October 10, 2003
It's actually been a while since I saw this, so my thoughts aren't
as fresh as I would like, but this is still a movie that made a
big impression on me. Unlike some
reviews I have read, I understood that this movie wasn't really
about aliens. Sure, the invaders are actually a bit silly, and the
previous link does point out that this would be a terrible planet
to colonize if you happen to hate water (though if you haven't seen
it, I won't explain why). But they are not the point of the movie.
The crop circles were not the point, either. The trailers tried
to say otherwise. In fact, when I first saw commercials for this
movie, I was not impressed. Sure, M. Night Shyamalan had pulled
off impressive feats with both the 6th Sense and Unbreakable, but
I wondered if his popularity as a writer and director had ruined
his talent. Just seeing the apparent topic made me wonder if he
had already lost it. I mean, crop circles have been demonstrated
as a hoax. The following
link talks about how the prank is done as part the overall review.
What many reviewers have forgotten is that this movie did not seriously
consider the actuality of aliens and crop circles, except as a means
of testing a man's faith.
Shyamalan may have started by wondering, "What if those crop
circles really are related to alien activities?" He may have
continued by wondering "what kind of aliens would they be?
What use would they have for markings in fields?" I can't help
but wonder why they wouldn't use more sophisticated means, electronic
or telepathic or something similar. In watching the movie, you have
to trust Shyamalan, or it does get to be absurd. Perhaps these are
not as high an intelligence as the characters in the movie supposed.
I say that because the aliens seem to have little technology beyond
that which brought them to the planet in the first place. Within
the context of the movie, and with a little trust in the writer/director,
I suppose these aliens are usurpers, stealing technology to travel
to other solar systems, but without much of their own technology
to support them. I'm suspecting they came to Earth for something besides colonizing. Think about it. Would you go to a planet that has 3/4ths of it covered in water if you hate water? Some people cite this as a major flaw of the movie, and there may be some truth to it. However, I have found with Shyamalan's movies, you have to look beyond the surface story to get what he is really trying to say. That is where you find movie gold (in my humble opinion).
So I'll admit I wasn't very interested at first. I watched the
TV show that had two guys create a crop circle overnight. "Shyamalan,
what were you thinking?" I wondered. My wife and I decided
to rent it a few month ago, and watched it on the small screen of our
portable DVD player. Right away, I realized the movie would be better
than I thought. It starts out with a tension right away, as Mel Gibson's character
suffers his own private hell from losing his wife and his faith
the same night. It would be easy to devolve into schlocky clichés
about lost faith to save time, but Gibson and Shyamalan spend a
great deal of time (none of it wasted) showing the pain of loss.
It is hard to tell which of his losses is more painful, Gibson's loss of faith or the death of his wife. One way or another, you feel his pain as you watch. The tension is wratched up as you discover strange things as the main characters do. The actual crop circles. The mysterious figure stalking around.
Then the movie begins to look like an actual alien movie, ala Close Encounters. It's not. I must state that again, lest yo make a mistake. This is not an alien movie. It is a story about a man who loses his faith. The struggle is not with aliens, but within Gibson's character as he struggles to find his way back. In the process, his family is put in danger by outside forces and have disputes amongst themselves, but the focus is not on the aliens. They are the red herring.
The most stirring point of the movie is as the four family members are hiding in the cellar, and Gibson's son, played by Rory Culkin, is having an asthma attack. With no access to medical help, his life is truly in question. I felt Gibson's anquish as he tried to will his sick child to life. This was only amplified later, when they actually come into contact with an alien, but the truly powerful moment was alone in the cellar, with little hope but prayer. The very same prayer Gibson's character refused to do.
Anyway, it was moving to me. I like this movie a lot. I suppose the only problem with Shyamalan movies is that rewatching them isn't as rewarding as the first time. Ah, well. Minor quibble. I still like it.
Here are several links to crop circle sites. I thought they were interesting and relevant.