Mark Wahlberg’s science teacher contends with his own confusion while gratuitously alluding to Einstein.
Zade Rosenthal. c 2008 Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved.
Last night I saw The Happening, which is hands down the worst film since Battlefield Earth. I savor big-budget, mindless popcorn romps (Independence Day, yay!) but The Happening was a nasty lump of awful dialogue, overacting/nonacting, and ludicrous pseudoscience. I’m not sure how this film even got released. Several people fled the theatre as it became painfully clear just how bad it was. Those of us who stayed were gripped either by morbid curiosity or, possibly, by neurotoxins driving us to self-harm.
Based on the wacky-yet-cliche characters and bizarre visual set pieces (two knitting grandmas wearing gas masks), I’d guess M. Night Shyalaman was trying to do something potentially intriguing: hybridize the quirky Americana genre (“Northern Exposure,” Forrest Gump) with the classic disaster film. Unfortunately, he didn’t succeed. Once the film solemnly announced that lethal airborne botanical “cotransporters” (!) were making our neurotransmitters shut down, which, logically, resulted in immediate organismal apoptosis, I had to accept that Shyamalan wasn’t interested in even a veneer of realism.
In this interview with Scientific American, he makes a stab at credibility:
But there’s so much unexplained stuff. I don’t quite understand the scientific explanation of the placebo effect. What is the core of that? The fact that the placebo effect exists is a fact, but what is it? We have no idea. I love that. I even love that with regard to the home-court advantage in sports. What is that? It’s connected to a belief system. Both things, the placebo and the home-court effect, are a belief system that we can turn thought into actual biological function. In and of itself, that’s something that science says is not possible. But you can document it.
Er, okay. Last I checked, the reason we had placebos in trials is because we all agree the placebo effect is very much possible – unavoidable, actually. Shyamalan seems to think that if science has not yet completely explained something, it’s obvious that science is inadequate to ever do so. Therefore, we should abandon it. I begin to see why people thought this film was an apology for ID!
Laelaps already had a field day with Shyamalan’s pseudoscientific garble, so I won’t venture into the weeds. But I just wish Shyamalan hadn’t gone there either. I liked The Sixth Sense and loved Unbreakable. I even enjoyed The Village. I’m more than willing to suspend my disbelief and take a flight of fancy, as long as a film doesn’t rub my face in inaccuracies and aggressive ignorance. (I barely blinked an eye when Jeff Goldblum saved the planet by infecting the alien fleet with a computer virus he cooked up on his Mac laptop.) A film doesn’t have to be scientifically plausible to be good entertainment – just leave science out of the equation! To paraphrase my mother, if you don’t have anything accurate to say, don’t say anything at all.
But Shyalaman couldn’t do that, because his entire thesis is that science is inadequate. And by gum, if real science wasn’t inadequate enough for him, he’d glue together some craptastic “science” that would prove his point! At the end of the Scientific American interview, he promises to return to this theme:
the science is such a fun kickoff point for larger issues. It does have that based-on-a-true-story feeling to it. You can really take it one more step and just take it to a nightmare situation and then wake everybody up. I definitely have a couple things noodling around in my head now.
To which I think we all reply, “Nooooooooooooooooooooo!”