Fri, 06 Dec 2002

Saw Signs finally. First off, those were the wussiest alien invaders ever. What, they can’t break out of a locked pantry? They can be defeated by one guy with a baseball bat and a glass of water? Moe’s board-with-a-nail from The Simpsons looks pretty sophisticated by comparison. (“Someday they’ll make a baseball bat and a glass of water so large it will destroy them all! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!”) And even if these aliens somehow manage to trap you in the cellar, don’t worry – just jamming a pickaxe under the doorknob is enough to foil them completely. The zombies in Night of the Living Dead had an easier time breaking into the old farmhouse, and they could barely walk upright, let alone pilot a spacecraft across the cosmos and coordinate a massive global invasion.

But okay, whatever, the aliens were pretty scary anyway, so long as you only glimpsed them out of the corner of your eye, and so long as you didn’t dwell on how stupid they were, being allergic to water and all, not to put on wetsuits before visiting the planet that’s two-thirds ocean. But what’s really scary is the nature of God’s involvement in repelling this particularly feeble invasion.

I guess the first and most obvious question to ask is why, if God was so interested in protecting this particular farm family from the aliens, he didn’t just take the much simpler step, being omnipotent and all, of preventing the aliens from invading earth in the first place. Or, assuming that his omnipotency has been exaggerated, at least of striking the aliens down with a thunderbolt, as even a second-rate deity like Odin would have done. Causing Mel Gibson’s wife to be bisected by a speeding truck months before, just so that her dying words could eventually trigger the actions that would save his asthmatic son, seems not only needlessly complex, but also downright cruel. If God finds it necessary, for whatever reason, only to interpose himself into human events obliquely, could he not have arranged for a pizza delivery boy to show up at the climactic moment, bearing the requisite message? “Here’s that extra-large pepperoni, sir, and by the way, tell your brother to Keep On Swingin’, wink-wink.” A dead wife for a living child might seem like a fair trade-off for Mel Gibson, but only if God couldn’t have just as easily orchestrated an outcome where both family members survived.

I read a review of Signs that said a movie that uses supernatural occurrences to promote the existence of God is inevitably a cheat, because a movie director is God, insofar as his cinematic universe is concerned; being able to rewrite the script, he can plant whatever evidence he wishes in order to ordain an outcome that “proves” God’s existence. But this criticism is overly generous to Signs. The problem with the movie as a piece of religious propaganda is that, even with the writer-director shuffling the deck to make God seem like the hero of the piece, He still comes off like a fool. He’s either a lousy deity, who works elaborate, subtle miracles where a simple, big one would do the trick much better, or a vicious one, who toys with an innocent farm family because it amuses Him. And yet, by the end of the movie, Mel Gibson has gone from open hatred of God to a renewed faith in Him. I guess if God had only killed a couple more family members, Mel Gibson would have given away all his possessions and joined a monastery. What a sucker. It would be funny, at least, if Signs were intended as a satire of Christian masochism; and maybe someday, in a more enlightened era, people will interpret it that way, just like modern stoners giggle at anti-pot propaganda films from the ’50s.

But anyway. The aliens were kinda scary.

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