“Is it possible that there are no coincidences?”
Rev. Graham Hess, Signs 2002 written by M. Night Shyamalan
WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS!!!!!! Please if you have not seen The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, Devil and Split please make sure to read this once you have. You have been warned.
Manoj Nelliyattu or as he is better knows as M. Night Shyamalan. Is an Indian-American filmmaker responsible for films such as The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, & the recent Split.
Shyamalan makes movies about people; flawed, hurt, and broken people. Usually it takes supernatural forces and events to help heal and restore these people. Eventually if you make movies about people and if you add supernatural elements, you will at some point talk about God.
Shyamalan has never denied the spiritual influences that go into his storytelling. His films are loaded with themes that harken back to the greatest story ever told that is 100% true; the life and death of Jesus Christ. Even though we see scary things in Shyamalan’s films he reassures that there is hope at the end and that is a comforting thing to know. Likewise Christ assures us that he will be with us to the end of the age and will return again in glory to reconnect us to our Father in heaven.
While Night was raised in a Hindu family from India, their migration to the United States allowed for some Christian influences to affect the man who has called Pennsylvania home since coming to America with his family. He attended a Catholic school that had a huge impact on his life. While he still identifies as Hindu he has said that the Christian story has had influence on his writing. The young man who grew up wanting to be Steven Spielberg did get commercial success from his Sixth Sense and that fueled his career.
While his religious themes have impact on the more supernatural elements in his stories they also play a huge role in the character arcs of his protagonists. We see this in The Sixth Sense, Bruce Willis’s character is in denial of his own death. While he thinks he is alive and that all the separation he feels from his wife is due to them not getting along, it shocks him when he discovers he has died. This to me is a perfect allegory for our death which came as a result of our ancestors’ sin. We are cut off from God and unable to see him and in turn means that without him we sin and are ignorant of our own situation. Much like Willis needed to see his death and it was in turn due to the help of his ‘patient’ we too need help to see truth. We need to truth which comes from God’s Word which shows us our sin and the result. It also points us to the one who came to fix that.
We all relate to Shyamalan’s characters because we too are hurt and more over we are dead.
Sixth Sense stands as the perfect entrance to the cinematic Gospel of Shyamalan. Like in the film we need hope and relief not so much from ghosts but from our sin. It is in faith we too first see our death and see how that truly haunts us. We see it in out day-to-day lives. Whether it is how we treat others or how others treat us. Whether it is our insecurities about the future or the health of a loved one. We become alerted to our affliction and seek to cure it.
Much of this idea is also in Night’s next film Unbreakable; also starring Bruce Willis.
Unbreakable is different from Sense, in that the character sees he cannot be harmed and did not die in the train crash. He is heals quickly and realizes that in fact he is also someone who mends those broken. At the end of that film we see a character who uses this to help others. In this context he takes on a sort of Christological attribute in that he is a savior and looks save others. Christ came to save us as well; he came to give us new life.
The Gospel of Shyamalan’s films is that they start with the brokenness and shows us the world has heroes to save us. It is not a new thing to compare super heroes to Christ. Ever since Superman came out we have seen many striking allegories. It was also the same in Paul’s time. The Greeks continued to compare Jesus to Zeus and while that was natural to assume we also most have the same diligence as Paul to proclaim the same as he that Jesus is something different. While Night’s films are not an exact true Gospel and I would never say as much. We do see some similar ideas which can be useful in helping show Christ. It is vital to tell stories of conflict and relief. To tell stories of saviors and those needing salvation. C.S. Lewis himself crafted the Narnia series to do that very thing.
We see that in the four Gospels. The world was dead and broken apart from God. So God the Father sent his Son to redeem and heal the world. He came to die for it and be the substitute. To take on the pain and the destruction that we have deserved. We can see what that sorta looks like, especially in Night’s next film Signs.
Signs is all about believing that there is a plan for us even in the painful sight of tragedy. Mel Gibson’s Graham Hess, is a man of God who no longer believes, or at least that what he thinks. Our next Gospel lesson from Shyamalan is that after seeing our brokenness and knowing there is some here to mend it, we still lose faith. Faith is a delicate thing and while we are never promised an easy life (in fact the opposite the closer to God we get) there is peace in knowing that we still will be given faith even after we think we have lost it. In so many ways this film is all about that.
A very similar story is also shown in The Village. Like Signs, The Village shows what people do when they lose all hope and put faith in themselves. Like the Apostles the elders of The Village where scared and shaken by unexpected death. They had seen the impact of the broken world brought upon by sin and the cost of it. Like the Apostles their response was to hide themselves but we must never be too afraid to do the things we are called to do. It takes courage to go from the comfort of what we know and to seek the cure. Likewise the same is for those who wish to share it.
The stunning truth of The Village is that often the ugliness we hate is what we ourselves are. The things we try to control cannot be controlled. Relying on our faith about what we know is a scary thing but it leads us through the dark dangerous places we travel. We must endure long enough to see the Cross and to be stregthen by it’s results. Each one of Night’s films show our broken nature but at the same time they also show us that those who are broken and are in dispair shall overcome it. Part of the Gospel of Shyamalan is that if we admit our brokenness and understand that despite we are saved. We see this in the next two films but in different ways.
In Devil a film written and produced by Shyamlan but not directed by him. We see the actual devil attack and we see what confessing out sins do. We must note that while the devil likes to use guilt he also like hubris. Guilty feelings and guilty under the law mean two different things and for the only survior of the elevator this comes to show itself.
While he may acknowledge his sin and the deserving of death and hell. He is spared. Obviously only Jesus saves and he took our place so that the devil can do nothing against us but taunt. This scene does show that confession is key to salvation. In a sightly different way we see this in Spilt.
While being abducted by Barry the main female protagnist is faced with surving the soon to come onslaught of “the beast”. It is only at the end when all the attempts of escaping and fighting back fail that the girl runs to a dead end and locks herself in a cell. By then her shirt is ripped and it shows the scars she got from a lifetime of abuse at the hands of her uncle. The beast is interested is getting different people to joing his ” horde” and looks for those who have never known pain. While this is not as clear cut as other Night films the interesting thing about it is that the story’s main character survives because of her wounds and her painful life. The beast tells her that the next evolution of man is those who know and are phyiscally shaped by it.
Likewise the snake in the garden did a similar thing. He wanted a new world with perfection gone. Though it is not our sins and the marks they leave that save us. It is good to know that our salavation also similarily comes because God came to save the sinful. At the end of these films we see that while we are broken we not be in dispair for we are saved regardless. The hope of Shyamlan’s films is that we too can now hope even in dark times. His films serve as great coversation pieces to get to the real Gospel which shows us Christ and him crucified for us. To see the broken restored, to see the dark defeated by light and love reigning over all of us even in our broken state we have something to look forward to.