FOUR STARS - INSPIRING
When a minister dedicates his or her life to the service of God, there is an all-too-human expectation that this should gain the minister certain protections or privileges. Whenever this proves to be untrue the crisis of faith that can result either forces a more mature understanding of God and life or it erupts into a tantrum of anger against God. In M. Night Shyamalan's "Signs," the Rev. Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) throws a tantrum.
Having experienced the "senseless" death of his beloved wife six months earlier, Rev. Hess has denounced his faith and left his church. Retreating to a farmhouse with his two children and brother, Hess is confronted with his need for God in an unexpected way: hostile aliens from outer space invade the world and his home.
This plot is not as unworkable as it might at first seem to be. Although director, producer and writer Shyamalan presents us with only simple science fiction, the depth of his spiritual insights more than overcome this defect. In fact, it is the unbelievability of the science fiction that accentuates the spiritual message. It is clearly a parable causing us to look not at how we would respond if the world were invaded, as in "Independence Day," but it is symbolic of how any of us could respond when life so overwhelms us that we desperately need Divine help.
This message is clearly presented by Rev. Hess to his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) when Merrill asks him for comfort as they watch news reports of the invasion on TV. Rev. Hess explains that there are two types of people in the world: those who believe that there are no coincidences and God is watching over every aspect of our lives, and those who believe that everything is a coincidence and there is no One to turn to in times of need. Reverend Hess admits he is of the second type.
The cause for Hess' loss of faith is explained when his wife's untimely death is described by her as something that was "meant to be." This thought that God could "mean" to take his beloved wife in the prime of her life throws Hess into a spiritual rage. But what he does not realize is that he cannot be angry with a God who does not exist. His struggle betrays his atheistic claims.
When the events of the alien invasion begin to tie together both the meaning of his wife's words and every difficulty, failure and idiosyncrasy of his son, daughter and brother, then we understand the message of this parable. God's care is often seen as absent until the final moments when all the loose ends of our lives are tied together.
The comfort and hope of being watched over by a God who can work all things together for the good of those who love him is a message continually needed in a world that feels as though it is falling apart.