Thanks to Fani for this & big thanks also for translating it :) :)
Apu 36, September 6th 2002
By Pasi Rytinki
M. Night Shyamalan made a movie of crop circles
Good or bad signs?
The success of the movie Sixth Sense rose writer-director M. Night Shyamalan, who was born in India, to world fame. His newest movie Signs is an usual Shyamalan-film: the pondering of basic values within a story of wonders.
Nobody outside the movie circles that knew everything had heard about M. Night Shyamalan before year 1999. At that time appeared The Sixth Sense, the then 28-year old man's third long movie, which now is on the list of the world's ten best money making movies.
The Sixth Sense introduced Shyamalan's trademarks: a movie that relies on tradition, but that at the same time is visually original, a supernatural tale, which at the bottom is an emotional story of people, who aren't that supernatural. The most well known trademark is a very surprising conclusion.
-I didn't actually realise that people are waiting for a surprise ending from me, but I find it necessary to a movie to include surprising things. I absolutely demand from my self that no one in the audience will, after seeing three fourths of the movie, guess how the movie ends. I say, no one.
The demand seems to come true also in Signs, although it doesn't have the same big surprise as The Sixth Sense or The Unbreakable had. Shyamalan directs the movie with a sense of purpose and nothing is accidental in it. It is also the theme of the movie.
Signs is about priest Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) who lost his wife a half a year ago in a car accident and in the midst of his sorrow has lost his faith and abandoned his career. He lives a quiet life at a farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, with his children Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abigail Breskin) and his little brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) who has failed in his baseball career.
Huge, precise signs start to appear in the night to the family's cornfield. Graham and Merrill suspect that the youngsters from the neighbouring town are to be blamed, but soon the TV news tell that similar sings have been found around the world. The atmosphere of the end of the world is born and Graham advises his brother in his agony that he can believe that the signs are a clue of god's protection, if he want's to. Graham himself doesn't believe any longer, that someone is protecting them, whether the signs were from the good or the evil.
The filming of Signs was started two days after the terrorist attacks to New York. Shyamalan also sees positive things in the incident:
-The movie is a symbolic story about a threat from the outside and the situation had a ghostly connection with the terrorist attack. But we also could free our feelings together about what had happened while filming. Also in the test screening of the movie, we got feedback that the movie had helped in processing the trauma.
Signs is the first big-budget movie of the so called crop circles. These marks have been found around the world from the sixties and the seventies, most of them in England. Approximately 80 % of them have been identified as laborious jokes but there is an argument about the origins of the rest. Shyamalan tells that he has been interested in them for a long time, but that he approaches the phenomenon with a healthy suspicion.
-I hope that someday someone will prove the markings to be real, but I'm a suspicious character and I want proof first. I approach all the supernatural phenomena in my movies with a similar attitude of a scientist, but I love their visual and storytelling possibilities. The most interesting are the languages that we don't understand.
Shyamalan confesses that the crop marks in the movie are just a thing that is used to get an interesting allurement to the audience. They grant a smart twin purpose symbolism to the movie's bigger themes that are faith, hope and the losing of them. Shyamalan uses unusual situations to drive his characters to think about their deeper feelings, perhaps to put them on question and to say them aloud.
The religious aspect in Sings can be interpreted as strong but Shyamalan takes a far approach to it.
-I went to a catholic school for ten years but I have a Hindu upbringing, so my religious background is a bit messy. Of course I handle things that I believe in in my movies and religion in itself, as a larger thing than just a faith in God, belongs to them, Shyamalan explains.
Signs can be classified as an emotional scifi-triller. It is a clear honouring to Alfred Hitchcock, whose Birds Shyamalan showed to his filming group as an example of what he wanted. Shyamalan doesn't use the modern horror society's shock effects but he confesses that he values the humane aspects that are included in writer Stephen King's stories.
Shyamalan calls his way of approach as spiritual and explains it with his Indian background, although he has lived from his childhood in Philadelphia, USA.
-A chicken's head was nailed to a tree at my grandfather's garden, because someone thought he had seen a ghost and it was said that a chicken would drive ghost away. There were several of such superstitious manners. It's a part of Indian culture, which is much closer to the spiritual dimension than our coca cola culture.
Shyamalan has maid movies since the age of ten and at the age of sixteen, he had made 45 movies. His father's hopes for a traditional career as a doctor were ultimately broken, when the son saw an Indiana Jones movie.
-The movies of my childhood were only copies of other movies, I filmed them with my friends.
The unwilling super talent
Shyamalan proved to be a man with a sense of humour in the interview and in Signs he says that for the first time he succeeded in bringing humour to his movie. The humour in the movie is done by Joaquin Phoenix - who surely proved to be one of the most self ironic Hollywood stars in the interview. He frets while smoking about being unable to give interesting answers and makes up lies as a counterbalance.
-A scene in which I make a shooting for Playgirl was cut out from the movie, Phoenix claims and starts begging for someone to even smile at his joke.
Phoenix says that he enormously appreciates Shyamalan's demanding way of directing, despite his young age, Shyamalan dares to put such super stars as Mel Gibson to make a scene again and again, until he feels it's precisely right.
On the other hand, Shyamalan appreciates Phoenix, whom he persuaded to the movie only days before the filming started to replace Mark Ruffalo, who had fallen sick. In the Premiere magazine Shyamalan said that Phoenix could be the biggest actor of his generation, if he only wanted to.
-I paid him for that comment, Phoenix says, faithful to his style.
Phoenix started his career as a child actor, like his sisters and River, who died of drugs. As a teenager Joaquin got tired to acting, but returned in the age of 17 to the field after moving to New York with his girlfriend.
-It wasn't until Gus Van Sant's To Die For that made sure that this is what I really want. About that movie, I had first thought that there was no sense in the story. They had to persuade me for a long time, to get me read the script, but after that I was worried that I'd lose the part.
Phoenix strengthened his position on the map of stars in Gladiator but the man doesn't push himself out. Now he is having a long holiday after making three movies last year, Buffalo Soldiers and Thomas Vinterberg's It's All About Love in Sweden, apart from Signs. Before them, he had a year off from work.
-Everyone asks about the significance of Gladiator to me, but I haven't noticed that the amount or quality of the scripts their giving me have changed. My civil life hasn't changed either and I really don't care about anything else, Phoenix says and his sincerity can't be doubted.
Phoenix twist with disbelief, when a French reporter asks for apparently the seventh hundredth time why Joaquin, who didn't have a symbolic name as River, Rain, Liberty or Summer, changed his name for a time as a child.
-My real name is Spanish. I was very strict about these name things and I was annoyed, if my name was pronounced wrong. Finally I wanted to change my name, but god only knows why I chose Leaf. Please forgive me.
(Under a picture of Joaquin it said: Joaquin Phoenix has risen from the shadow of his late brother River to a hot name, but he doesn't care for fame.)