Signs (and portents)

M. Night Shyamalan is a frustrating director. Most people believe that he has not made a good movie in some time; more jaded cynics argue that he only made two good movies: The Sixth Sense and the vastly underrated Unbreakable. I, too, am a jaded cynic; I find The Village to be visually interesting and technically well-executed, but otherwise failed, and The Lady In The Water is nearly unwatchable. You’ll note that I say nothing of The Happening. I am crossing my fingers that he does not screw up The Last Airbender. Still I’d like to entertain the case that Shyamalan made a third movie worth viewing and re-viewing: Signs. More particularly, Signs is worth us watching and re-watching as Mormons. It is ostensibly a tale of faith set against the backdrop of an alien invasion. But Shyamalan’s narrative, I believe, fails to depict faith (at least as Mormons perceive it) and instead describes an entirely different relationship with God, one that is distinctly non-LDS but perhaps one we should consider.

If you’ve not seen Signs, be warned: this post contains straight-up spoilers. It’s a fair movie overall, and one worth renting. (Illustration below, courtesy of Matthew Page)

The wikipedia summary of the film is here. Mel Gibson’s character, Graham Hess, plays an Episcopal priest who publicly professes that he no longer believes in God after his wife is killed, pinned to a tree by a car driven by Ray Reddy (played by Shyamalan). Hess’ wife, dying, says several things to Hess as her last utterances, but afterwards Hess believes those words to be the product of random dying neurons. Hess, while still professing unbelief, also blames God for his son’s severe asthma condition. Hess declares to his brother, Merrill, that there are “two kinds of people: those who see signs, miracles, and those who see coincidences. Which kind are you?”

Here is the grand finale of Signs, which is both the final alien confrontation as well as the resolution of the crisis of faith:

It’s a moving scene: the synchronicity of the wife’s dying words, Merrill’s decades of frustration as a failed athlete suddenly transformed into becoming a hero, and most importantly, the saving of Hess’ son by the miracle of his asthma. Still, my sense is that if it is meant to be a story about losing and finding one’s faith, Signs fails. At least from a Mormon view, Hess does not exercise faith.

There are two key moments at work in his clip, which I view as the crux of the whole movie. The first takes place inside the house, as Hess calls into memory his wife’s last words and calls up Merrill (script excerpts courtesy of IMSDb — note the differences between the script and the scenes as shot):

Graham touches her cheek. She starts crying. Graham starts crying with her.

COLLEEN
(crying)
… Tell Morgan to play games –
it’s okay to be silly.

GRAHAM
(crying)
… I will.

COLLEEN
(crying)
… Tell Bo to listen to her
brother. He’ll always take care of
her.

GRAHAM
(crying)
… I will.

COLLEEN
(crying)
… Tell Graham –

GRAHAM
(crying)
I’m here.

COLLEEN
(crying)
Tell him… See. Tell him to see.

Colleen presses her cheek on top of Graham’s hand. She rests on it. Her eyes are distant.

COLLEEN
(soft)
And tell Merrill to swing away.

GRAHAM
(soft)
What?
(beat)
Colleen?… Colleen?

WE ARE OVERCOME BY A BRIGHT WHITE.

CUT TO:

INT. FAMILY ROOM – MORNING

WE ARE IN THE FAMILY ROOM. THE HIGH PITCHED RINGING SOUNDS FADE AND ARE REPLACED BY THE BREATHING IN THE ROOM.

THE BREATHING IS JOINED BY THE HISSING OF GAS AS IT’S BEING RELEASED.

THE CREATURE FORCES POISON GAS OUT INTO MORGAN’S UNCONSCIOUS FACE.

THE ROOM IS ENGULFED WITH STREAMS OF SUNLIGHT FROM THE BROKEN WINDOWS. THE LIGHT SEEMS TO CATCH CERTAIN THINGS IN THE ROOM AND MAKE THEM STAND OUT. THINGS ON SHELVES, THINGS ON
TABLES, THINGS ON THE WALL.

Graham stares at the baseball bat on the wall. Beat.

GRAHAM
(soft)
Swing away, Merrill.

