August 3, 2002
I loved M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. And I love his new movie Signs. Signs does not have the amazing twist ending of The Sixth Sense, but it has a twist of its own. Ostensibly a suspenseful, scary sci-fi thriller with many wonderful comic scenes, Signs turns into something far more serious and profound. It is a meditation on the nature of manliness and its connection to religious faith.
Signs stars Mel Gibson as Graham Hess, an ex-Episcopal priest, Joaquin Phoenix as his brother Merrill, Rory Culkin as his son Morgan, Abigail Breslin as his adorable daughter Bo, and Shyamalan himself as a local veterinarian named Ray Reddy.
On the surface, the plot of Signs is very simple. I promise I won’t give away any of the good stuff. Crop circles start appearing all over the world, including on the Hess farm in Bucks County Pennsylvania. Then lights start appearing in the sky. Then aliens are sighted. The world sits glued to television sets trying to interpret the meaning of it all. Then the aliens land, and they are clearly hostile. The Hess family barricades the house and keeps the aliens at bay. When they wake up the next day, they hear the news that the aliens were defeated and have fled, leaving behind some of their wounded.
The key scene is when Graham Hess and his brother sit in front of the television. Merrill is worried and turns to his brother for comfort, as do his children, as do his fellow townsmen, who have not gotten used to the fact that he left the priesthood six months before.
Graham says there are two kinds of people. One kind sees an event as a sign of divine providence. They feel that all events are meaningful. They believe that even the worst events produce a higher good. They believe that they are not alone in the universe. So they are filled with hope. The other kind of person looks at the same event and sees only an accident. There is no divine providence, just contingency. The world has no meaning beneath its surface. Evils are just evil. They are not means to a higher good. Mankind is alone in the universe. So when we face the mysterious, we are filled with fear. (In terms of Quentin Tarrantino’s Pulp Fiction, the first kind of person is Jules Winfield and the second is Vincent Vega. Where Jules sees a miracle, Vincent sees only a freak accident.)
When Graham Hess was an Episcopal priest, he was the first kind of person. But when his wife died in an apparently meaningless accident, he became the second kind. He lost his faith. He interprets her dying words as just meaningless babble generated by misfiring synapses at the moment of her death. Shyamalan’s script and Gibson’s acting are masterful in showing, throughout the film, that this loss of faith has unmanned Graham. To all appearances, he is a big, strong, masculine, competent man. But in key scenes, his nerve and his paternal authority fail. He lacks faith, so he is filled with fear, which means that he cannot stand his ground or inspire confidence in others.
One scene is especially telling. After barricading the house, Graham tries to distract and comfort his family by preparing everyone’s favorite foods for dinner. He tries to be light-hearted, but of course the idea sounds like a condemned man’s last meal. But the children cannot find comfort merely in food. They want their father to pray over it. And he refuses. But he too recognizes that a purely material meal contains no comfort. By refusing to pray, Graham does not communicate optimism to his children, but fear. They begin to cry and he succumbs to crying too. Crying, of course, is always a sign of self-pity. Instead of making the best of a bad situation with a relaxed and pleasant meal, the family collapses into a huddled, sobbing mass, certain of their impending doom.
The deeper plot of Signs has nothing to do with aliens and crop circles. A thousand other circumstances could have been invented to tell the same story. Instead, it is about the recovery of faith and manliness and paternal authority. This takes place in two stages. First, Graham’s son Morgan has a serious attack of asthma, and his medicine is on the other side of the door with the aliens, so Graham has to talk Morgan through it. He sits his son on his lap and tells him to pay attention to his father’s own breathing. He tells him to believe in his father and in himself. He inspires confidence through his own example, and it works. Graham has seen how his son has been strengthened by his faith in him. Graham himself, however, did not reach out to God for strength, but instead curses God. It is a complex, powerful, moving, brilliantly constructed scene. The next step of Graham’s transformation is when he himself reaches out to God for strength. Then he begins to see signs. Signs that are far less obvious and far more important than mere crop circles.
In the end, we realize that Shyamalan has created yet another movie in which each and every detail is integrated into the plot, in which there are no freak accidents, in which everything makes sense, in which all the bad things contribute to a higher good–and yet nothing was merely predictable. Shyamalan is the directorial equivalent of a provident God, creating a universe in which hope and courage can flourish. This is a director of genius.
And what of the racial politics of the film? It seems ironic that Shyamalan, a Hindu Indian, has created the most sympathetic portrayal of White, Christian, rural Americans since David Lynch’s magnificent The Straight Story. Signs has one of the Whitest casts of recent films. The only non-White in the cast is Shyamalan himself. The Hess family are portrayed as intelligent, resourceful, morally earnest people. The kind of people who built America.
Christians should love this film even though the religious message is not specifically Christian. The plot is, if you will, a pragmatic argument for faith in divine providence, and the idea of providence is not specifically Christian. In one scene, it is mentioned that the people of the world are flocking to “temples, synagogues, and churches” to make sense of the appearance of the aliens, which indicates the ecumenical tone of the religious message.
The mention of synagogues is the only whiff of Jewry in this film. The average Hollywood Jew would portray the Hess family as hypocritical, intolerant, superstitious, stupid rednecks. Their fear of the aliens would be portrayed as paranoid, ignorant, racist xenophobia. Jews would never portray a White family united in solidarity against an alien invader. Instead, they would divide the parents from the children. The parents would be straightlaced, sexually-repressed disciplinarians. The kids would be the epitome of “cool”: promiscuous, perforated, tattooed, hip-hop rebels. The foolish parents would wish to resist the aliens, but their wise children would see that their parents are merely “scapegoating” the aliens because they cannot face up to their own psycho-sexual inadequacies. Thus the courageous children would take the risk of extending a welcoming hand. They might even hide the aliens from their parents’ wrath, concealing them in the attic. Just like poor little Anne Frank. In any confrontation between Whites and aliens, Jews automatically identify with the aliens. Shyamalan may be an alien, but he seems to identify with and appreciate White Americans.
There is one scene in the film that seems, at first glance, to be drawn from the Jewish playbook. The Hess family is having pizza together two days after the first strange happenings. They clearly have aliens on the mind. Suddenly, they see an alien: Shyamalan. He has dark skin. He clearly isn’t from around there. They all stare at him. He drives off, clearly uncomfortable and unnerved. In any other movie, this would be a scene showing how intolerant and xenophobic the Hess family is. But in this movie, we learn that it has a different significance. Shyamalan plays Ray Reddy, the man who fell asleep at the wheel of his truck and killed Graham’s wife, Morgan and Bo’s mother. That is why they are staring at him. Shyamalan is a meticulous director. He knew that this scene would be interpreted exactly as I interpreted it. But then he subverts the interpretation. What is that a sign of?
In a White Nationalist America, M. Night Shyamalan would not be a citizen of this country. His movies would be “foreign” films, even if he chose to make them in America. But I would rush to see every one of them. If, however, the American film industry is going to be dominated by aliens, then I am rooting for Bollywood to buy out Hollywood! Believe me, we would have a much healthier popular culture.
It is laughable that one of the newsmagazines has proclaimed Shyamalan the “next Spielberg” when Shyamalan’s weakest film, Unbreakable, is already better than Spielberg’s best. Try the next Kubrick, the next Lynch, the next Hitchcock.
From a technical point of view, everything about this film is superb, but I must single out James Newton Howard’s score for special mention. In places, it is worthy of Bernard Herrmann’s best work for Hitchcock.
Signs is the best movie I have seen since The Lord of the Rings. I urge every White Nationalist to see it.