consciousness of modern man and forecast his future. In the pastoral cornfields of southeastern Pennsylvania.

This, too, should not surprise us. M. has long posited Bucks County as The Once and Future Mecca for discovery of all kinds, the geographic point of critical mass where Man meets his Destiny. Here, in Signs, he showed us the definitive meeting in the cornfields of man and extraterrestrial; in The Village, is it the nexus of hope and deception, embodied – not without a certain visionary delirium – by a cloak of 17th century Puritanism in the natural, isolated greenery. Now, M. cuts straight to the mortal chase, bestowing the power of death on Bucks itself, a place as characterized by Vegetation as is man by the struggle between Fear and Love. As ordinary folks pick themselves off beneath lawnmowers, slamming their cars into trees, jumping out of windows, the inevitable showdown pits M.’s heroes (cleverly cast Marky Mark and the daughter of the guy who shot The Black Stallion – neither, then, unfamiliar with exposure), trapped in their little human bodies, against the unyielding, invisible, virtually silent forces of breeze and plant hate.

Scoff if you must, ye of atomic and cancer fears, but this is the epic stuff of myth, of eventual legend. M. taps into the subconscious of our subconscious, past our ordinary terrors and into the realm of fears not yet feared. Of the fears our myopic mistreatment of the world will soon engender, paradoxically located at the point of mankind’s oldest emotion: vengeance. Abel’s worst nightmares, dreamed in the leafy Garden of Eden, would not have prepared him for the horror wrought by Cain, any more than our deepest digressions into The Unknown would prepare us for the awful hurricane of retribution rained down on us by M.

And NOTHING would prepare us for the way M. resolves the crisis and restores our faith in humanity. The big fish – the masters of cinema – have fought a constant swim against the tide between expectation and dramatic resonance, but M. proves himself the biggest fish of them all by abandoning the swim entirely and calling the tide’s bluff. Expectation has nothing to do with life, M. (and God, through the story of Cain and Abel) tells us. Mysteries do not crop up to be explained. Things happen. As we grapple with their meaning, we self-examine, compelled to counter unknowable reason with personal belief and experience. In that gap between what we understand and what we don’t, we find our True Selves, our Convictions, our Love and our Generosity, oblivious to crude earthly fact or the threat of certain bodily destruction…for in the Cosmic Sphere of Existence, we are Really Nice.

Redemption is ours.

And then, like a fart in the wind, the poisonous mystery can vanish.

Update: The Happening

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , on January 18, 2009 by baker

Just heard on TV: “The director of The Sixth Sense brings you his first R-rated film: The Happening. Starting Friday the 13th”.

We are FUCKED.

Film: A Preemptive Word About M. Night Shyamalan

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , on January 18, 2009 by baker

Ten days from the eve of the release of Master M. Shyamalan’s latest magus opus The Happening, a speculative gesture toward the universe of individualistic profundity that inhabits his films. I feel uniquely suited to The Task, having seen every major film he’s made since The Sixth Sense, easily the worst of M.’s progressively brilliant catalogue.

At the time of The Sixth, M.’s problem was a distinct lack of commitment to the personal nature of his plot twists. “Alive” to “dead” has a certain mythic stature, but lacks M.-based dimension. Surely he saw the problem at once, and moved to correct it in the subsequent Unbreakable, giving witness to The Cinema’s first (to my knowledge) and heretofore only whip smart ending involving naturalistic comic book heroism. Fantasy and salt-of-the-earth reality coalesce to form a striking indictment of purple-clad men, but M. shot into The Stratosphere of personal filmmaking three years later with the jolting psychological revelation in Signs – psychology of otherworldly proportions.

Not content with the earthly sideshow melodrama of Mel Gibson’s religious fanaticism, the wearing of foil hats, and the crushed-car death of his wife, M. posits a race of aliens who would consciously travel potentially light years through space and certainly time to make art in cornfields – on a planet overwhelmingly irradiated with a toxic liquid. Nevermind the artistic drive of these sentients; the psychosis compelling them to risk life and scaly limb for the sake of creation alone inspires a complex mix of anxiety, awe and, really, personal introspection. Would I do the same? Would I support a friend doing the same? Alone with my thoughts at night, the question still Haunts me.

The quandary frightened us, upending the illusion of self-willed destiny we maintain as a matter of necessity. M. graciously scaled back a bit in his next outing, confining his great paradoxes to this, our own, mortal coil – and answered the fears of The Many. Conjuring a pod of intellectuals going out of their way to force their own destiny, of The Village M. fashioned a blazing blood-red beacon of hope for those of us jangled to the bone by insecurity, by the untidy, discomforting rigors of programmatic modern life, by Bush and his scare-mongering control tactics. The albino savior, raceless and more or less sexless, leads us to freedom from the arch confines of intellectual oppression. And we are redeemed.

Abject irresponsibility undoubtedly led most of the studios – and here I am talking about Disney – to pass on M.’s next project. They saw The Truth layered throughout, and yielded shamefully. Lady in the Water, a searing, scathing, rapacious diatribe against evil itself, shocked and disturbed in ways M.’s previous work could only think about, lightly. Expansively addressed to both The Everyman and the giant cat-wolf monsters of Wolfgang Petersen’s inimitable The Neverending Story, M. adds a touch of class and grass to the proceedings with the sensitive casting of Paul Giamatti, and with grass, but he does not stop there. Conscious of the thematic limitations of his prior work, M. addresses himself, as Himself, the god and creator of the rapidly strengthening M. Night Shyamalan universe. The boundless Storyteller. The Prophet. The Lord of Redemption, attacked and belittled by those of no faith and less intellectual and aesthetic authority. The Power of the Story Denied. Thought Denied. Belief Denied. Life Denied. Consciousness Itself Denied.

We are drained. It may be impossible for M. to top himself here, although the title The Happening suggests a keen awareness of the perils of excessive directness. His latest may have to be an entirely black screen with a silent soundtrack to completely destroy our blown minds.