The Happening (2008) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • A science teacher, his wife, and a young girl struggle to survive a plague that causes those infected to commit suicide.

  • Elliot Moore is a high school science teacher who quizzes his class one day about an article in the New York Times. It's about the sudden, mysterious disappearance of bees. Yet again Nature is doing something inexplicable, and whatever science has to say about it will be, in the end, only a theory. Scientists will bring out more theories, but no explanations, when a more urgent dilemma hits the planet. It begins in Central Park. Suddenly and inexplicably, the behavior of everyone in the park changes in a most bizarre and horrible way. Soon, the strange behavior spreads throughout the city and beyond. Elliot, his wife, Alma, and Jess, the young daughter of a friend, will only have theories to guide them where to run and where to hide. But theories may not be enough.

  • Humanity is shaken into questioning its place in the natural order of things; is being at the top of the food chain an earned right or just a privilege afforded by Grand Design? A privilege which can be revoked in ways we could not have imagined.

  • Out of the blue, a sheer number of unprecedented and utterly unexplained incidents begin to threaten humanity, as a seemingly unstoppable and invisible menace alters the human behaviour beyond reason. Before this mind-boggling extreme situation, the high school science teacher and family man, Elliot Moore, along with his wife, Alma, try to comprehend the origin of the disaster--as everyone, including friends and neighbours--flee the contaminated area, heading to the safety of the unknown. But could these sudden and uncanny attacks stem from an unforeseen but intimate source? In the end, how can one fight back against an intangible adversary?

  • Lady in the Water director M. Night Shyamalan puts PG-13 suspense on pause to tell this grim apocalyptic tale about a family fleeing a natural disaster that poses a grave threat to the whole of humanity. Philadelphia high-school science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) is discussing the disappearance of the bees with his students when the staff is summoned to the theater and briefed about a mysterious event that is currently unfolding in New York City. According to reports, citizens in the vicinity of Central Park have suddenly and inexplicably begun seizing up just before killing themselves by whatever means are at their disposal. As the phenomena begins to spread and talk of terrorism fills the airwaves, Elliot, his wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel), their friend Julian (John Leguizamo), and his daughter, Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), board a train bound for the presumed safety of the country. When the train screeches to a halt before arriving at its final destination, however, the frightened passengers are forced to fend for themselves as each consecutive news report paints an increasingly grim picture of the situation in more urbanized areas. Theories abound on what could be causing the inexplicable rash of suicides, but the only thing that everyone seems to agree on is that it's some kind of airborne contagion that is carried in the wind. It would appear that humankind's reign on planet Earth has come to an end, but perhaps if this small band of survivors can find a safe place to lie low until this all blows over, all hope for survival of the species might not be lost just yet.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • The film opens in New York. People start to get confused in Central Park, repeating their words, standing still and sometimes walking backwards (Scott Troost). We hear a few screams. A woman (Alison Folland) reading on a bench takes her silver chopstick-style hair pin out of her hair and stabs herself in the neck with it. Meanwhile on a building site, workers (Curtis McClarin, Michael Den Dekker) on the ground are chatting when all of a sudden a body falls. Panicked, thinking the worker just fell off the roof by mistake, they rush over to his broken body. While they looked over the body, another thud, another worker. They look at him (Cornell Womack) confused; one is possible, two is unlikely, and when the third falls, it seems impossible. Then yet another and another, crashing to earth. When they look up they see many running off the edge, apparently by their own will, looking completely calm, and sure of their actions.

    In the next shot, we see a science teacher named Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg), talking about the event science can not explain about thousands of disappearing bees, no bodies left, no trace. A student offers the opinion that this is a natural event that we will never fully understand. Several students (Sophie Burke, Alex Van Kooy, Charlie Saxton) start to speculate on the phenomenon that is the disappearing bees, when Elliot is suddenly called out of class to a staff meeting warning about an apparent "terrorist attack" in New York in which terrorists have apparently released some kind of gas in Central Park, and advising that school is cancelled. As they leave, Elliot confesses to his friend Julian (John Leguizamo), a math teacher, that he and his wife are having some problems.

    Elliot and his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) flee Philadelphia on a train, with Julian, and his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez). On the train people start to get reports by cellphone that the attacks have been reported at their destination, and in many other places. Alma is getting repeated and insistant calls on her phone from someone called Joey (M. Night Shyamalan's voice), and she lies to Elliot about it.

    The movie moves on to show Rittenhouse Park in Philadelphia, where a woman (Jann Ellis) walks her dog and a breeze begins to blow. A traffic cop (Don Castro) walking through a traffic jam stops and comments to a taxi driver called Sal (Bill Chemerka) about the chilly weather. Suddenly everyone stops in their tracks, and the dog runs across the road after his leash drops to the ground, leading us back to the cop who is now standing still in front of the cab. A gunshot rings out and he drops to the ground. As blood spurts from a bullet wound on his forehead, the taxi driver gets out, walks over to the dead cop, picks up the gun from beside the body and shoots himself in the forehead as well. A woman in high heels steps off the sidewalk, picks up the gun again and we hear another gunshot.

    The train ends up leaving Elliott, Alma, Julian, Jess, and all the other passengers in a small rural town, as the conductors have lost radio contact with everyone else. At a diner they see a newscast that suggests the suicides are not caused by a terrorist attack, but by a natural phenomena. A reporter says that the toxin switches off the part of the brain that keeps us from harming ourselves.

