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Talking to Shyamalan About Everything But His Movie.

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Eric Kohn June 11, 2008 at 8:12AM

Talking to Shyamalan About Everything But His Movie.
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Some critics apparently enjoyed The Happening. I did not. It's sloppily executed, poorly written and the very premise is absurd. My father, a quantum physicist recently involved in the study of artificial photosynthesis, might have a thing or two to say about the idea that the trees would get mad at wasteful humans to the point where they'd release neurotoxins causing us to off ourselves; we could probably reason with them before things came to that. I was thinking about artificial photosynthesis during the movie because it's one of the many "real science" concepts that might work in an alleged sci-fi story like The Happening, but Shyamalan usually favors certain moods over cogent storytelling. Yes, The Sixth Sense twist worked well, but only to help explain the dour atmosphere. The movie's creepiness arises because seeing dead people doesn't make sense, but Shyamalan makes us believe it does.

Nothing in The Happening feels believable. It's a hokey premise with an uninspired resolution. It's got some heavy violence: A lion rips off somebody's arm and spacey victims pass a gun around like kind of some lethal joint, but the shock value never gets fleshed out. Nobody important gets struck with the condition; we don't get, say, Mark Wahlberg desperately trying to convince Zooey Deschanel that she doesn't need to slit her wrists. There's not much drama, and in its absence, we just get senseless death.

Anyway. That's just a long-winded intro to my interview with Shyamalan, conducted earlier this week at a midtown hotel. I didn't really want to discuss the movie with him, as you can probably tell, but I do find him a fascinating figure with some real potential as a storyteller, so I hope our conversation reflects that on some level. I would love to know what he thinks about my complaints, and I can only hope we meet again in a more casual setting to discuss them. As I left the hotel to reemerge in the sweltering afternoon heat, I couldn't help myself. "In your next movie," I told Night, "the bad guy should be the sun." He laughed.