"Faith in What?"
What You Need To Know:
Mel Gibson stars in SIGNS as Graham Hess, an Episcopal priest who loses his faith and retires when his wife dies in a senseless car accident. Graham retreats to his farm with his two small children and his brother, a former minor league baseball player. A strange crop circle appears in the cornfield one day, and a shadowy figure seems to be stalking the farmhouse. Tension mounts as the whole world becomes gripped by the appearance of strange lights in the sky.
SIGNS is another monster movie following EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS and MEN IN BLACK, but it takes itself much more seriously. On one level, it’s the classic story of man triumphing over the other, either a monster or an alien. On another lever, it’s the story of a man wrestling with his faith. In the first instance, the movie is very satisfying, with an excellent performance by Gibson, although my favorite in this area is still WAR OF THE WORLDS. In the second instance, the question is faith in what? SIGNS is too scary for children, and, despite some strongly redemptive, Christian elements, also incorporates some false Hindu worldview elements with New Age themes
(Pa, FR, BB, CC, L, VV, M) Slightly syncretistic, false Hindu worldview with some moral elements, some solid Christian metaphors to the Cross, God and the sanctification of water baptism, and New Age discussions about UFOs and aliens; several light obscenities; scary, spooky violence includes vicious dog barking at child, implied killing of said dog, scary figure haunts farmhouse and cornfield, implied car accident rips pedestrian’s body, fingers sliced off, beings scare and grab children, discussion of humans being killed, and humans fight beings; no sex; no nudity; and, nothing else objectionable.
Acclaimed writer and director M. Night Shyamalan has had a fair amount of critical and commercial success exploring supernatural realms in such movies as WIDE AWAKE, THE SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE. He returns this year with another spooky movie that’s sure to cement his reputation for being a unique presence in the cinematic world.
Mel Gibson stars in SIGNS as Graham Hess, an Episcopal priest in a small Pennsylvania town who loses his faith and retires when his wife dies in a senseless car accident. Graham retreats to his farm with his two small children and his brother, a depressed minor league baseball player with the home run record but also with the strikeout record.
The movie opens with strange things happening on Graham’s farm. A shadowy figure appears to invade Graham’s cornfield and the roof of his house. In one scene, his daughter awakens Graham, calmly asking for a drink of water while telling him that there’s a monster outside her bedroom. Then, one day, Graham wakes up to discover that someone has mashed down part of his cornfield to create a bizarre pattern that could be some kind of sign. Graham and his brother Merrill think that the culprits may be a couple of local juvenile delinquents, but Graham’s children begin to talk about aliens invading the earth. As the tension mounts, and the attacks on his family increase, Graham keeps focusing on the night his wife died. Is there a connection between his wife’s strange last words, or is everything just a coincidence?
SIGNS is a riveting suspense movie that effectively combines both the horror and science fiction genres. Mel Gibson gives another excellent performance as the ex-priest tormented by his wife’s death. He mixes that torment with a strong desire to do whatever it takes to protect his small children. Viewers will sympathize greatly with his efforts. Joaquin Phoenix, who played the evil Roman emperor in GLADIATOR, lends fine support as the helpful brother.
SIGNS is another monster movie following EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS and MEN IN BLACK but it takes itself much more seriously. On one level, it’s the classic story of man triumphing over the other, either a monster or an alien. On another lever, it’s the story of a man wrestling with his faith. In the first instance, the movie is very satisfying, though my favorite in this area is still WAR OF THE WORLDS. In the second instance, the question is faith in what?
Hollywood is heavily marketing SIGNS into the Christian community, just as HARRY POTTER was marketed into the Christian community. Although this movie is not clearly the dangerous witchcraft of HARRY POTTER, it does require that Christians test the spirits. In this regard, the movie tries to be ambiguous, and not present any particular theological perspective toward faith. Although the protagonist is a retired Episcopalian priest named Graham who eventually restores his faith, there are strong hints that Shyamalan’s Hindu background undergirds the philosophical and theological elements of the movie.
The Hindu elements are the constant references to dreams, suggesting that the world that Graham lives in is just Maya, an illusion, and that the past and the future are known and knowable. The overlapping past and future can be seen in the book on UFOs that Graham’s son buys, which clearly shows the family’s house with the father and the two children lying in the front yard. There are also Graham’s flashbacks to the night his wife died. These flashbacks appear like a dream as well.
In the Hindu world, there is no such thing as coincidence. Everything is part of the Great Dream or Great Thought. Of course, in the Hindu world there is no good either, so there’s no difference whether Graham succeeds or doesn’t. SIGNS contradicts this aspect of Hinduism, because this nihilistic belief is an irrational belief that people can never maintain, no matter what they believe; and, it would make for a very strange movie, indeed, if SIGNS didn’t compel the audience to root for the survival of Graham and his family, especially his vulnerable children.
Graham is a man who has lost his faith and given up the priesthood. What faith he has rejected is not clear, however, although Graham and his brother do talk about “someone” guiding the affairs of people. In fact, at one point in the movie, Graham makes a good argument for the existence of a greater being, but Hindus believe in both a Creator God and in many other gods as well. Having gone to Episcopal seminary myself, Graham’s faith seems as flimsy as many of the ordained members of that denomination. In fact, before I came to Christ, I did a series on psychic phenomenon for New York television that included many clergy who believed in Hinduism, Buddhism and other non-Christian and even anti-Christian doctrines. When Graham comes back to faith, the audience can presume that it’s faith in Jesus Christ, but the movie does not make that clear at all. Besides, Hinduism is not necessarily opposed to worship or devotionals to Jesus Christ as one god among many. Orthodox Hindus, however, reject the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the three persons in the One True God, so the Jesus of Hinduism is not the Jesus of History, who is proclaimed as the Messiah by the New Testament documents in the Bible.
In movies like BRAVEHEART, THEY WERE SOLDIERS and THE PATRIOT, Mel Gibson clearly presented the Christian faith. SIGNS suggests the Christian faith but leaves itself open to read another perspective into the story. Happily, however, SIGNS does not allude to other important Hindu doctrines such as the belief in the Vedas as Scripture or the belief in karma and reincarnation. Thus, the nature of the movie is such that it can be used for a considerable amount of theological discussion for teenagers and adults. It also contains some potent metaphors to the Cross on which Christ died to save us from our demonic nature.
MOVIEGUIDE® does not recommend that children see this movie. SIGNS will give children too many fears about aliens, monsters, UFOs, and reading people’s minds. Furthermore, the children characters in this movie seemed way too mature for their years. Of course, these things are not a problem in Hinduism, where children are just reincarnations of an older soul. But, they are a problem in contemporary psychology and should be a concern among Christians, who need to protect the eyes of their children and their minds from baseless fears.
For a really great movie that tells another, more edifying story about alien invasion, I suggest you rent WAR OF THE WORLDS.