The second takes place outside the house, as Hess injects his son with epinephrine and cradles him, pushing away the other family members and talking (to himself? To God?).

GRAHAM
His lungs were closed.
(beat)
His lungs were closed. No poison
got in… No poison got in.

Merrill stares at Morgan. His body is utterly still.

GRAHAM
His lungs were closed.

Merrill reaches for Morgan’s still hand.

GRAHAM
Don’t touch him.

MERRILL
(soft)
Graham.

Beat. Morgan lies lifeless.

BO
Daddy.

GRAHAM
Don’t touch him.

Bo is crying.

MERRILL
Graham.

GRAHAM
Don’t.

Beat.

MORGAN’S VOICE
Dad.

HIS SON’S VOICE MAKES HIM STOP. Graham starts crying. Every bit of sadness trapped in his body is released. He looks down through tears and tears at Morgan.

MORGAN
Did someone save me?

GRAHAM
Yeah baby. I think someone did.

I’m indebted to Matt Bowman and others for their thoughts here. First, I am for this post operating off the traditional definition of faith, encapsulated as “Faith is to hope for things which are not seen, but which are true, and must be centered in Jesus Christ in order to produce salvation. To have faith is to have confidence in something or someone.” Gibson starts to have hope at the end, confirmed by the salvation of his son and felicitous message from his wife, does he ever exercise faith in God? The key is the leap of faith scene — in which Hess tells his brother Merrill to “swing away.”

Signs, by Matthew Page

Signs, by Matthew Page

What causes Hess to do so? The script notes that “the light seems to catch certain things in the room and make them stand out.” Hess is beginning to follow his wife’s dying injunction, that Hess “see.” He sees the room, he sees Merrill and the bat. He then exercises confidence in his wife’s words and has Merrill swing away.

Matt Bowman remarked to me that “the movie’s stuck somewhere in early nineteenth century Protestantism… [Hess] is more Mosiah’s natural man than a Calvinist.” Certainly Hess is not totally depraved, although he is selfish. The loss of his faith and the persistence in his unbelief is all done at the cost of relationships with his family and friends. Gibson plays Hess as a man rudderless, yet one determined to sail on regardless. He is an enemy to God in the truest sense — his portrayal seems to consciously spurn God rather than simply not believe in His existence. Hess is like a teenager, pretending not to hear God by sticking his fingers in his ears. Matt also pointed out that we ought to consider Gibson’s own predelictions here also; he, as a Catholic, would also reject the Calvinist notion of total depravity. Instead, I imagine Gibson was thinking of Hess as a fallen man; his ability to sense the divine was ‘damaged but not destroyed’ by the Fall. As a result, Gibson’s Hess is surrounded throughout Signs by mounting evidence of God’s presence, and yet it is not until he listens to his wife, opens his eyes and sees that he comes to a knowledge of salvation. For Gibson and Shyamalan, seeing literally is believing.

Why does Hess do this? Why the sudden sight and the repetition of “swing away”? Either Hess has chosen to see, or something has acted upon Hess to see. Based upon the script and the film as shot, I believe it is the latter. We see no decision to accept belief or to repent of unbelief. In the moment of crisis, the thoughts rush to his brain and he is caused — by God? — to see. We see no evidence of Hess acting despite his uncertainty, no real leap of faith. Instead, the film shows that something just clicks inside of Hess, and the switch is turned from unbeliever to believer. In this way Shyamalan seems to say that the saving encounter with God is not the sinner reaching out to Jesus, but God reaching down and causing grace to happen to you. He is touched by the hand of God, despite all he could do.