    Julian has by now lost phone contact with his wife (who was visiting Princeton) and starts to panic as some lady shows Elliot a youtube type video she was sent on her iphone, showing a man walk into a lion's den at a zoo, and taunting the lions with his hands to try to get them to attack him (there's a graphic shot of him staggering with both his arms eaten off). Julian finds a lift with some people heading to Princeton; he leaves Jess with Elliot and Alma. When he gets there Princeton is also infected, and there are dozens of people hanging from trees over the road. The driver of the car crashes deliberately into a tree at high speed and Julian slashes his wrists with broken windscreen glass and dies (this is the one time you don't see anything graphic - the camera cuts away and we see less than the scene in the red band trailer; where you can see Julian bleeding from the wrists).

    Meanwhile Elliot and Alma decide, along with everybody else, to flee for the state line with Jess, as the attacks seem only to be affecting the northeast US. A nice couple who run a plant nursery offer to take them in their car. The man suggests to Elliot and Alma that the toxin is produced by plants. He explains the way plants can communicate with other plants, and the way they can release chemicals to get rid of specific pests.

    While trying to reach the state line they see bodies ahead in the road. Turning back they meet many other cars, all converging on a country road junction; all report bodies back the way they have come. Organized by an army private they abandon the cars and strike out on foot, heading for a small remote housing development one man who happens to be a realtor (Joel de la Fuente) knows about. It's new and small and not on any maps except local ones, so they hope it will be safe from the terrorists since it appears they are focusing on large cities and roads.

    From the junction one group leaves immediately, but most take a minute to get things from their cars, so walking across the fields they are in two groups. The smaller group (10-12 people), with Elliot, Alma and Jess, is in front. The larger (20-25 people), including the soldier and the plant couple, is behind them by 3 or 4 minutes. This larger group gets infected, and the soldier become delusional (shouting something about how he is a soldier and his gun is his friend, and he will not leave it). Then Elliot's group hears the gunshots as one by one they (presumably) use the soldier's gun to kill themselves. Elliot starts to believe that it is indeed the plants, and that the toxin is triggered by large groups of people. He yells at everyone to split up into smaller groups, and the group peels off into three smaller groups, all running away in different directions.

    Alma tells Elliot that if they are going to die, she wants to tell him something. One night, when she had told Elliot she was working late, she actually went out for tiramisu with Joey from work; but that's all that happened.

    After walking for a bit, Elliot counters with the fact that he finds the girl who works at the local pharmacy very attractive, and sometimes he buys cough syrup from her even when he doesn't have a cough: he later confesses he made this up.

    Elliot, Alma, Jess, and two teenagers find a showhome for the new development. There is some comic relief as Elliot talks to a plant he sees blowing inside, and introduces himself, saying he is giving good vibes so it won't harm him. It turns out the plant is plastic, but he keeps talking for a little just in case - feeling like an idiot. As they leave they look back, and see two small groups of people arrive at the showhome, forming one larger group (12-15 people approx). That many people trigger the toxin, and they stand around confused, except for one man who starts up a large commercial lawnmower, then lies in the grass in front of it as it rips him apart. (We assumed the camera would cut away, but it doesn't! As previously stated, this movie is extremely graphic!)

    Our five people all end up on the front porch of a boarded-up house, asking for food, while Jess plays on a rope swing suspended from a tree branch (the swing and the tree seemed very chilling and climactic, but nothing actually happened). The inhabitants of the house refuse to offer food or shelter, and the two teenagers start to get very aggressive, kicking at the door and shouting at the people inside. The inhabitants shoot the two teenagers dead: one through the chest and the second through the head. Elliot is horrified.

    Elliot, Alma and Jess move on till they find an old house with no power, which they think is abandoned. A spooky old lady (Betty Buckley) lives there, who chooses to remain out of contact with the whole world. She doesn't want to know about the event in the outside world; however, she gives them supper and a bed for the night.

    We (the audience) see a newscast discussing the toxin (our protagonists don't, as the house has no TV). A scientist is suggesting that judging from the severity and number of the attacks, and assuming some similarities to other kinds of natural toxins like ocean algae, the attacks will peak at 9am the next day, and very quickly fall away to nothing following that (there's a graph that shows a drastic tail-off of toxin activity).

    In the morning when Elliot wakes up the old lady tells him that he, Alma and Jess have to leave (she seems completely bonkers). She then goes outside into the garden, pauses, and starts walking backwards; the toxin has affected her. As Elliott cowers inside the house the old lady walks around the porch and headbutts the walls, and eventually the window, leaving glass splinters in her face and eye, and also letting in the wind (and the toxin).

    Elliot runs through the house trying to find Alma and Jess. He can hear them, but can't locate them. He thinks he hears them in the cellar, but when he goes in he is alone. Alma and Jess are actually outside in an old stone spring house (a remnant from the pre-Civil War Underground Railway). A speaking tube between the spring house and the cellar has transmitted their voices as clearly as if they were right next to Elliott; and Elliott can talk to them through this. He explains that the toxin now seems to be set off by even one person alone.

    Elliot decides that if he is going to die he doesn't want to die alone. They all leave their safe hiding places and walk into the middle of the garden and hold hands. The wind blows. Nothing happens. IT had ended.

    Three months later and they are all living back in Philly (which looks business as usual; while the streets are fairly empty, there are cars driving around, and people walking on the sidewalks). Jess is off to school by bus. Alma is doing a pregnancy test; it's positive, and Elliot hugs her and looks delighted. On the TV is a scientist warning that the event was like a red tide; the first sign that the planet is rejecting humans as pests. The host says that if that were true it would be happening in other places.

    Cut to the gardens at the Jardins du Louvre in Paris, France. Two guys (Stéphane Debac & Cyrille Thouvenin) are walking discussing plans for after work that evening. Cue distant scream; one guy starts to repeat his words about a bike, everyone stands still; other guy says (in French) "Oh my God".

    End credits.

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