Today I wrapped up a 5-week adult class at my church on the films of M. Night Shyamalan. Each Sunday I showed selected clips from one of his movies and then the class discussed the movie from a Christian perspective. My goal was to help the adults of our church think Biblically, appreciate art for art's sake, and learn how the stories of our culture can help us understand and spread the gospel.
The five movies we examined were Wide Awake (1998), The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000), Signs (2002), and The Village (2004). It was fascinating to look beyond these movies to what Shyamalan reveals about himself in his movies.
He is famous for his fondness for Philadelphia as a backdrop, his love of the color red, spooky stories, cameo appearances, and surprise endings. What is not as well understood is how his early experiences in Catholic and Episcopalian schools shaped his view of God. Shyamalan's movies are very religious. Each one is filled with spiritual imagery and symbolism. Wide Awake goes even further, telling the story of a boy's search for God.
Indeed, for Shyamalan, God is sovereign and involved in this world. But something is missing in his worldview. While God is sovereign, He is not terribly personal. While He is powerful, He is not all that loving. People in Shyamalan's films usually have to just figure things out on their own. God leaves "signs" of His existence, and they are remarkable signs. But Shyamalan's God is not the God who came to us in the flesh, and comes to us still, in Jesus Christ.
A guy in today's class made a striking observation. In several of Shyamalan's movies (Wide Awake, Signs, and a deleted scene in Unbreakable especially), the people who are supposed to be spiritual guides turn out to be confused, even cynical, about their faith. The hero is the person who comes to an existential "awakening," rather than embracing the faith of their fathers through more traditional means (i.e., conviction of sin, understanding the gospel message, reading the Bible, etc.). So a good Muslim could be inspired by Shyamalan's films. So could a good Mormon, a good Buddhist, a good Jehovah's Witness, and so on.
We wondered, why didn't Shyamalan "get" the gospel when he was attending religious schools as a boy? Could it be that the very leaders who should have had the answers squandered their opportunity to disciple this gifted, influential young man and lead him to Jesus? Did they not know Him themselves?
The gospel of Christ says that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, so it is an unreliable spiritual compass. We need more than warm feelings about a God who heals people, leaves signs of His existence, and visits us with angels. We need a Savior, a Redeemer, a God who is both powerful and loving, both sovereign and personal. That need was met in Christ, the God-Man, who personally identifies with us, carries our sorrows, and makes us right with God.
Shyamalan has incredible insight into human pain and universal longings. He is in touch with the "God-shaped vacuum" that Blaise Pascal talked about. His movies are among my favorites. I just pray that M. Night Shyamalan will one day embrace God's one and only Sign . . . and make even better movies.