The scene immediately thereafter, where outside the farmhouse Hess cradles his dying boy, illustrates even further how belief is imposed on Gibson’s character. Having escaped the alien, having witness the amazing coincidence of his wife’s dying words, Hess rushes his boy outside and says to his brother, his daughter, and to God, “don’t.” Hess kneels and closes his eyes, but his prayer is “His lungs were closed. His lungs were closed. No poison got in. No poison got in.” He is desperate, but does not hold a belief in any supernatural force (unless asthma counts as some sort of spiritual phenomenon). I should note an important difference between the script and the film: before “his lungs were closed,” Gibson’s Hess says, “that’s why he had asthma” — in the filmed version, Hess may have already begun to see signs of the divine on his own — although I’d argue that the line is spoken as if Hess is either praying or trying to convince himself about it all. Still, Hess resists God to the end, and when his son finally speaks to him and returns to life, I can’t help but wonder whether Hess is overwhelmed with happiness, or whether his expression is that of the unbeliever’s pride finally being broken. The lesson is here is definitely one of submission to God’s mystery, not salvation through belief. In the final scene of the movie, Hess puts on his priest’s vestments in the formerly cloistered area of the home, with the flourish of the factory worker putting back on his jumpsuit when the strike has been broken by management. In Signs, God’s grace is ultimately undeniable and irresistible.

But even if Signs isn’t about the Mormon faith that is the prime mover to all action, that confidence in the divine by which we wrestle for our salvation, I believe it nevertheless contains something vital to our religion. In particular, this idea of irresistible grace and the breaking of the will of Hess’ unbelieving is a distinctly non-mormon notion, and yet it has to it a sense of God’s power that at times we may neglect. In Signs, God is everywhere, setting patterns and laying paths for us to follow years ahead. God has the power to reach us and to convince us of His will. I forget, in our empowered vocabulary of free agency and grace after all we can do, that God is a God of miracles, and the greatest of these is the incomprehensible mystery of His grace. At times, I’ve been brought to repent and see God in my life even when I have defiantly opposed him. He has the ability to make the blind see, even the willfully blind.

Comments

  1. Grace is on my mind lately. Thank you for your thoughts; I appreciate very much this post.

  2. Steve,
    This touched me deeply.

  3. Great post, Steve.
    If you can turn Signs into a moving commentary on the nature of grace….WOW!….imagine what you might do with a Land Of The Lost episode. The alien in Signs appears to be a Sleestak, btw:

  4. I think that we LDSaints too often fail to recognize the role of grace in our lives – that God does often intercede into our lives in an attempt to change our hearts. This is grace is no denial of faith, but is the very seed of faith that gets planted into our hearts.

    As of lately I have often thought of the discussion Jesus and his disciples had after Jesus’ interaction with the young rich man and his subsequent claim that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. In astonishment, his disciples asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’ and Jesus responded by saying that with God all things were possible. As LDSaints we usually interpret as though the disciples were baffled as to how rich men were going to enter into heaven with Jesus’ responding that grace helps the faithful rich enter heaven. This, I believe, is wrong. His disciples were not wondering how it was that the rich could enter heaven, but how anyone could possibly do the act that Jesus required – giving up all one has to help the poor. Christ pointed out that God’s grace enables weak persons to do what would seem impossible.

    My point in all this, and I believe what lies at the heart of Signs (as Steve pointed out), is that grace is not something that merely follows acts of goodness and acts of faith, but rather for every moment of faith and every moment of good works, there is an unrequested and undeserved act of God’s grace that proceeds them. Nobody just sits up one day and decides to have faith. There is always an act of grace that precedes it.

  5. Thanks for this post, Steve.

    We walk a fine line in our theology – a balance that isn’t easy to maintain. I’m glad we do so – that we leave the conflict open officially – that we don’t succumb theologically to either easy grace or earned exaltation, but it’s very easy for us as individuals to pick one of those extremes and lose sight of the underlying, enabling power of the other side of this particular coin. Maintaining that apparently paradoxical balance can be difficult, and it can lead to criticism from those who accept only one extreme, but it’s one of the most incredible, visionary aspects of the Restoration, imo.

  6. “this idea of irresistible grace and the breaking of the will of Hess’ unbelieving is a distinctly non-mormon notion”

    Err, Alma the Younger? For that matter Joseph Smith?

    Sure, we have a theology of faith that precedes a miracle. But we also have a theology of signs which themselves create faith. In that sense, the story is extremely Mormon.

    By the way, I also hope Night doesn’t screw up Avatar, but I really have no faith. I guess we’ll see whether we get a sign.

  7. laurenlou says:

    i read this right before leaving the library. the first thing i saw when i entered my room? five or six glasses and cups littering my desk. i considered leaving them–maybe all these things could be for my benefit and work out for my good?

    bad joke…time for bed.

