Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Cherry Jones,
Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin, Patricia Kalember
M. Night Shyamalan
Touchstone Pictures/Buena Vista (Disney)
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By Ted Baehr
- SUMMARY: Mel Gibson stars in SIGNS as Graham Hess, an Episcopal priest
in a small Pennsylvania town who has lost his faith after a family tragedy and
must protect his children from a mysterious creature who invades their farm. Though
riveting and well acted, SIGNS is too scary for children, and, despite some redemptive,
Christian elements, seems to have a false Hindu worldview with New Age themes.
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 thats 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 Grahams farm. A shadowy figure appears to invade Grahams
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 theres 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 Grahams 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 wifes strange last words, or is everything just a coincidence?
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 wifes 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, its the classic story of man triumphing over the other, either
a monster or an alien. On another lever, its 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 Shyamalans 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 Grahams
son buys, which clearly shows the familys house with the father and the two children
lying in the front yard. There are also Grahams 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 theres
no difference whether Graham succeeds or doesnt. 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 didnt compel the audience to root for the survival
of Graham and his family, especially his vulnerable children.
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, Grahams 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 its 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
MOVIEGUIDE does not recommend that children see this movie.
SIGNS will give children too many fears about aliens, monsters, UFOs, and reading
peoples 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.
a really great movie that tells another, more edifying story about alien invasion,
I suggest you rent WAR OF THE WORLDS.
Please address your comments to:
Chairman/CEO Buena Vista Distribution Co.
Disney Pictures, Caravan, Hollywood, Miramax, & Touchstone Pictures)
Chairman Walt Disney Company
500 South Buena Vista Street Burbank,
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