The Happening

The Happening ★★★½

I recently read Jean-Marie Straub on Hölderlin's utopia which Straub interprets as the basis for every communist revolution and the only lasting effort to save the planet:

»Was die kommunistische Utopie betrifft, so ist sie nicht meiner Erfindung. Sie ist das, was Hölderlin in der ersten Version im zweiten Akt des Empedokeles entwickelt:

Ihr dürstet längst nach Ungewöhnlichem,
und wie aus kranken Körper sehnt der Geist
von Agrigent sich aus dem alten Gleise.
So wagst! was ihr geerbt, was ihr erworben,
was euch der Väter Mund erzählt, gelehrt,
Gesez und Bräuch, der alten Götter Nahmen,
Vergeßt es kühn, und hebt, wie Neugeborne,
die Augen auf zur göttlichen Natur […]
«

Jean-Marie Straub: Der Wiederstand des Kinos

While sitting through the nearly three hours of Der Tod des Empedokeles -- »ein Film über die Zukunft der Menschen« -- I wondered how said future would echo in recent cinema, which brought to mind Shyamalan. The Happening and Der Tod des Empedokeles both share the same key shot of wind softly rattling through the trees. In S/H's case it's all diegetic sound and the basis for all of their cinema; with Shyamalan it's mostly FX and a death threat: the communist potential Straub read in Hölderlin's indelible verses was never realized, the planet was not saved and now the green has begun targeting civilization and kill them down to a less threatening level. "Nature is healing" but with the subject's agency fully realized. Like many of Shyamalan's films the superstructure is often more compelling than the people he chooses to fill it with, but the lead performances do blend in more and more naturally the more the film removes itself from its destination and begins to aimlessly wander the fields and villages. I love how soft-spoken Wahlberg is here and the blueness of Deschanel's wide-open eyes. Similarly, Der Tod des Empedokeles offers variations of the same conceptual shot -- men and women in relation to nature with all the meticulous planning and spontaneous light-play this allows -- and an utterly satisfying enactment of some of the most beautiful lines ever written. (I turned on the English subtitles for a bit and sorry to say but a lot of Hölderlin's beauty gets lost in the translation.) Primo example of what I termed constructive boredom, broken up by some choice performances. Both also exemplify individual fate for larger historical dynamics, but arrive at completely different ends. Shyamalan plays the banality of his protagonists lives against the severity of the circumstances for utmost sincerity, S/H heighten the split felt by Empedokeles with regards to the life in Agrigent by letting him more and more melt into nature. In Schwarze Sünde -- the "addendum" to Der Tod des Empedokeles -- Andreas von Rauch delivers his lines in voice-over while he lays down and presses his body into the earth as if even gravity has become a burden on his shoulders.

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