  8. Steve, I showed this movie to some of the priests in my ward as a faith-promoting movie, so it’s good to see it’s getting some play on the Bloggernacle.

  9. Signs is a good film, as is The Village. They are but shadows of Unbreakable, though.

    Good post, Steve. I wonder, ultimately, whether this Mormon view of grace, as you put it, is more theologically palatable. After all, it’s hard to understand a God who shows grace to some but abandons others in their agony. Where is the grace in Auschwitz?

    Or is it that grace is all around but we just fail to see?

  10. I agree that Signs is worth watching and rewatching. It’s the only Shyamalan movie we own and we do watch it every once in a while. I find the conversion story to be very touching. I hadn’t thought of it as un-Mormon but I do see your point. We tend to see conversion more of an act of our own will rather than something that God chooses for us.

    Another Mormon theme that the movie really drives home is the conflict between fear and faith. That’s something we hear a lot about in General Conference.

    Besides the interesting thematic elements of the movie, I think it’s just plain good filmmaking. I think it was made before Shyamalan convinced himself that he was super awesome and stopped listening to his inner editor. Since then it seems that he hasn’t had an idea that he didn’t love.

  11. You missed another critical scene…

    Merrel and Hess sitting on the couch discussing their belief / lack of belief in God. Merrill confesses that he believes in God because God saved him from being puked on by a drunk girl at a party. I guess you say that Merrill “confesses God’s hand in all things.”

    I like the film because it explores some heavy issues, but is set in a wacky circumstance.

  12. Faith is a gift of the Spirit.

  13. chelseaw says:

    I love Signs – in fact I was just thinking about it yesterday. It seems like our trials are always the things we would least expect – like an alien invasion, or a spouse’s sudden death. These are the circumstances in which true faith is born.

    “the saving encounter with God is not the sinner reaching out to Jesus, but God reaching down and causing grace to happen to you. He is touched by the hand of God, despite all he could do.”

    This may be an un-Mormon way of seeing faith, but in my personal experience, this is the way I have experienced it in my own life, time and time again. “We love him because he first loved us” resonates with me more than the idea of experimenting on the word.

  14. Steve wrote: We see no evidence of Hess acting despite his uncertainty, no real leap of faith. Instead, the film shows that something just clicks inside of Hess, and the switch is turned from unbeliever to believer. In this way Shyamalan seems to say that the saving encounter with God is not the sinner reaching out to Jesus, but God reaching down and causing grace to happen to you. He is touched by the hand of God, despite all he could do.

    This is reminiscent of Alma’s conversion. He went against God in the same way that Hess does. When the angel appears to Alma, this sign does not really change him, but causes him even greater anguish and drops him into a coma/near death experience.
    It isn’t until God reaches to Alma and reminds him in his thoughts (the Holy Spirit brings all to our remembrance) of his father’s words, that he THEN calls on Christ and is instantly saved from his anguish. It literally is a beyond-death bed repentance.

    Now, I’m not saying Alma was instantly celestial material. But he was saved at that moment by Christ’s grace from eternal hell and damnation.

    Perhaps this is a very fitting example in Mormon theology to compare it with?

  15. Thomas Parkin says:

    What kind of aliens who are allergic to water come to a planet 2/3 covered in water? Point #1. Didn’t they observe that our children use squirt guns? Point #2. What kind of aliens are ooooo so terrifying if all it takes is a baseball bat to knock them to kingdom come? Wussiest aliens, ever. Signs is the first M Night movie in which we began to guess – a guess later totally confirmed – that he was losing his marbles. I grant that it was, until the last half hour, pretty creepy in ways that had nothing to do with having Mel Gibson in the starring role.

    I was also strangely attracted to the Village and my wife, whose taste is impeccable, loved it.

