Today, the summer of pseudoscience cinema continues in a surprising form: as M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Happening” premieres today, we ought to look closely at the message it purports to send about the nature of science, and its relationship with faith. I’m convinced that its message is not… entirely wholesome.
In his latest supernatural thriller, Shyamalan takes us to the end of life as we know it, which takes the form of an unknowable natural/supernatural disaster. That’s all well and good, but take a look at this trailer, and listen at 1:43 for this line:
Science will come up with some reason to put in the books, but in the end it’ll be just a theory. It will fail to acknowledge that there are forces at work beyond our understanding.
Uh oh. Syamalan through Wahlberg is parroting the creationist party line – which, listening to his interview on NPR’s “Science Friday,” he truly believes – that science, even with all its elitist “books,” is powerless to explain much of the world, since it “fail[s] to acknowledge that there are forces at work beyond our understanding.” From the interview, it seems that Shyamalan truly believes this message, puts it forth as a central tenet of his film, and hopes his viewers will walk away with it.
What Shyamalan is trying to teach his viewers is a “God of the Gaps” theory that sees gaps everywhere. Coupling this message with the familiar “it’s just a theory” canard, Shyamalan’s take-away points for his audience amount to nothing less than a complete abandonment of the scientific method. And as if that’s not bad enough, he’s putting the message in the mouth of a science teacher!
Now, I’m fine with suspending disbelief in the movies: after all, one need not believe that the Ark of the Covenant carries any secret powers to enjoy watching it sautée Nazis in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” But where the film purports to have a message relevant beyond the four corners of the screen, I begin to worry. If you doubt Shyamalan’s message, and his intent to have the audience walk away with this addled understanding of religion and science, please listen to the interview linked above. You’ll also get to hear Shyamalan misquoting Einstein to the benefit of theism. Shyamalan comes off as a true believer, with a message to communicate, and a willing audience.
And that’s a hell of a trick ending.