The next two movies of M. Night I will be dealing with are Signs and The Village. Both did spectacularly poor given how good they are. This is probably because both were advertised as horror and suspense films. They really aren’t horror and suspense films in any way shape or form.
But what deeper meanings were lost while people looked for aliens in cornfields and monsters among the trees?
“So you have to ask yourself, are you someone who believes in signs, in miracles?”
Really it was kind of hard to miss the central theme of Signs, or so I thought. But when I talked to most people about it they didn’t seem to have picked it up. So just to make sure that we’re all on the same page here, the central theme of Signs was that the universe is full of small little things, signs, coincidences, luck that isn’t just random but all for a very specific purpose. This builds on themes of the previous two Shyamalan movies. It’s not just that people have a purpose and a role, it’s that everything has a purpose and a role. Even the most meaningless of things is really a part in the large Rube Goldberg machine that is life. Why is life such a complex system with little signs and signals? Why doesn’t God just come out and say things bluntly? If you hadn’t noticed he does that too, people don’t listen to the bluntly and they only pay attention to the signs when they have no other option.
But a more subtle theme of Signs is the concept called the dark night of the soul. Broadly speaking here, (understand I’m taking something you can discuss for volumes into a few sentences), the dark night is that point in your spiritual journey where you have reached a moment where nothing means anything. You’ve lost your faith and doubt everything you may have once believed in and you are lost in a dark night of doubt. Nowadays we might refer to it as an existential crisis, but that phrase doesn’t imply the spiritual nature of this journey. The dark night of the soul is actually an important step in spiritual growth because it is only through it that we can move from believing in our faith to actually acting on it. The name derives from the poem “The Dark Night of the Soul” written by St. John of the Cross, but the most famous example of it in literature is probably the spiritual despondency of Ajurna in the Bhagavad Gita. In the Gita, Ajurna wonders what’s the point of slaying his ego based desires, he is at a point where the sense pleasures don’t give him happiness but he is still too far from God and Enlightenment to find joy there either. So what’s the point in any of it. The dark night of the soul. But through communing with his higher self, represented in the Gita by the god Krishna, Ajurna (a metaphor for each of us) goes onto slay the manifestation of the ego and metaphorically reaches a higher state. This is a natural stage in our spiritual progression and the trick is not to get bogged down it. I have a friend who seems to have one of these crises every six months or so and she always seems to come out of it much wiser…so I figure in about 15 years I’ll be kneeling at her feet asking the great spiritual teacher to show me the way.
In the movie it is seen through Mel Gibson’s character’s loss of faith caused by the death of his wife. However when the signs come clicking into place, he not only acts on his faith, but in a very underplayed scene at the end it is suggested that he not only returns to being a priest, but assuredly one whose faith is now rock solid. (One could only hope a similar personal revelation would come upon the disgusting excuse of a human being known as Mel Gibson).
On the flip side The Village shows us what happens when you get lost in that dark night and give into the fear. You retreat from the world. Okay so maybe you don’t set up a community that makes the Amish look like they’re on the cutting edge of technology, but giving into fear is a cowardly retreat from the world. And that is what we see in the village; a retreat from the world where only the characters of Joaquin Phoenix and Bryce Dallas Howard are willing to face fear and act out of love and compassion. The Village does not contain the higher purpose message of other films, but it does focus on something that is extremely New Age: That the only two opposing forces in the world are fear and love. Everything else is merely the battle between these two forces. And while this theme subtly appears through the whole story it most clear, sadly, displayed in a scene that can only be found in the deleted scene content on the DVD (and I would argue it was a mistake to cut this scene even if it did screw up the pacing of the last act).
Thinking that she has stumbled upon the monster in the forest (really just wind and sound producing pipes) Howard’s character overcomes her fear of being killed and calls out “It is for love that I am here. I beg you to let me pass. It is for love.” While it probably doesn’t help the suspense it is the clearest expression of conflict between love and fear.
This film is also the most negative of Shyamalan’s good movies as it depicts only two (maybe three if you count the security guard) people who are able to overcome the fear that society encourages and forces on them. Otherwise fear is a paralyzing force that literally destroys the people it touches forcing them to try and hide in a made up world…and even there the evils they attempted to escape follow them. The movie quite clearly condemns their cowardice, but few viewers got that their inability to live their own lives without fear made them just as sad as the characters in the movie.