    We are spirits sunk deep in a demon haunted, telestial world. El mundo es cuerpos y fantasmas. Every day that something doesn’t eat me for lunch I take as a sign of God’s watchful care. ~

  16. Steve Evans says:

    Ronan, excellent point. Of course you’re right to note that there was seemingly no grace in Auschwitz. Signs is too small a movie to talk about the supposed thousands of humans who perished in the alien invasion even while Hess’ son was spared. I don’t know that the movie presents any real perspective on theodicy, for that matter, other than to say in a way that the death of Hess’ wife was not for nothing. That’s a little something, but not much.

    The reason why I don’t think Alma the Younger works as a parallel here is because Alma had a moment of decision-making to accept Christ before his torment would end. Hess’ torment ends before he accepts God, and even then I’m not convinced he has accepted God, really.

  17. Signs was a terrible, stupid movie. I’m afraid I’m with the “two hit wonder” school on this director.
    I did like your post though.

  18. Steve Evans says:

    Sam, I largely agree. Much of Signs is just awful. The worst bits are Shyamalan’s acting and wooden dialogue. But it wasn’t as bad as some of his later stuff would turn out to be….

  19. Thomas Parkin:
    “We are spirits sunk deep in a demon haunted, telestial world. El mundo es cuerpos y fantasmas. Every day that something doesn’t eat me for lunch I take as a sign of God’s watchful care.” That’s the best observation I’ve read in quite some time. I might have to borrow it.

  20. They are but shadows of Unbreakable, though.

    Very true, Ronan. I can’t say it often enough: Unbreakable is very nearly a flawless film, easily one of the finest movies that has come out of Hollywood over the past twenty years.

    Great post, Steve. I havent time right now, but perhaps I’ll way in later on.

  21. “weigh in”…sheesh.

  22. Peter LLC says:

    You’ll note that I say nothing of The Happening.

    But you should have! Mostly because of the unmatched moments of cinéma-vérité awesomeness the film contains like Marky Mark’s scene in the field that begins with his delivery of this classic line: “Oh no!”

  23. Unbreakable was a magnificent movie, the very opposite of The Happening.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    I liked Signs, but I also liked The Village quite a bit, and thought it got a bum rap.

    I never thought of what happens in the climactic scene as irresistible grace; that’s an interesting theological take on it.

    And #15 Thomas Parkin, another problem with the water was the aliens hiding in the corn field. I grew up in Illinois farm country and detassled corn in the summers. If water is your kryptonite, the last place you should be hanging out is in a corn field.

  25. I just watched Signs this past weekend with my younger brothers-in-law. I considered where Mel Gibson’s character falls on the theological spectrum (and think Matt B and Steve get it right), but didn’t give much thought to the (re)conversion of the character discussed here. Thanks for your thoughts.

    I’ll also add my voice to those who think Unbreakable is a terrific film, and also to those who found The Happening quite silly. Of course, there are fun Mormon tie-ins there, too. The rapid decline in the honeybee population is intimately linked to the last days and the coming apocalypse by many Mormon survivalists. :)

  26. By the way, I just wanted to shout-out again to Matt Page for his excellent, excellent illustration.

  27. I suppose that my Mormonism is messed up because I operate under the notion that faith is a gift of god (that faith choses you), but it doesn’t seem to me to be necessarily Protestant. I suppose it is mysterious, though. In any case, I think that initial contact between the human and the divine goes one way and most subsequent contact goes the other.

  28. Awesome post. I love the message(s) in this movie. It is one of my favorites and it’s great to hear your breakdown.

  29. “What kind of aliens who are allergic to water come to a planet 2/3 covered in water?”

    “Signs” is a horror movie, and like all horror, ghosts appear because of some sort of domestic unbalance in the universe. The aliens aren’t so much “real” aliens as much as manifestations of the realm of “science” (a world without God) that seeks to destroy the main characters unless they make right again what has been left unsettled in the past. Gibson’s character’s loss of faith was the unbalance that needed correcting. The alien-ghost acted more as an angel than as a real space invader. For Graham, it wasn’t the “sign” of the alien that incited belief in God; it was the prophetic words of his dying wife, put into action at the perfect moment, that vanquished the ghost-alien and restored order and peace to the family. Notice that Graham doesn’t start preaching the gospel of alien as a result of his experience; rather, he dons the habit and takes up preaching again.

