Signs Ending Explained: Swing Away

M. Night Shyamalan movies get a lot of flack, and they don't deserve it. As we've discussed here at /Film before, M. Night Shyamalan movies are good, actually, and we're not just talking about twist endings. Arguably one of his best movies, Shyamalan's "Signs" focuses on a former minister named Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) who lives on a farm in Pennsylvania with his children Bo (Abigail Breslin) and Morgan (Rory Culkin), and his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix). Following the death of his wife in a horrific car accident six months prior, Graham has completely lost his faith, and given up his career as a minister. One morning, Graham notices intricate crop circles appearing in the cornfields on his farm, and what follows is the increasing presence of aliens and unexplainable events around the Hess farmhouse.

"Signs" is so much more than just an alien invasion movie, it's about our reasoning for existing. There's a touching scene where Graham and Merrill sit on a couch together discussing life and Graham poses the ultimate question, thereby explaining the central conceit of the entire film:

"See, what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way. Is it possible that there are no coincidences?"

The film is one of Shyamalan's most philosophical and this extends all the way to the film's final moments, although not everyone is a fan of the ending.

The Ending of Signs

During the end of Graham and Merrill's couch conversation, Graham shares with his brother the final words of his late wife. Colleen Hess was pinned against a tree by a vehicle, and was only able to stay alive as long as the car held her together. The moment the car moves, she would pass on. It's a horrific scene filled with the dread of inevitability, heightened by her seemingly nonsensical words. As Graham tells it:

"I never told you the last words that Colleen said before they let her die. She said 'see.' Then her eyes glazed a bit, and then she said 'swing away.' You know why she said that? Because the nerve endings in her brain were firing as she died, and some random memory of us at one of your baseball games just popped into her head. There is no one watching out for us, Merrill. We are all on our own."

At the end of the film, an alien has broken into the Hess home and is holding Morgan hostage, spraying a mysterious gas onto his face. Graham, Merrill, and Bo look on in horror before Graham remembers earlier in the film that the aliens are adverse to water. One of the kids has developed a habit of leaving half drank glasses of water around the house, so Graham calls upon his late wife's final words, "swing away" and instructs Merrill to use the baseball bat and knock over all the glasses onto the alien, killing it.

But What Does It Mean?

Graham calling on the words of his late wife makes him believe that there was an intervention from a higher power to keep the family alive. This is the answer he sees to his original questions on the couch — he sees signs, he sees miracles, to Graham, this is so much bigger than luck. Six months after the alien invasion, we see Graham return to the clergy, his faith restored. 

But what makes the ending of "Signs" so interesting, is that the film is not trying to preach or convert anyone to a particular faith. Religion is being used as a vehicle to force us to look at our own views on fate. Were the glasses of water placed there due to divine intervention, or merely a coincidence? Were Colleen's last words foreshadowing what was to come, or was it really just her brain firing random memories? Ultimately, the answer lies in our own interpretation of the signs that surround us. "Signs" is asking us to find our answers to the big questions in life, not the answers, because ultimately, the answer is different for each of us.