I saw M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs early Friday afternoon, but I spent all weekend debating whether or not to write about it. As we saw in both of Shyamalan’s last two pictures, The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, there is a big piece of information revealed in the last few minutes of the movie that makes everything you’ve seen so far change perspective in your mind. It certainly makes it worth seeing again. The question was whether or not I should write about the movie at all, since no matter what I say now will be through the new persepctive brought on by the last-minute information.
I decided that it would be best to save you the 2nd trip to the theatre; I’ll reveal the twist now and the movie will be that much more interesting because you already know the secret. I definitely think this unexpected twist enhances the entire moviegoing experience more than it gives anything away.
First though, I’ll say that generally Signs is a sort of suspenseful thriller. There are a lot of jump-in-your-seat moments, and a couple of places where the entire audience screamed in unison. There is also a lot of great acting, and the true nature of the movie really lent to that element in a way that you might miss if you thought it was just about an alien invasion.
As you should know from movie trailers and movie posters and TV commercials, Signs is about crop circles. Mel Gibson plays a reverend Graham Hess who left the church and lost his faith about six months before the movie opens, and who has what appears to be just a couple acres of corn growing out behind his big farmhouse. He is a single father of two young children, an boy of about 12 (Morgan, played by Rory Caulkin) and a girl about 6 or 8 (Bo, played by Abigail Breslin), and lives with his brother (Merril, played by Joaquin Phoenix). The reason Graham lost his faith in God and left the church, and why Merril is living with them, is that his wife died in after being struck by a driver who fell asleep at the wheel. This event sets the emotional background for all the characters, and really seems to be the basis for the involvement of Graham’s crops in the crop circle-related events.
Now I’ll reveal the entire movie:
It’s about the rapture. The crop circles are divine symbols foretelling the rapture. As the movie progresses we see more and more of the creatures that we believe are aliens invading earth, and they definitely do not look human, and they do not speak, and they can run faster and jump higher than any man ever could, and they are the agents of God. On the first night they make the signs in crops around the world, more being discovered as daylight races around the circle of the Earth. On the second night they begin to be spotted, running around in the dark corners, but joined by strange hovering lights in the skies above major cities. Those who see them in person can never remember what they looked like. (There is a funny sequence where Graham and Merril are trying to describe the figure they saw the previous night, and about all they can say is “it was very dark”; eventually it seems that perhaps a swedish female olympian was on their property, since all they know was that a tall figure was able to leap all the way onto their roof and run faster than anyone they had ever seen.)
Graham and Merril have some intense conversations during the days about faith, and we have seen that Merril and the children still have deep faith in God, whil Graham still denies God. There are also some flashbacks to the death of Graham’s wife. It is during these moments that the emotional depth of these characters is revealed and we really get a feel for them as genuine people.
It’s really well done how the events unfolding in their small community, literally in their own back yard, are unfolding all over the world, on every channel. Of course, everyone in the movie believes it is aliens until the third night, when they start taking people. That night, Graham and Merril have boarded up all the windows they can, and for some rooms with too many windows, the doors leading in from those rooms. The radio and the TV are no longer receiving signals. At the last moment, as they hear the “creatures” moving outside their home, unable to get through windows or doors and moving up onto the roof, they realize they didn’t board up the hatch to the attic. The four of them retreat to the basement.
The urgency of the “creatures” to get at this small family seems intense, considering there is an entire town they could go after instead. The “creatures” bang away at the basement door, and look for other ways to get at them. They are very persistant. With the last twist in mind, I know why; they are here to take at least the children and Merril, whose faith is not failing in these intense and frightful times. Little does the family know that they have allowed Graham to board them up and hide them from salvation. This is a beautiful metaphor played out in an intense way, and a gentle subtext to the history we learn as the movie progresses. Graham’s loss of faith has affected his whole family, and has subverted the life of his brother, who would rather enlist in the Army than stay with Graham. This movie works on so many levels, it’s a beautiful thing.
And then more suddenly than they appeared, the “creatures” disappear, taking millions with them. The family hears about it on the radio they found in the basement. Reports of people who saw these “creatures” face to face and were spared, while they saw others carried off, apparently dead. No one knows why the “creatures” were leaving, but they say “the tide turned somewhere in the middle east”; I believe they simply had fewer people to take in the middle east because of religious differences. Graham and his family carefully go up into the house and see that it has been somewhat ransacked, but with the reports on the radio and the dancing masses of people on TV glad to still be alive and on Earth, they feel safe.
Of course, this being a suspenseful thriller, they are not alone in the house. I won’t say exactly what happens, but it is in that final face-to-face confrontation with an agent of God that we learn what’s really been going on, and Graham is confronted with the truth about faith in God. The specific details will be fairly obvious from things said earlier in the movie, but its still great to see what you thought was going to happen unfold in light of the new perspective of the rapture.
Then the movie ends abruptly and we are not faced with what happens after the rapture, whether it is the coming of the antichrist or the 2nd coming of christ or what; that’s not the point of this movie. What this movie is really about is one family’s relationship with faith and God, life and death, and watching one man’s inner struggle affect his family (and indeed his entire community, who can’t stop calling him “father” instead of Graham, and who still want to confess to him), and nearly keep them from experiencing something truly amazing.
Oh yeah, and ONE MORE SPOILER that you should not look at unless you’ve seen the movie:
This whole “review” was actually a “lie”. My imagined “twist” for the movie is not actually in the movie. I made all of this up. Well, the character names are the same, and the actors, and their general relationships, but … come on. The rapture? It’s really just a big well-organized hoax made possible by the internet. Or bunnies. Or wait; Mel Gibson was dead the whole time, and he was the one who made the crop circle in the first place. Or maybe the butler did it. Of course, if you’ve seen the movie, then you know what happened. Go back and watch it again with my twist ending in mind; it’s actually a much better movie that way.