Wide Awake (1998)

M. Night Shyamalan

Faith, Assurance, Revelation

Wide Awake (1998).  Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Starring Joseph Cross, Rosie O’Donnell, and Robert Loggia. Rated PG.  88 mins.  Rotten Tomatoes 67%.

In big ways, Thomas the Doubtful had it right.  Show me the evidence, please, in all of its gory glory.  Enough already with other people’s hopeful delusions.  After all, empirical reality confutes wishful thinking—and so it should, especially when it comes to used cars and saviors.  Although most of the science ever done and taken as “the surest thing ever” has later proved wrong by “progress,” we still bet our lives on it every time we fly or visit a physician to explain the pain in the abdomen.  In other words, material evidence says a lot, and, again, so it should (yes, even when it comes to inconvenient truths, like evidence for the urgency of global warming).  God gave humans brain, and in ample quantity.  Thank God.

Still, though, that ample supply of reason has historically not proven very much about the why and how of being alive.  Reason and observation, at least of the scientific kind, are not the only means of “knowing,” itself a much-debated, highly “fraught” category of consciousness.  A brief conversation about snow in M. Night Shyamalan’s Wide Awake makes the point as well as any.  Fifth-grader Josh’s grandfather, his very best friend, has died, and Josh now searches for evidence that his grandfather is “okay” in some afterlife.  Midway through his long quest, and on the verge of losing all belief, Josh sits in his grandfather’s rocking chair and, wearing his flannel shirt (the old fellow lived with the family), recalls a walk down a snowy driveway with his dying grandfather as they chatted about that awful thing (bone cancer) that was happening to him.

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Josh wonders at his grandfather’s relative calm in the face of death, specifically how he knows that on the far side of death awaits divine welcome, that “God will take care of me,” as his grandfather puts it.  Conversely, Josh wonders about “proof” for such a claim.  Grandfather invokes the intricate wonder and beauty of snow as a palpable example of divine love: ordinary beauty as sign and grace.  On the other hand, Josh sees the same as mere ice crystals, just as he learned in science class.  Well, who for sure knows what or how?  The old man advises that maybe Josh will have to find his own proof, his own evidence of things not seen, at least at present by Josh.  Indeed, Josh’s capacity for wonder, even of the sort a ten-year-old might experience, seems rather undeveloped, though that soon changes.

Midway through the story, as Josh mulls his despair as he rocks in the chair, he rather suddenly rises to look out the window to see a thick snowfall of fat flakes wafting downward.  In a long reverse shot, exultant music swelling, Shyamalan’s camera simply watches Josh’s face, now aglow with smiles and laughter.  Indeed, wonder and gratitude, and even joy, for something so simple as snow and all that it might betoken.

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By the end, Josh has come to know wonder and, thanks to the care of his grandfather, the possibility of a divine care for this world, and especially for the people in it.  One pathway to the latter, however, seems to be wonder, especially at events that not only seem fortuitous but bespeak the love imbued deep into the wonder-soaked fabric of this splendorous world.  The wonder that there can be in this messy, long-suffering place such a thing as wonder, love, thanksgiving, and self-giving, and even snow, well, that tells a lot of the purposes afoot amid this realm of soil and sea, sweat and tears.  There, in the “stillness between two waves of the sea,” says T. S. Eliot, “heard, half-heard,” the world bespeaks, in a wordless realm beyond speech, an abiding magnificence, though faintly grasped, an exultant splendor full of fire and love (“Little Gidding”).  Explain that, if you can; otherwise, “keep silent,” cut the incessant babble inside and out, so relish the courts of the Lord.  This even kids sense, though they, no more or less than anyone, know what to make of it.