Movie Review: Signs

by Scott Aaronson

If you enjoyed David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, there is still a shred of hope. Perhaps you mistakenly believe that that execrable film had a meaning too profound for mortal comprehension, or that the first half bore an unfathomable-yet-real relation to the second (a friend of mine even attempted to connect the plots using group theory).

If, however, you are an enthusiast of M. Night Shyamalan's Signs, then no meaningful dialogue between you and me is possible. The chasm separating us is infinite. Some would say my inability to believe - in crop circles, green humanoid aliens, a universe without coincidence - makes me a cold, crabby rationalist. Yet there's nothing cold or rationalistic about my enmity for Signs: no, I hate the film violently, passionately, with every atom of my being.

If you've had the misfortune of seeing it, and have the most tenuous grasp of truth, you'll understand immediately. I won't need to defend my claim that, through its acting and dialogue, Signs transcends the innumerable clichés on which it rests to reach heretofore-uncharted depths of ignominy.

If you haven't seen it, let the following recollections testify to the horrors I witnessed.

  • The lone policewoman of allegedly bucolic Bucks County, PA (where I'm from), who trades gossip with corn farmers in a Southern drawl.
  • Bucks County's one-room bookshop, which ordered a single book on UFO's for the benefit of "city people."
  • The precocious, J. D. Salingerish son's reference to the book's authors as "scientists who were persecuted for their beliefs."
  • The assertion that, though the crop circles of the 70's were made by pranksters with ropes and boards, this time the sheer number of circles precludes such terrestrial explanation.
  • The "BREAKING NEWS" channel.
  • The UFOlogists' facility with the Law of the Excluded Middle (aliens, we're told, can be categorized as (a) friendly or (b) hostile).
  • The explanation that the green men rely on hand-to-hand combat because, if they used technology, humans would retaliate with nuclear weapons.
  • Mel Gibson's decision (justified, it turns out) to board up his windows. In the sequel, I suppose, the ET's will return to Earth with saws - but by then the humans will have "bigger boards, with bigger nails," as The Simpsons' Kang and Kodos prophesy.
  • Gibson's lengthy speech to his son, which he interrupts only momentarily on learning that aliens have entered through the attic.
  • The protagonists' judgment, having holed up in the basement, that the coast is clear by now, so it's safe to venture out in search of the son's inhaler.
  • The final scene, in which the again-pious Gibson dons a preacher's garb, secure in the conviction that nothing happens without a purpose. The reason his son has asthma, he's realized, is so that his lungs would be closed when an alien shot poison gas. A cynic would scoff that, if not for the asthma, the son would have been safe in the basement all along - but Gibson has risen above such trifling doubts.

I've ruined the ending intentionally. If even one person chooses not to see this film as a result of my exertions, my life will not have been in vain. Having been dragged to this atrocity involuntarily, I at least purchased my ticket for Goldmember instead. How could I have known, even before seeing Signs, that if I paid its director a cent I could never sleep well again?


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