Shyamalan 0: Wide Awake (1998)

or, the twist is… he was god all along!  Or something.


We’d probably consider this film a neglected masterpiece if Shyamalan was worth talking about.  Says the man who’s now written six thousand words on him…

I grew up in a Christian household.  At various points in my adolescence my dad was training to be, or a practising member of the clergy.  When people talk about these experiences, they tend to frame them around the social ignorances that are preached at a young age and the fairy tales that are communicated at truth.  Which is fine.  I mean these are true things.  They’re fairly despicable and whatnot, but they’re pretty easy to deprogram yourself from.  What remains harder to escape, are the smaller anxieties that are thrust upon you.  The need to say grace before every meal.  The guilt you feel on a Sunday morning when you’re sitting in a café rather than at church.  The hymns I hear in my head every morning in the shower.

I won’t escape these complexities.  I’m not that fussed about it, after all, something doesn’t have to be true in order to have value.  I kind of appreciate being thankful for the basic luxuries I take for granted, and enjoy the profound mystery of the lyrics of Charles Wesley.  But my life is riddled with experiences that are very hard to communicate to someone who grew up in a secular family.  They’ve become a personal mythology, more than a religious mythology to me.

One such element of my childhood was my family’s adoration for C. S. Lewis’ Narnia sequence of books.  Boosted by a quaint but genuinely thrilling BBC children’s television serial, me and my sister would re-enact the stories again and again.  We would, with our friends The Johnsons, play The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in my grandparent’s back garden.  Jill Pole was renamed Hannah Pole because Becky didn’t like the name Jill.  Sarah, a tomboy whether she liked it or not, was a permanent Edmund.  I, in all my vainglory, was Peter.

My parents secretly encouraged this love, because after all, Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a fairly transparent allegory for the death and resurrection of Jesus.  At some point this was explained to me, and led, in the haywire of my juvenile mind, to believe that all significant characters in the pop culture I consumed were Jesus.  Darth Vader was… Jesus.

It was true when I wrote about The Last Airbender and it’s true now; just because something is interesting as a child, does not mean it is interesting as an adult.  Shyamalan, in his fetishization of cinematic childhood, as wasted too much screentime on the needless concerns of children.  And it needs to stop.  It’s even in the bloody Bible, in 1 Corinthians 13 v 11: When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  Shyamalan would benefit from reading a little more scripture, and spending a little less time coming up with some nonsensical theory of non-realist religion.

It’s not a bad film, it just tonally sits outside the rest of the Shyamalan canon.  It’s a fairly sweet, supposedly comedic film about faith.  It suffers mainly because of the inclusion of Rosie O’Donnell, at the height of Miramax’s we’ll-put-her-in-everything phase.  Here she plays a baseball-obsessed nun.  As a teacher, she plans marginally better lessons than Mark Wahlberg.  On the other hand, she’s an awful long way from Michelle Pfeiffer…



Shyamalan rankings:


  1. The Village
  2. The Sixth Sense
  3. The Happening
  4. Lady in the Water
  5. Signs
  6. Unbreakable
  7. Wide Awake
  8. The Last Airbender
  9. After Earth

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