It's About Zombies, Dummy, Not Global Warming


Critics are calling M. Night Shyamalan's new movie, The Happening–in which plants release toxins that cause Northeasterners to kill themselves–a dystopian vision of the consequences of global warming (as well as a terrible movie), but Shyamalan says that's not what The Happening is about:

CNN: So a lot of people are going to see this and say, "Is this an environment movie?" Are you sending an Al Gore-like message out here, or is it just a thriller?
Shyamalan: No. 1, it's a B movie. This is the best B movie you will ever see, that's it. That's what this is. If there's other things that stick to your ribs as you walk out, that's great, but it's supposed to be, you know, zombies eating flesh.
CNN: So when you say B, you don't mean honeybee?
Shyamalan: No, I meant like, you know, zombies and killer things running around.

James at Gone Elsewhere reviewed the script of The Happening in August 2007, calling it, "The Day after Tomorrow…with plants." Perhaps anticipating that moviegoers would interpret the movie as an enviro-film, Gone Elsewhere slammed The Happening's not-so-subtle approach to the possible consequences of humankind's footprint:

The Happening features the most moronic environmentalism in the history of cinema. It makes On Deadly Ground look like An Inconvenient Truth….The Kindergarten-level message of the film is that if Mankind continues to be cruel to nature…nature will eventually fight back. In case you miss this (despite having it sledge-hammered into your brain for two hours) don't despair: Shyamalan has characters spell-it-out for us throughout the proceedings.

The talking head scene at the end of the movie, in which an environmental expert explains the event as nature's way of defending itself and warns that the event was only a "prelude" to a more catastrophic attack, reinforces the critical sentiment that The Happening is a really, really, bad environmental movie.

But there are some aspects of the plot that suggest the environmental aspects are only a means for scaring us for the sake of scaring us, and not a strategy for raising environmental awareness.

I submit as evidence one of the movie's more explicit ironies: The few characters in the movie who are modeled after green freaks die horrible deaths. The greenhouse owner, who is the first character to suggest that it's not terrorists releasing the toxin, but plants, shoots himself, as does his equally earth-friendly wife. And the old lady who lives off the grid, grows her own crops, and doesn't own a car, ends up being bat-shit insane, killing herself by repeatedly headbutting the side of her earth-friendly house.

The two Philadelphia survivors–Mark Wahlberg's and Zooey Deschanel's characters–on the other hand, live to pollute another day, and the second to last scene of the movie shows Deschanel optimistically sharing the results of her positive pregnancy test with an equally joyful Wahlberg–which suggests that the two are bringing more rabid consumers into being. As if this wasn't enough, the final scene of the movie depicts the toxin infiltrating France, a country known for its environmentally-friendly regulations.

Here's a classic literature class question (posed to me by reason's very own green guru, Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey): Does the movie mean what the director says it means, or is it up to the critics to tell us what to take away from The Happening?

Check out Bailey's debate on Global Warming here and Tim Cavanaugh's comprehensive look at zombie cinema here.