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Signs

September 8, 2015

signsSigns is the third of M. Night Shyamalan’s series of films about coping with death (of the body or the past).

In How Movies Helped Save My Soul: Finding Spiritual Fingerprints in Culturally Significant Films, Gareth Higgins wrote: Gibson plays a Lutheran pastor struggling with his lost faith after the death of his wife: just to complicate (or indeed, redeem) things, aliens turn up in his cornfield. They scare the hell out of us, and the heaven into him, There’s one great scene in which he tries to calm his frightened brother by explaining that there are two kinds of people inthe world—those who believe that we are not alone, and those who believe that we are. He says that the fact that the first kind of person exists should he comfort enough for us in these dark times, and I suppose this is one definition of bearing each other’s burdens, Even when we doubt or experience disbelief the fact that others believe might he adequate to keep us afloat… its story is more about the healing of broken faith in God as it is about scary little aliens in the backyard, Its ending is a little too neat for me, and its answers too tight, but I cannot deny that it helped my faith at a low point. Perhaps it will do the same for you.’ p. 143

Graham no longer believes in God following the accident. He then says that there are “two kinds of people: those who see signs, miracles, and those who see coincidences. Which kind are you?”

Later, there is a flashback that shows Graham approaching the scene of an accident, still in his clerical suit. He sees his wife pinned to a tree by a truck, and the officer tells him that his wife won’t live for long, being held alive only by the truck pinning her into place.

Ghost stories are ubiquitous. Every culture has them, but for most people in the contemporary world, the idea of ghosts walking around is ludicrous. But what if ghosts really do exist–not in some alternate fantasy world, or in legends, or in the minds of clearly flaky people–but in our own world? Shyamalan explored that question with The Sixth Sense, https://layreadersbookreviews.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/the-sixth-sense/ creating a film that is as dramatic as it is thrilling.

signs 2MERRILL (whispers): Some people are probably thinking this is the end of the world.

Graham turns his sleepy eyes away from the screen to Merrill.

GRAHAM (whispers): That’s true.

Merrill looks his brother in the eyes. Beat.

MERRILL (whispers): Do you think it’s a possibility?

GRAHAM (whispers): Yes.

MERRILL (whispers): How can you say that?

GRAHAM (whispers): That wasn’t the answer you wanted?

MERRILL (whispers): Can you at least pretend to be like you used to be? Give me some comfort?

Beat. Graham thinks it over.

GRAHAM (whispers): There are all different ways you can tell that there’s someone really there watching out for us.

You see signs. Sometimes they’re little ones. You think of someone. The phone rings. They’re on the phone… Sometimes they’re big, like fourteen lights hovering over Mexico City.

(beat)

Sure, there are a lot of people watching this who think this could be a bad thing. But there are a lot of people watching this, who think it’s a miracle. A sign of God’s existence. It’s all in how you look at things Merrill.

(beat)

What you have to decide is what kind of person you are? Are you the type who believes in miracles and looks for signs or are you the kind who believes, things just happen by chance?

Beat. Merrill is deep in thought.

MERRILL: I was at this party once. I’m on a couch with Sara Mckinney. She was just sitting there, looking beautiful and staring at me. I go to lean in and kiss her and I realize I have gum in my mouth. I turn and take out the gum. Stuff it in my paper cup next to the sofa and turn around. Sara Mckinney throws up all over herself.

(beat)

I knew the second it happened. It was a miracle. I could have been kissing her when she threw up. That would have scarred me for life. I may never have recovered.

Merrill looks at the TV screen. Beat.

MERRILL: I’m a miracle man. Those lights are a miracle.

Graham smiles.

GRAHAM (whispers): There you go.

Beat.

MERRILL (whispers): So which type are you?

Beat.

GRAHAM (whispers): Do you feel comforted?

MERRILL (whispers): Yes.

GRAHAM (whispers): What does it matter then?

The two of them turn back to the silent screen of the television. It’s a long beat before Graham speaks.

GRAHAM (whispers): Do you know what Colleen’s last words were before they killed her?

Beat. Merrill turns and stares quietly at his brother.

GRAHAM (whispers): She said, “See”, and then her eyes glazed a bit and she said… “Tell Merrill to swing away.”

Merrill’s mouth opens a bit. Graham turns and chuckles at his expression.

GRAHAM (whispers): Do you know why she said that?

Merrill nods, “No.”

GRAHAM (whispers): Because the nerve endings in her brain were firing as she died, and some random memory of us at one of your baseball games popped into her head.

(beat)

There is no one watching out for us Merrill. We’re all on our own.

Graham turns back to the television. Beat.

Apart from the aliens invading Earth, what is ‘Signs’ saying? This is not easy to pick up until some way into the film (if then), when we discover that the underlying questions are to do with faith. At one point, Hess tells the shop assistant in his local town: Please stop calling me Father!

As Hess and his brother prepare for the alien attack, Hess claims that people fall into two groups: the first group believe in more than luck; they believe in signs. They believe that there is someone looking out for them, and this gives them hope. The second group only believe in luck, and they feel alone. In the midnight hour, Hess asks his brother the poignant question: What kind of person are you?

There is no-one watching out for us, Merrell. We are all on our own

The evening meal before the alien attack is reminiscent of the Last Supper but Hess refuses to say a prayer about what might befall them during the night. However, during the time when they are holed-up in the cellar, Hess declares: They know our minds. They know our secret thoughts.

Is he thinking about the aliens, or about God? Is this a portrayal of God as someone coming to invade earth and invade the private space of individual people?

There was little in the film to portray God as an all-powerful, all-loving being who wants to pervade our lives with his love. Maybe, at the end of the film when Hess is restored to his vocation as a minister, the link is made between God, goodness, healing and restoration but it’s never explicit. Depending on what we individually believe, it would be easy to miss this theme and draw our own conclusions. In this sense, the film is very pluralistic. It is up to us to make of it whatever we will.

The alien attack induces an asthmatic attack in Hess’s son, Morgan. At the end of the asthma attack, the alien noises have stopped and Hess declares to the darkness: I hate you!

Is it the alien, or is it God he hates? Probably God, bearing in mind how he has not resolved his feelings about the death of his wife. Hess talks about God punishing us. But later he returns to the themes he discussed earlier with his brother about two types of people. He sees things in a new way once Morgan’s asthma attack has subsided, and says: Believe and do not be afraid

After the alien attack, and after the flashback to his wife’s death, there is real reconciliation. Morgan asks his dad: Did someone save me?

Hess replies: I think someone did

However, it is all left very cryptic. There’s no mention of God. We are left to draw our own conclusions based on whatever we believe.

While talking to the CHICAGO SUN TIMES, Shyamalan revealed, “Originally, I wanted the movie to end with Mel Gibson’s character finding his faith and then pulling up to a horrible car accident where a teenage girl is dying. He gives her last rites and whispers, ‘Don’t be afraid because you’re not alone.’ It was a great ending with real power, but I worried that some would think I was pandering to our basic emotions. And the last thing I thought a lady who works 14 hours a day needed to see on a Saturday night was a teen dying on a street.” http://www.mania.com/shyamalan-talks-original-signs-ending_article_36018.html

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