  30. Agreed, Steve. Page’s artistic contribution is great.

  31. Now that I’m well rested and more coherent (sorry about the Sleestak thing last night), I would like to chime in with the others who liked The Village. For me that was his best film since The Sixth Sense. That movie raises lots of interesting issues of faith and faith-communities and would be worth a separate post, imo. As for the The Happening, I was searching for a knitting needle myself by the end of the first half hour. :)

  32. tdamcbigity says:

    Great post.

    But why does everybody have to rag of Lady in the Water. I really liked that one.

  33. I really didn’t like Signs the first time I saw it. I was too caught up in the alien invasion to pay attention to the overall symbolism. I caught it on cable a few months ago and found myself quite engrossed. The final scenes really moved me.

    I also like the VIllage more than most. I saw it on opening night. As we were in line waiting to purchase tickets, the crowd from the previous showing was exiting basically screaming at us, “Do NOT go see the Village!”

    But I really liked it and thought the message about the nature of innocence was a powerful one.

    I agree with RAF. Unbreakable is nearly flawless.

  34. avisitor says:

    #4

    You make an excellent point that relates to the consecration thread!

    After Jesus says the whole camel-needle-rich man phrase and the disciples wonder “Who then can be saved”? the JST states Christ’s reply as:

    Matt. 19: 26 But Jesus beheld their thoughts, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but if they will forsake all things for my sake, with God whatsoever things I speak are possible.

    The Law of Consecration is a celestial law and the order of the Kingdom of God-so literally those who are unwilling to give up everything they have for the sake of His Kingdom on earth AND follow Him (we always seem to skip over the fact that the rich man wasn’t just told to give up his riches, but that he was also told to “come, and follow me” too) cannot obtain exaltation.

  35. I agree with MikeInWeHo’s thoughts that The Village “raises lots of interesting issues of faith and faith-communities.” It’s not the greatest of his films, probably a distant third, but I show it in my course on religious dissent in American History and it does a nice job of highlighting some of the major themes of that course.

  36. No threadjacks please. Shyamalan, grace or aliens only.

  37. Taysom, 3rd? You’d put The Village over Signs, then? I thought it was a good experiment but painfully executed with a drawn-out ending (and really wooden dialog).

  38. I’d put the Village slightly ahead of Signs. And I would argue that the wooden dialogue was intentional.

  39. For me it is basically a tie for third, but, as I said, I have a special interest in the subject matter.

  40. Grace is a concept that I am still coming to grips with, and do not find the elements of grace as represented in Signs all that incompatible with Mormon Theology. A friend who was a committed atheist perhaps presents a good analogy. He came to church with his member wife for a time, read the Book of Mormon, but maintained his atheistic paradigm for a long time. Then one day, he was struck with the revelation that the Book of Mormon was “true”, for whatever that meant to him. As he told me, it set up a huge paradox, as he had confirmation of the divine origins of the BoM, yet that didn’t reconcile with his total lack of faith in the existence of God. It took him a couple of days to sort that out, and then finally join the church. Hess recollection of his wife’s words could either be a sign of his faith, or as you described it, Steve, “He is touched by the hand of God, despite all he could do.” I have seen that happen more than once in the church, and I don’t find it incompatible with the faith preceding grace concept.

    Unbreakable was a good movie the first time I saw it, and I grew to appreciate it even more on a second viewing. IMO, his best work. I liked The Village to a point, but then I pretty much had figured out that Shyamalan was a one-trick pony, and was going to throw a whole paradigm-shifting plot-development at you towards the end, and it didn’t take long to figure out what it was. It’s all been downhill recently.

  41. This great discussion lead me to re-read Alma 32.

    I think it could be argued that in the movie when Hess reflects on the words of his wife that she is “imparting the word of God” (vs 23) and that Hess demonstrates a willingness to “experiment upon” those words by telling Merrill to “swing away”. In doing that, it could be said he is “exercising a particle of faith” and “desires to believe” which is cross referenced in vs 27 with being “teachable/humble/contrite”.

    In the final scene, Hess doesn’t just recall his wife’s words about Merrill, he ACTS-which implies faith to me. He begins to “see” that even as God took her in death, He also imparted the key to saving their son, and the camera shot shows Hess’s point of view as he makes the connection between her words and Merrill’s proximity to his baseball bat.

