Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Connecting the Dots

Tracy (Merritt Wever): Is 'douche bag' a curse?

Graham (Mel Gibson): I suppose it would depend on its usage.

Tracy: How about 'John, you're a douche bag for kissing Barbara'?

Graham: It's a curse.

I found "Signs," which premiered on this day in 2002, to be entertaining — even though it came perilously close to violating my plausibility standard for science fiction movies. I suppose credit for that should go mostly to director M. Night Shyamalan, who seems to have a knack for making science fiction films that manage to entertain even nonscience fiction types like myself.

But his films are not created equal. "The Sixth Sense" was a remarkably good film, especially when you consider that it was only Shyamalan's third directorial effort. He's had some pretty good efforts in his career, but none of his succeeding films (at least, none that I have seen) have come close to matching that one.

He was in the ballpark with "Signs," though.

And speaking of ballparks, Joaquin Phoenix, who played Mel Gibson's younger brother, was a former minor–league ballplayer. It is important to know that — but it didn't seem important at first. Kind of like some of the details in "The Sixth Sense."

In the tradition of the great directors of thrillers, Shyamalan gives the viewers all the pieces they need to solve the puzzle — but he lets them assemble the pieces without knowing what the puzzle is ultimately supposed to look like. And then suddenly he reveals the whole picture, and the viewers begin to realize the things they got right — and the things they got wrong.

I like what film critic Roger Ebert wrote in his review of the movie.

"In a time when Hollywood mistakes volume for action," Ebert wrote, "Shyamalan makes quiet films. In a time when incessant action is a style, he persuades us to pay close attention to the smallest nuances."

The core of this story was the sudden appearance of "crop circles," those geometric designs in fields that pop up in the news from time to time. The more conspiracy theory–minded among us tend to believe that they are created by aliens, but probably most people — and certainly most scientists — even those who fervently wish the existence of aliens could be proven tend to dismiss them as likely hoaxes.

Gibson's character had once been an ordained priest, but he had given it up after his wife's death in a car accident.

That didn't prevent the locals from asking him faith–based questions, though, and he constantly had to tell them that he had no faith.

But then these crop circles appeared in his field, and they began showing up all over the world, too, and other phenomena began to occur, like reports of strange lights over Mexico.

Phoenix and his young niece (Abigail Breslin) and asthmatic nephew (Rory Culkin), who became convinced early that aliens were real and hiding in plain sight, fashioned caps out of tin foil to prevent the aliens from reading their minds. That was one of those "nuances" to which Ebert referred.

And Gibson's character wasn't convinced — initially.

As the movie progressed, though, viewers discovered that the aliens did exist and had been responsible for those crop circles.

And Gibson and his family took all sorts of precautions to keep the aliens from entering their home, but they were unsuccessful.

When they were first seen, the aliens appeared as shadows or reflections on a TV screen. Later on, though, Shyamalan brought them into the light of day.

And it was under such circumstances that Phoenix, who hit a lot of home runs during his minor–league career but also struck out a lot, used his longball–hitting skill to take on the unwelcome guests.

Gibson's loss of faith, while mostly underplayed through the movie, was nevertheless a constant theme and restoring his faith was his character's purpose. In the end, he appeared to have regained his faith as a result of his extremely close encounter.

In fact, the whole family seemed to be doing better.

A happy ending.