Joseph Rago looks at "The Happening" as the latest example of the desire for A Planet Without People in today's WSJ (sub req):
The "happening" is millions of men, women and children killing themselves, usually in creative ways, as when a zookeeper invites lions to chew off his limbs and a lady offs herself by French-kissing the toaster. The deaths, first believed to be terrorism, are actually acts of nature. Trees are releasing an airborne neurotoxin, as revenge against mankind for global warming, pollution and nuclear power. The genocide, we are told, is condign punishment for our ecological crimes.
The conceit extends a metaphor Al Gore proposed in his 2007 Nobel lecture: If "we have begun to wage war on the Earth itself," why wouldn't the Earth fight back? By the end of the film, the dwindling band of survivors -- whose more sensible response would have been to blanket the world's forests with Agent Orange -- repents, and is thus spared hideous death. In a recent interview, Mr. Shyamalan, best known for "The Sixth Sense" (1999), said that "The Happening" is intended to "wake everybody up" and "get back to the correct relationship with nature."
Obviously it isn't Hollywood's first environmental disaster flick. Think of 2004's "The Day After Tomorrow," where all it takes is the CO2-induced obliteration of the East Coast for Dennis Quaid to learn how to be a better dad. But catastrophic climate change in that movie was a simple plot device that could be replaced easily enough with, say, space aliens. "The Happening" is honest-to-Gaia green agitprop: Like the Lorax, Mr. Shyamalan is speaking for the trees.
SAINT PAUL NOTES: Roger Ebert is the only movie critic I've seen who has praise for The Happening. Mostly because he considered the premise of the Earth striking back against the sins of humanity as entirely plausbile:
For some time the thought has been gathering at the back of my mind that we are in the final act. We have finally insulted the planet so much that it can no longer sustain us. It is exhausted.
Hey planet, relax. Last week when I napalmed the ant mound in my back yard - it was nothing personal.
It never occurred to me that vegetation might exterminate us. In fact, the form of the planet's revenge remains undefined in my thoughts, although I have read of rising sea levels and the ends of species.
Uh oh, the rising sea levels. That sounds familiar. From another recently released horror show, the Obama Speech a few weeks ago:
Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal
I'm guessing Ebert was giving two thumbs up (at least) to this one.