    After the alien drops his son, Hess picks him up but just moves to the side on the floor with him. When the first glass of water hits the alien and burns its skin and they all look at each other, Hess realizes that his daughter’s penchant for leaving half full glasses of water all over the place, on top of everything else simply pushes the entire thing from coincidence to “miracle”. Only THEN does he get up and take his son outside and inject him.

    Why? Why didn’t M. Night just have him stay where he was and do it? I think it’s because the “change of scenery” highlighted his change of heart. His eyes are closed (as if praying) and he’s saying “That’s why he had asthma” when Merrill joins him, and he adds “It can’t be luck” “his lungs were closed” “no poison got in”-all statements of faith-even if only particles-the desire to believe.

    The whole thing works well with Alma 32-the “seed” of faith is planted and cracks open in Hess when he’s willing to at least believe and act on his wife’s dying words (rather than casting them out in unbelief) and that action proved to be “good” and as a result his “understanding was enlightened” further-which led to saving his son’s life. His return to the ministry shows he was willing to nourish the seed for life….

  42. Thomas Parkin says:

    #29 SteveS,

    I’m telling you. Wussiest. Aliens. Ever. *smirk*

    #36 Steve Evans,

    I wrote a smash-up comment for the immigration thread, only to have my work thwarted by dread thread closure. I was so happy with it, I almost posted it here. Then almost mailed it to you. Then just decided that just because a thing is so doesn’t mean it _has_ to be said, however brilliantly one can say it. *double smirk* By the grace of God, someone will bring back Usenet from the dead and we can leave these blogs alone. ~

  43. Sleestacks scared the whiz out of me as a kid.

    “Unbreakable” was a fantastic movie, but I think I’ll continue to skip this one.

  44. No love for Lady in the Water at all? I kind of liked how it made a blanket statement about how forcing revelation into your own worldview could cause you to miss out on salvation. Sort of like, I don’t know, maybe saying my worldview understanding of the 12th article of faith clearly shows how the First Presidency and the Q12 are clearly going to hell on this illegal immigrant thing. Something like that.

    BTW: I was 5 minutes late to the start of the Sixth Sense so I totally did not see that coming.

  45. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 43 Me too, Tracy! (Sorry for the tangent, Steve.)
    I suspect most people here aren’t old enough to remember Land Of The Lost, however.

  46. I saw Signs twice in the theater. (Yes, it was the dollar theater, but we were in grad school at the time, so it was still kind of a big deal.) It really moved me, probably because I was experiencing a crisis of faith myself at the time.

    In the moment of crisis, the thoughts rush to his brain and he is caused — by God? — to see.

    This is how I’ve experienced most of my spiritual enlightenments or epiphanies–all the ones that I can recall, in fact. They’ve always come as a surprise and usually in the midst of me railing against God. I think the important thing is that Hess chooses to see God’s hand in events at all–the timing is less important. It could all still be a coincidence, or for that matter, his imagination. If he’s “caused to see,” well, I suspect that each of us is caused to see, in some respect, when we choose to have faith. Faith is a mysterious thing. I think we forget that even though it requires action, it is still a gift.

    Unbreakable is a fantastic movie. The Village was okay. Lady in the Water was awful. I didn’t even see the Happening. I’d even forgotten it existed. I’m not sure that I remember it existing now.

  47. Re Lady in the Water — That dude with one side of his body scrawny and the the other side muscly was worth the price of the rental alone.

  48. “See what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky?”

    I see miracles. I even have a word for them: Manna. But life will always bring us face to face with things our faith won’t easily explain or cover, and we might even quit believing for a moment–or at least persuade ourselves that we have quit believing. (See _A Grief Observed_, which C.S. Lewis published under a pseudonym because he knew his audience wouldn’t want to see him falter in his faith.)

    My family owns _Signs_.

