In other news, I felt well enough yesterday to go out to a film, so I did. Stopped at Basil on the way, and got there around 6:45 to choose from among the films starting around seven. And oh, there were so many movies to choose from. Iron Man, which I was shocked was still playing, which I wanted to see when it first came out. Hellboy II, which I hear is excellent, though I never saw the first one. Several other movies that looked appealing. In the end I opted for a film I'd only heard dreadful things about, but had wanted to see ever since seeing the previews on TV at Cindy's house: The Happening.
I went online afterward to read some reviews of the film, because I was confused. I mean, it wasn't a great film, but it was certainly better than a lot of them. I'll go behind a cut, now, for those who haven't seen the movie yet and who might want to be unspoiled about it-- though there really isn't anything of note to spoil.
Point 1: I went to see this film beause the previews grabbed me with their creepy, creepy imagery. When I started hearing the bad reviews, I was afraid that all of the good parts had ended up in the preview and the other 89 minutes and 30 seconds were going to be fluff. But no. There were a few parts that dragged a little, but for the most part there was creepy imagery around every corner. It wasn't scary, in that jump-out-and-grab-you way. I don't really like scary movies. But the creepiness level was adjusted perfectly throughout, so if you like the level of creepy you see in the preview, you're probably in for an enjoyable enough 90 minutes on that score alone. This was sort of my mindset going in.
Point 2: The eco-message. The critics seem universally to detest what they see as a heavy-handed 'better be nice to the Earth or the Earth will strike back' message. I didn't see that at all. There was no preaching about pollution or global warming. The only time these two theories for what was going on were brought up was at the very beginning of the movie, when the only symptom of the problem was the disappearance of the bees (Incidentally, where on earth have I seen that before? OHYEAH! Doctor Who.) and Main Characterson was grilling his class on possible causes. These two options were tossed out by lackadaisical students who seemed just to be tossing out buzzwords without thinking about them, only to be disproven by their teacher. The real explanation espoused in this scene? Act of nature, something infinitely complex and beyond our understanding. As the movie progressed, I was brought swiftly back to Mr. Dorman's 9th grade biology class, where he did little else than offer doomsday predictions about how, based on all evidence from other areas of the animal kingdom, something is going to come along and level out the human race. And he showed us charts of what these sort of levelling phenomena looked like. And these charts were faithfully represented in the movie. They crop up seemingly at random, because our ecosystem is so complex that it takes time for things to grow accustomed to one another and evolve to deal with threats to the ecosystem. One reviewer said 'Why not just call this movie The Trees and be done with it?' (paraphrase -- also, for those reading who might not have seen the film, it's the trees evolved to emit some sort of poison gasses in the presence of too many humans). Well, the point isn't that the trees are angry at us for using so much paper. It's just that sometimes, sometimes, these things happen.
Point 3: So there's the premise, as far as I've worked it out in one viewing. But even then I wouldn't call it the point of the film. Across the boards critics just seemed to look at this film as a blah blah blah eco-message blah blah blah trying to be as creepy as the Sixth Sense and FAILING 'cause there's no plot sort of movie. Any mention of the two main characters, husband and wife, were confined to saying that the love story between the two was uncompelling, and one critic made some comment about the ending of the movie to the effect of 'Can True Love ward off killer mold spores?' Which, yes, if you read the ending like that, hell, that's pretty vapid. But anyone who takes the time to watch the development of the issues in Mr. and Mrs. Characterson's relationship through the movie can see a larger theme developing, mingling nicely with the 'Happening' premise, and then becoming sufficiently resolved by the end of the movie. Or, at least, I did. And I rather enjoyed it. I will 'splain as best I can on one viewing and no access to the script.
Mr. and Mrs. Characterson have issues with communication and isolation. Mrs. Characterson's cell phone rings off the hook for the opening few scenes, and she stares at it pensively, unable to pick it up except to hang up on the person trying to call her -- a man trying to make romantic overtures to her in the form of an affair away from her husband. An affair which HASN'T HAPPENED AND NEVER WOULD, thankssomuch to all the critics who panned the film for Mr. Characterson's blase reaction to her admitting her 'affair'. She won't connect with... Jake? James? any more than she'll connect with Mr. Characterson. On her wedding day Mr. Characterson's best friend (who dies creepily instead of saving his wife heroically from suicide-laden Princeton NJ, thanks) stumbles across her crying alone in her room. Little Girl shares her isolastionist characteristics. Mr. and Mrs. Supportingactor never even see one another in the course of the film. Main Characterson berates Mr. Supportingactor for trying to communicate on a personal level about Main Characterson's love life. These are a group of supremely lonely and isolated individuals.
When the 'terrorist attacks' begin, this interpersonal isolation is contrasted with the throngs of people flocking together toward escape routes away from NYC, and even heightened in this context, as we see each character going onto the train alone, then cars full of people trying to avoid extra passengers on their way onto the highways.
The nature of the 'happening' is geared extensively toward playing into these themes. If I have one complaint about the film it's the lack of emphasis on that first stage of the toxin's effects: inability to communicate. The final scene does it perfectly, I think, though I think it would have been more poetic in English ('My God...' 'My bicycle...'), and I would have loved to see more of that, though it does show up in the scene at the crossroads, where everyone in vain is attempting to use their cell phones, and the only voice we hear from the outside world, once she comes on speakerphone, is only babbling about calculus. This is the force of this 'happening,' transforming voluntary lack of communication into compunctory lack of communication, transforming voluntary emotional isolation into compunctory physical isolation. When even the gathering of four people in the middle of nowhere is enough to trigger the toxin's release and kill a woman who voluntarily hasn't seen another living soul in most of her life, husband and wife are separated in two houses connected with an iron pipe. To be together with one another means death. And suddenly that pipe becomes the center of their entire world. They speak to each other and cherish that communication, and mourn over the fact that they never spoke about their feelings for one another before, through an amazing discussion of a mood ring given as a gift on their first date: 'What color was love?' 'I don't remember.' 'Neither do I.' They decide to die together rather than maintian their happening-enforced separation (though, honestly, they could have left the litter girl in one of the houses, she didn't need to die for their love), and when they join hands in the middle of a green, lush field, a scene almost cliche by now-- it means something. The green lushness has taken on a different connotation. The joining of hands, the fond embrace is more than a physical closeness, it's the healing of an emotional separation that took a physical manifestation for them to realize simply wasn't worth it.
Point 4: Movies with this amount of subtler theme-management are few and far between these days. Actually using symbolism and small incidents to create an overarcing theme rather than bashing us over the head with it-- that's what we're used to. That's the reason critics look at this film and say, 'Eco-Message!' Because they're looking to be bashed over the head with a message. If they don't look any further, that's all they're going to see, and obviously all they did see. Then they have the gall to complain about being bashed over the head with a message. I wouldn't even say that the film was trying to hammer home a 'communicate with your loved ones' message so much as exploring the theme. I think it was well-done, on the whole.