In The Darkrnhy George McCartneyrnAccidental Heroes,rnOrdinary Tragediesrnl,a,st c’ar, M. Night Slnamalaii pertoiincdrna miiuiv miracle: Mouting HolKwoocl’srn|3<)lic ot giing the pubhc wliatrnit’s supposed to want, he found a wav torntell a uioralh complex talc and, at thernsame time, make it a huge popular success.rnI Isiug—at times strategiealh hcudingrn—the coiueutions of the traditionalrnghost storw he gac us The Sixth Sense,rnan uncommonK honest uarrahve about arnho and a man helping one another facerntheir mortal losses. He e’cn dared to invokernthe austere ision of classical traged’rnthat counsels us to come to terms withrnour mortal condition b’ choosing to acceptrnit. C)nl this, the Cirecks believed,rncan release us from deadi’s terrors. Slnamalanrnfurther suggested that such acceptancerncan be more than stoic: It can bernC’hristian as well, for it enables us to recogni/rne that the i)cst \a to deal with ourrnown losses is to help others face theirs.rnMxecuties in our popidar-entertainnicntrnindustr- generallx deem such notionsrninsufficientK’ smnn. Slnanialanrnbroke their one commandment—”I hournshalt not upset ()vr aiidicnce” —withrnsplendid residts. And he did so withoutrnresorting to special effects, save the onernhe used to draw a genuincK’ intelligentrnand touching performance from his star,rnthe nsualK’ insufferable Bruce Willis.rnIt’s against Slnamalan’s remarkablernachicement that J want to discuss hisrnnew film, Ihihreakahle, which is, I amrnafraid, a remarkable failure. Returningrnwith Willis once more, he has taken onrnccii bigger game: noHiing less dauntingrnthan the problem of eil theologicalh’rnconsidered. (In a world created b an inh])rniteK merciful, all-powerful God, howrnare we to explain infant leukemia, JosephrnStalin, and Nicaraguan nuidslides?) Tornmake his theology more palatable to therngeneral audience he so clcarK- wants tornreach, Slnanialan has chosen to dramatizernthis mctaplnsical issue within thernconventions of superhero comic books.rnUnforlunateK-, his gambit seems wholh’rnniisconccied. At best, superhero storiesrnoffer little more than a cut-rate, Maniclica?!rnuniverse of fro/en eithcr-or ab-rnVnhreakahlernProduced hy I’ouchshme andrnBhndhjg V.dge PicturesrnWritten and directed hrniM. Night ShranialanrnReleased h Buena Vista PicturesrnYou Can Count on MernProduced hy Cappa Production andrnThe Shooting GalleryrnWritten and Directed hy Ken LonerganrnReleased h Paramount Classicsrnstractions. Rendered in cartoon linerndrawings, their portraits ot virtue and villain}-rnmcreh’ gesture toward the subdc interplayrnof good and evil in our dailv lives.rnIt’s simply not the arena for a himble withrnthe problem of evil.rnThe narrative begins w ilh an accidentrnthat brings together two men who havernlittle in common but their biblieallv derivedrnnames. One is Wijah, plaved bv arnsinnnering Samuel I,. Jackson, fromrnbirth, he has suffered from a conditionrnthat leaves his bones so brittle thev l)reakrnon the slightest impact. Having spent hisrnchildhood alteniahng between immobilizingrnplaster-casts and painfid physicalrntherapv, he has become obsessed with invidnerablcrnsuperheros. As an adidt, hernmakes his living running a gallcrv sellingrnthe work of eomied:)ook illustrators.rnHe doesn’t deal in the mass-]3roducedrncomics themselves but die artists’ originalrnpcneil-and-pen drawings. The otherrnman is David fOunn, an luiassnining securitrnguard plaved bv Bruce Willis withrnthe brooding bafflement of a decent manrnwho has V et to find his life’s purpose. Elijahrnseeks him out when he learns hernhas smvivcd a catastrophic train wreck.rnThough all the other passengers wererncritieallv maimed or killed, Dav id hasrnemerged miscathed. J^lijah becomesrnconvinced fiiat David has special powers,rndie kind he believes somehow inspire thernintuitive imaginations of comic-bookrnartists. As he explains, he’s been “lookingrnfor someone at Hie other cud of the spectrumrn” from his all-too-vulnerable self, “arnperson put here to protect the of us.”rnIn other words, a superhero. Not sirrprisinglv,rnDavid initiallv rejects Elijah’s notion.rnHe a,ssumes die art dealer is eitherrndelusional or trving to seam him. ButrnElijah pierces his skepticism when herna.sks him if he’s ever been sick or injured.rnDavid can’t remember. He asks his bossrnand then his wife. Neither recalls himrnever taking a single sick da’. (This is onernof die film’s manv annoving implausibilities.rnI don’t mean the superpowers. Forrnthe story’s sake, I’m fullv ready to believernin such gifts. But a man who cannot recallrnwhether he has ever broken his radiusrnulna or come down with the flu?rnPlease. Wc might forget what we orderedrnat the restaurant three months ago, butrnnot if it gave us food poisoning.)rnStep bv step, David becomes awarernthat he is different after all. His adoringrnson, Joe (Spencer Treat Clark), becomesrnconvinced even sooner. Without lettingrnDav id know, Joe loads up his fadier’s barbellrnwith far more weight than he’s usedrnto. David onh’ discovers this as he suceessfullvrnbench-presses the bar. SurprisedrnIjy his strength, he has the bov addrnmore and more weight. To his amazement,rnhe soon finds he’s pressing ‘5S(Jrnpounds. (Another implausibilitv. Wouldrna responsible fadier such as David permitrnhis ten-year-old to load a barbell, especiall}’rnone resting preeariouslv on arnweight bench? Woidd he lift it withoutrnehecking die weight?)rnSuch gaffes mar the film again andrnagain, undermining our willingness tornsuspend our disbelief In his rush to graj)-rnple with his theme, Shyamalan has neglectedrnthe basic principles of storvtelling:rnThe stranger vour premise, thernmore conv inciiig vour details must be.rnAs for his theme, the problem of evil,rnShv’amalan has seriously overreachedrnhimself. Many artists have foundered onrnthe same rock, of course, including thosernworking in forms far more congenial torntheological reflection Hian film. ‘Hiink ofrnMilton’s .struggle to put Satan in perspective.rnWhile I applaud Shvamalan’s desirernto justif- the wav’s of God to man, hernneeds to find a better vehicle than therncomic book to do it, especiallv given hisrnpredilection for the somber, deliberaternFEBRUARY 2001/47rnrnrn