I posted on Tuesday about Signs and the beauty I saw in its message. I then, as I usually do, shared the post on relevant sub-Reddits, one of which being r/horror. Little did I know, there is a bit of a controversy about a certain ‘plothole’ in the film. The conversation in the comments went something like this…
User: I like Signs’ commentary on belief and unbelief, it’s delicate build of tension, and the intricate story weaving.
Other User: bUt WaTeR
I’m paraphrasing, but in a nutshell more than a few people take issue to the aliens being harmed by water and it leading to their eventual retreat from Earth. Why you might ask? Well there are a few reasons.
Reason 1: Why would aliens come to a planet that is [insert number around 70%] water, when water kills them?
Reason 2: Why didn’t this advanced species build armor to protect themselves from the water?
Reason 3: Earth’s atmosphere, consisting of water, would hurt them, which it did not.
No lie. Those were the top three reasons given. You can see them for yourself here.
I want to respond to these claims in an organized fashion (one by one in the comments was not doing it for me) so this post is a response to the disorganized conversation that began in the comments of that post. I will start with Reason 1- why did aliens come to a planet of water when water hurt them- seeing as it was the most posited.
Here’s my response… are you ready?
They didn’t know it hurt them.
Crazy right? An alien species that doesn’t interact with water not knowing it would hurt them? The problem with Reason 1 is that it has a human-centric premise. It assumes that these alien life forms live on a planet like ours because we decided that a planet needs to have water to sustain life. And to be sure, a planet needs water to sustain a lifeform like ours. However, this alien life clearly does not need water to survive in lieu of the fact that it kills them. So why are we still assuming they had water on their planet or that they know what water is?
To be fair, anyone can choose to assume that they know what water is and came to earth anyway, but it is just as easy to assume they do not know what water is, so at best when you ascribe to the logic in Reason 1 you are choosing to operate from a premise (not any more likely than another premise) that creates a plothole. In other words, you are actively searching for a plot hole.
This reason- why didn’t they build armor to protect themselves- is more intriguing from a storytelling standpoint, but less of a problem for the movie. I find it intriguing because the answer reveals information about the aliens and relies on the story as it was told in order to answer it (unlike Reason 1 which is just a shot from left field). The reason, as presented from the rest of the film, appears to be because these aliens are body snatchers, looking less for a long-lasting war that may kill a large portion of their own species, and more for a hit and run attack, guerilla warfare if you will. The moment they start getting toasted by water, the mission no longer seemed worth the effort. In other words, they most likely could have created the armor to protect themselves, but what for? They didn’t appear to want the whole planet, especially after they found out that most of it (somewhere around 70% as told by Reddit users) would kill them.
This one is fun. This reason is even more of an indicator that people are actively looking for plot holes. Here is my thought, and it is going to sound a bit absurd to match the initial argument… Can you get hydrated from Earth’s atmosphere? No. So clearly water in a concentrated liquid state has stronger and more impactful properties than the liquid in the atmosphere. Therefore, it is likely that someone who was burned by liquid may not be affected by water in the atmosphere, even though water in liquid form may do them much harm. Come on guys…
Sure, we could look at the water device and poke holes in the movie, but just as easily we could adopt a view of the water device that creates no plot holes in the film, so at the end of the day, whichever one you adopt reveals more about your feelings on the film than about the film itself.
So why should you adopt one over the other? The answer is related to another nitpick a Reddit user presented to me. She or he pointed out how strange it was that, when the night of the alien invasion began, the family locked themselves in the house but gathered no weapons to protect themselves. They just kept ceding portions of the house to the aliens.
It took me a bit to reconcile to this fact as well. But I managed to do so because the movie was never about alien invasion as an external conflict. As per my previous post, the story is about the internal conflict in Graham, who was struggling with his unbelief. The movie was about coming to grips with ‘seeing’ the world in a new way, not about fending off an invasive alien race (internal conflict not external). Therefore, their first inclination was not to fight. The fight wasn’t the story.
This is at the core of all the reasons why people may have liked or disliked the movie, found plot holes or felt like they were easily explained. What were you watching the movie for? Did you want to follow the internal conflict as Graham vacillated between being someone who ‘saw’ or someone who believed he was alone? Or did you want an alien invasion movie, and all the external conflict that came along with it?
If it is the second, I understand why the water device would seem annoying and cause you to view it as a plot hole. It sent the aliens away, causing less external conflict, and then easily remedied the climactic scene in the movie, which was one of the only physical confrontations in the film.
But if you were watching for the first, the water device was a beautiful ‘sign’ planted early and then left alone so you would forget about it, and then recalled later as more important than we initially thought, rewriting the way we watched the movie.
In many ways, the debate over the water device is the same conflict that raged in Graham, are we going to be people who see the signs or not? Because if you do not see the water as a sign of something greater, it just becomes a stupid plot hole. That’s the brilliance of the story.
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