It’s Sunday and here’s something I never thought I’d write about in this blog: crop circles, clergy without faith, and an alien invasion.
I watched Signs again last night with my teenage daughter. She had not seen it before. It’s a movie that leaves me wanting to know more about one of the characters. I wish he were my neighbor so we could sit out back, drink coffee and share our understandings. Throughout the movie, Rev. Graham Hess (played by Mel Gibson) struggles with faith and his expectations of God and life.
Rev. Hess is a priest who lost faith following the death of his wife. You learn through his flashbacks that before the movie begins, his wife was struck by a vehicle while taking a walk at night. She was pinned against a tree by the vehicle and lived just long enough to talk with her husband who arrived at the scene, very ministerial, in his black suit and white collar.
Signs is about the crisis of an alien invasion which follows the appearance of crop circles around the world. I’ll not pursue that line here, but the story is done well because the focus is on Father Hess, his two children, a young son and younger daughter and Hess’s younger brother who lives with him.
Against the background of the invasion, M. Night Shyamalan develops a story in which the crisis can work well as a metaphor for understanding how a family struggles with the invasiveness of a disease like Multiple Sclerosis. The invasion impacts every family member, they don’t know what to expect, emotions run high and family dynamics swirl as new information arrives (or doesn’t).
Any invasive crisis forces choice of action … do I fight, focus on what’s important, learn to care in new ways or get lost in longing for what was?
This is Hess’s crisis of faith: he once believed in signs. He knows his wife should not have been killed. God is good. Bad things are not supposed to happen. His wife died. He wants to feel that “whatever’s going to happen, there will be someone there to help”. He’s alone on the dark side of the moon without his wife and without his faith.
He explains the crisis in this way to his brother:
“People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign, evidence, that there is someone up there, watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck. Just a happy turn of chance. I’m sure the people in group number two are looking at those fourteen lights in a very suspicious way. For them, the situation is a fifty-fifty. Could be bad, could be good. But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they’re on their own. And that fills them with fear. Yeah, there are those people. But there’s a whole lot of people in group number one. When they see those fourteen lights, they’re looking at a miracle. And deep down, they feel that whatever’s going to happen, there will be someone there to help them. And that fills them with hope. See what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences?”
He longs for there to be no coincidences, but he can’t shake the thought that maybe he is on his own.
In a scene when his son, Morgan, is dying, Hess yells at God, “Don’t do this to me again. Not again. I hate you. I hate you!”
Hess is an emotionally honest man. But he can’t know yet that the asthma attack is a good thing. It turns out to be “more than coincidence”. (I’ll not spoil the ending for you.)
The crisis is resolved for Hess. He sees the event as a sign, evidence, that there is someone up there.
For some, having a family member with Multiple Sclerosis may bring no challenge to their faith. For those who struggle, though, Signs is a good movie. It provides an apt metaphor for thought and offers a story of faith renewed.