More on Signs
Shyamalan may be Hindu, but his artistic imagination is still deeply Catholic. Hard to say how conscious that is. Not a frame of Signs was left to chance. Every image is carefully chosen. Yeah, Gibson’s character is Episcopalian and I don’t know how often an Episcopal priest is called “Father”, but for this story, “Father” is a critical image since Gibson’s character thinks he does not believe God exists but in fact, like many atheists, knows he’s there deep down but hates him (as he explicitly says). The movie is bookended by the image of a glass barrier (it’s the first thing we see, and we don’t see it at first). It’s the wall between Graham and God. He can see him, but he can’t reach him. His rage cuts him off. At the end of the film, that window is shattered.
Another critical scene is the one where he is helping his son recover from the asthma attack. Again the imagery is Catholic. The son (who just moments before has told his “Father” that he hates him is now struggling for breath). (And “breath” images what in our Tradition?) Graham urges him to breathe with him (interspersed with his own Job-like profession of rage at God the Father) and, at the climax of the struggle as the son begins to breathe in again, says, “We are one.” (Hint: see John 10:30). To whom is he speaking? To the son or to God? His passion and struggle are one with Christ’s and through it, his own son receives “breath” or the Holy Spirit. Yet, at the same time, his son’s breath, like his own spiritual “breath” is cut off (temporarily) so that life can triumph. God is closer to Father Graham in his pain then he could ever imagine. “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.” Or, as Peter Kreeft says, “Jesus is the tears of God.”
Graham’s wife is also an interesting figure and Shyamalan is careful to subtly link her to the Blessed Virgin. Her last words are delivered in an oracular way, and Shyamalan is careful in one scene to shoot a phone call (which could easily be done in close up) through a half-opened door and pull the camera back far enough to show the one relic of her that we see in the movie: a blue dress (the color always associated with the Blessed Virgin in iconography). Is it a pun that the next scene after this cuts to a mailbox that read Ray Reddy, D.V.M. (“B.V.M”?). I wouldn’t put it past him.
I’ve already touched on the Last Supper scene (my son noticed that the little girl, who is the image of a sort of feminine intuition channel to God with her prophetic dreams, has three glasses of water at her table (another image of Trinitarian baptism that will be crucial at the climax).
One last thing: I’m not at all confident (and I think Shyamalan means us to be uncertain) about the actual origin of the “intruders” (not “aliens”). They come from Somewhere Else but it is not at all clear that they are certainly “extraterrestrial” or what. There is something…demonic about them. Yes, they are physical beings (apparently). But Shyamalan has picked up something important here. I’m just not sure what. Maybe another blog on that later.
If you’ve seen it, I’d be interested in hearing any other “Catholic connections” you’ve made. More than any other filmmaker working right now, his imagination appears to me to have experience “baptism of desire”. I hope the rest of him follows someday.