  49. Steve, this was a great post (and now that I am home and am in a place can watch the video segment). I actually enjoyed the Village more, I read it as an exploration on whether helpful fictions are better than harsh truths, if the fictions help us live more better more productive lives. I come back to the Village again and again, but only watched Signs once. However, your take on things makes me want to watch it again. I’m afraid I didn’t give it a fair shake (I couldn’t get past how mysterious the aliens kept acting and when I found they could be defeated by Supersoakers, I got busy eyerolling).

    I worry about faith based on signs, and finding grace in convergences of circumstance. I was raised in a Mormon culture where it was common to hear the words, “It was meant to be” and where people took good things, things that involved what others would explain as coincidence as evidence that God was in their lives–like the final coming together of several unlikely things in the segment you gave. I wonder if this is a healthy faith. I wrestle with these things. When I was in Graduate school I watched an atheist get “blessings” that he called luck or just life, and when similar things happened to me I would call them blessings. When bad things happened to him, he would shrug and say, “Stuff happens” while I would double my efforts to be good so I could get over my current trial. Since then I’ve tried to see blessings in the depth of life if good or bad stuff is going on. A faith based on grace manifest as coincidence seems dangerous. If the Gibson character had died, he would not have come to God, but I think God is there regardless.

    Funny thing, Lat night I was telling my wife about the Signfeld episode where Elaine says, “The Dingo ate your baby.” While I was typing this, the day after I mentioned it to my wife, just now it airs. I think such coincidences are signs of something. I’m not sure what.

  50. Signs is hokey. The aliens alone make it really lame. I liked The Village a lot though.

  51. Glad to see the post wasn’t lost on you, MCQ.

  52. I live to make you happy, Steve.

  53. “In particular, this idea of irresistible grace and the breaking of the will of Hess’ unbelieving is a distinctly non-mormon notion”

    Really? I’ve always thought of both of those things as quite Mormon notions. Alma’s statement that all things denote there is a God, President Benson’s statement that God will have a humble people whether they choose it or he compels them, Mormon’s description of the Nephites and their being shown signs and instead of turning to God being angry that they can’t be happy and provident in wickedness all seem right in line with this concept.
    The idea that God does watch over us even when we think he’s abandoned us, that many of our trials are actually God’s hand at work to provide or protect in ways we don’t understand, that evidence after evidence is given but we have to at some point decide to act all seem quite Mormon in nature.
    I disagree to some extent about Alma the younger being that different from Hess in this situation. Yes, Alma the younger had decision making to end the torment- but Hess did as well. The signs pointed to what was at that time undeniable as the way to end the torment, but hes could have chosen to not believe, to continue being angry at God, to refuse to make the connection. Yes, it’s unclear as to whether he really believed up until after things worked- but there is what you call that leap of faith moment. And it isn’t clear whether it was him changing or God changing him- but how is Alma really any different? How much faith did Alma really have to exercise. At that point he knew of a certainty that God existed and that he was punishing him and the only way out was to ask. At Hess’s “ah ha” moment when everything clicked he knew that God hadn’t been ignoring or punishing him and that all he needed to do to get out of the situation was to act. In some regards, I think Hess’s required more faith. Faith in God or faith in Christ? Not necessarily, though to believe that his wife’s words really were instructions from God and that it wasn’t coincidence such that he would act on them does seem to be faith in God.

    I agree quite a bit with Kaimi- that we have a theology both that faith precedes the miracle and of miracles or signs pointing people towards belief. But I certainly don’t think those things conflict- really I think the relation between them is one of the main points of The Lectures on Faith. There has to be something extraordinary that happened, at least to someone, for there to be anything which we can even look to place our faith. Otherwise we’d just be randomly believing. The miraculous was there, we placed faith in it and further miracle happened as a result/or even if non miraculous things work out properly from our actions inspired by the early miracle and we know we were right to take the leap of faith and act according to the signs.

    All that said, I still think that Shyamalan has only made two great movies and Signs is not one of them. I think the message and the means of connecting everything together was more heavy handed that a seminary video, and the lack of internal consistency really can’t help but bug me. The concept is fine and it is emotionally moving (even if in a transparently manipulative way) but overall the execution just falls short which really is a shame.

  54. Steve Evans says:

    Michael, you’re free to take a different view. I disagree that Signs shows a Mormon approach to faith.

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