time: 106 minutes
by Kevin Lang
Are there no coincidences in life? Do most of the events both good and bad that occur in our everyday lives happen for a reason, and could the occurrence of these often timely events in some way be beyond our control? "Signs," starring Mel Gibson and directed by M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense," 1999), investigated this idea as it examined the possibility that miracles (signs) do happen. It's all a matter of how we see things, was what Mel Gibson's character, Graham Hess, told us the film, and it was implied that this partially depends on the strength of our faith.
This religious subplot ran deep in "Signs," amidst an eerie story that was a catalyst for constant trepidation. M. Night Shyamalan elicited this fear by crafting a story that attempted to tingle our spines not with overdone special effects, but rather with the use of silence, intricately placed sound, and strange uneasy moments. These moments included oddly behaving dogs, the appearance of crop circles, and seemingly extra-terrestrial voices heard in baby monitor. It was the sound in the film that was mostly responsible for creating the film's frightening atmosphere. And it was the lack of sound that significantly added to this atmosphere.
We felt the pressure of the silence as we watched Graham move through his blindingly tall stalks of corn. We listened only to the rustling leaves and the ominous voice-like rattle coming from what was lurking only several feet away. Quickly, we saw something disappear into the stalks. Was it a leg that we glimpsed? It looked strange, and from this moment the fear began to embody us, building slowly with each subsequent scene.
Graham was the single father of two children, Bo and Morgan (Abigail Breslin and Rory Culkin), who was still dealing with or unable to deal with the recent death of his wife. He had given up his life as a priest (Episcopalian priests can marry), and he had begun to lose trust in his faith altogether. His brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix), an ex-minor league baseball player who held the records for the longest homerun and the most strikeouts, had come to stay with him to offer support. Together they tried to encourage strength in each other to make it through what was happening to the world and to Graham.
As well as rendering
true or false the possibility of extra-terrestrial life in the film, the
aliens also served to represent fear and evil, and the ease with which
fear and evil can infiltrate our lives if we lack faith. Whether intentional
or not, "Signs" acted as a test. The extent to which most moviegoers
enjoy the film will likely be based on the strength of their own faith
and religious beliefs. Those individuals with strong faith will be more
apt to become involved in the internal battle that Graham undergoes. They
will also therefore be more likely to pick up on the metaphor that builds
throughout the story that the aliens represent evil and its threat to
the world, especially to those who lack or lost faith. The more agnostic
moviegoer may miss the broader meaning of the story that is unfolding
before them, leaving them longing for the average special-effects-doused
"Signs" Review written August 2, 2002, CTF.
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