Running Time: 106 mins
Rev. Graham Hess (Gibson) lost his wife in a car accident. Subsequently he
leaves the priesthood and concentrates on raising his two children, Bo
(Abigail Breslin) and Morgan (Culkin), on his Pennsylvania farm. His brother Merril (Phoenix) moves in to help out. One night their cornfield is artistically flattened. From the air the field looks like an ancient symbol. Have aliens visited them? Hess and his family have to face up to what this sign might mean for them and the world.
Signs is all about a loss of faith, but faith in what is the question.
On one level Fr Hess is struggling with his Christian faith. He is unable to reconcile his belief in a loving God with his wife's tragic accident. As
understandable as this emotional response might be, Hess seems to believe that God actively willed his wife's accident.
Signs shamelessly trades on the deficient theology that God 'sends' bad
things as a wakeup call or to teach us how to live. Christianity, however, holds that God does not will or send evil things, be they car accidents,
illnesses or alien invasions. There is a world of difference between God
permitting evil to exist and God actively willing and executing it. This is lost on Fr Hess. His theological training does not serve him well.
But as the film drags on we discover that Signs is not really about theology at all. It is about politics.
It is infinitely understandable that the USA, post September 11, is focused
on terrorism, but the aliens in Signs share more than a few traits with
al-Qa'ida and the present American response to them. For example the aliens in this film send early messages which most people ignore or dismiss. When the invasion starts, it is concentrated "in the East", spreads to countries where terrorism presently has a significant presence, and then lands 'down on the farm' in the heartland of middle America. Is it by coincidence that one of the hijacked planes last year also went down in Pennsylvania?
The aliens, we are told, speak a language "which is not English" and write with "exotic symbols." It is reported that in response to the invasion people everywhere are returning to organised religion. Meanwhile the Hess family is unharmed by the alien invaders because they turn their home into a fortress. Somehow the aliens can get to earth but not into the farmhouse basement!
While the acting from the children is great and the cinematography is good,
there are the usual tried and true shocks we expect in a horror genre piece. There are also several gaps in the story and continuity which distract our attention.
In the end Signs is a very politically conservative pantomime about how we
all be safe and secure if we just trust in God. The problem is that Signs does not give us a God who could inspire such trust and nor does it help us
to respond intelligently to the politically complex and interconnected world in which we now live.
Richard Leonard SJ