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Roy Anker


Signs and Wonders

The spiritual imagination of M. Night Shyamalan

In 1999, pretty much out of nowhere, M. Night Shyamalan hit the American movie scene with the kind of blinding flash that does not appear often in Hollywood. Super-hit movies come along with regularity, but not usually by boy wonders, and not since the days of Spielberg and Lucas has anyone splashed quite so large as Shyamalan. At age 29, he wrote and directed 1999's huge surprise, The Sixth Sense, a pretty low-budget word-of-mouth film that made about a quarter of a billion dollars in pure profit, outdone only by the original Star Wars. And that was just in the theaters stateside. Full-grown, well-educated adults went to see the film, an elegant and very creepy ghost story, over and over again, even talking it up to innocent bystanders in places like church.

In 2001 came the much-anticipated Unbreakable, again written as well as directed by Shyamalan and starring two of Hollywood's biggest actors, Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis (Willis had the lead role in The Sixth Sense). Unbreakable was also eerie, albeit only moderately, the story of a middle-aged security guard who comes to the realization that he is, in fact, to his astonishment, a comic-book style superhero, "Security Man" or something like that. Slow and a bit clunky, and the miscasting of Jackson, did not help the film, but a lot of people still went to see it (almost $100 million in domestic box-office alone) simply because it was made by the fellow who did The Sixth Sense. And now Signs.

Premise: An ex-Episcopal priest who lost his faith when his wife died regains it in the midst of a global attack by aliens. Humans know something strange is afoot because numerous large and elaborate crop circles are showing up simultaneously all around the globe—for instance, in the priest-turned-farmer's cornfields in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (45 miles from Philadelphia, the director's hometown, in which he determinedly still lives). For the befuddled earthlings, the circles are "signs" of some sort, portents of strange ...

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