Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Ecology Of A Director's Mind

Having seen The Happening, I can almost guarantee that M. Night Shyamalan's next film will be something totally out of character for him, something none of us would expect him to do. I'm saying this because I've noticed this trend among directors, when they display a certain stuck-in-a-rut tendency, as if they've hit a wall. The most telling symptom is when there's a ton of references to their previous films in their latest.

Most recently, it happened with Kurosawa Kiyoshi. His Retribution was like a mish-mash of ideas and elements from his other films. And then he went and made Tokyo Sonata, a family drama. In The Happening, you can spot shots similar to those in The Sixth Sense, or moments when Shyamalan plays up the suspense with sounds, like in Signs. There is also a train sequence.

I see The Happening as a comedy-thriller. You can dispute me on this, but the kind of close-ups Shyamalan uses on his actors, the quirkiness they display (especially Mark Wahlberg who's allowed to be almost hamming it up), the situations they get themselves into - they're all clearly indications of the director either bored out of his mind or having a little fun by derailing his own familiarity to audiences.

The ecological slant of the story can't do much to prop up the film that is really one simple idea stretched to fill in a feature-length running time. The likelihood that ideas were thrown in randomly grows gradually more certain as the situations in the film become increasingly incongruous.

And the ambiguity of the threat of an airborne toxin doesn't quite lend itself to anything in particular. As such, you can't help but feel as if it's lazy writing. Shyamalan prepares us for it early in the film though. As Wahlberg's character addresses his students in class, he tells them that scientists may come up with explanations for things but in the end they're all just theories, and there will always be things about nature that we won't be able to understand.

That's like saying: "In this film, don't try to figure anything out."

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