I was in the most spiritless city the world has ever known—no, neither Sodom nor Gomorrah, but rather Las Vegas—having dinner with colleagues. Discussion turned to movies, and M. Night Shyamalan’s film, Signs, came up. I thought myself one of the few who could explain the movie in one sentence, so I asked a peer what he thought the movie was about, and he replied, “Uh, aliens invade earth?”
I scoffed superciliously and said, “No, it’s simple: God exists, and everything happens for a reason.” How foolish I feel now, nearly 20 years later—for I was right, I just didn’t realize I’m in the same movie.
At the beginning of the 2002 film we meet a character played by Mel Gibson, who lives on a rural farm and wears a work shirt. The camera pans across a photo of him on the wall, however, that shows him wearing a priest’s collar. Later, the townsfolk refer to him as “Father,” but he reminds them that he doesn’t want to be called that anymore. We learn that his wife was killed in a car accident, and this made him lose faith in God.
Then aliens actually do invade Earth, and this is the genius of the film. Against the backdrop of an alien invasion and with moviemaking meant to induce anxious popcorn-chomping, Shyamalan subtly reveals how a man who lost all faith gets it back. It happens when life on Earth is threatened with extinction. Is God looking out for us in the wake of invaders bent on our destruction, or are we just intelligent apes left on our own?
As the final scenes unfold we see that all the tragedies, misfortunes and failures that Gibson’s family have gone through were actually part of a preordained divine plan that would one day save them from evil. Their curses are actually blessings in disguise.
Stoicism teaches us that everything is opinion, and Gibson finds out that his opinion of everything—his wife’s death, leaving the priesthood because he thought God had abandoned him, his family’s illnesses and neuroses—was all completely wrong.
And now here I am, all these years later, telling my readers that the theme of the movie is true, and that all my personal tragedies and failings led up to the moment when I would have a newspaper column to bring them this message. The most awe-inducing result of a spiritual awakening is that life reorganizes itself around the principle of synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence. Carl Jung said a person’s life is typical of them, another way of saying that our lives are written in the stars.