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Providence in Signs

July 2, 2010

(If you have somehow managed neither to see Signs nor learn the ending, there are spoilers ahead.)

As a Christian watching M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs recently, I quickly noticed that a major theme in the film is whether Providence of some sort exists, or is simply wishful thinking by those in difficulty.  The answer, simply put, is yes, it does.  Commandeering the film as an expression of Christian ideas is too simplistic, however, and does not reflect what is actually present.  So while it is the echo of Christian theology that made me most interested in this issue, before using Signs to explore Christian ideas it is necessary to make space for understanding its own ideas.

In a crucial scene, Graham, the ex-priest protagonist who has lost his faith, distinguishes between those who see miracles in their lives and those who see merely luck or chance.  He has concluded that all is chance, and that no one is watching out for us; his brother believes that there is someone, but makes no effort to specify who that someone is.

Later in the film, the man who accidentally killed Graham’s wife describes how it required him falling asleep at the one particular moment when he was approaching her–any other moment of sleepiness would have harmed no one but himself–for her to die.  This presumably was a major factor in Graham’s rejection of God.  If there is indeed someone watching out for us, it seems he must be malevolent to orchestrate events like this.

Graham’s realization at the end that all the inconveniences or apparent misfortunes actually contributed to saving his son from the alien restored his faith that there is someone out there guiding events.  The asthma attack, the wasted glasses of water, the trophy baseball bat–all contribute to saving Morgan.  Even the particular phrasing of his wife’s last words helps in a way she could not have predicted.  If not for the fact that those words were his wife’s last, he would not likely have recalled them in his moment of panic, and would not have thought of the plan of attack he did.  So in a way, it was his wife’s death that saved Morgan; with Graham’s subsequent re-entry into the priesthood, his prior belief that malevolent Providence resulted in his wife’s death has apparently withered.

Although Graham’s conclusions lead directly to Christianity, the film as a whole seems to suggest that the important divide is whether you believe that there is more to life than luck, chance, and one’s own effort, not whether you accept a particular religious account of these matters.  For this reason, we should not be too quick to claim the movie’s message for our own.  It certainly provides fruitful material for discussing whether a loss or disability is “worth it” if it leads to some other blessing, though.  Further, regardless of whether it is overly vague about the being taking care of us, or too willing to incorporate bad events into an overall good (both of which can be debated), its ending provides a beautiful picture of restored hope and faith.

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