Remember me? I can’t believe how many months it has been since I’ve posted. I spend a lot of time thinking about this blog, being proud of it, checking for new comments, and planning new entries, but…I don’t spend a lot of time actually writing new entries. At least I haven’t recently. I’m almost always obsessed with some movie or show (occasionally a book), and sometimes the incest component just isn’t there. It has just been a really, really long stretch of that being the case. Frankly, it’s still the case right now. The entry I’m posting right now was written earlier this year and I had decided to hold off on posting it for a while in case I needed to update this blog just so that people would know it was still alive.
My backlog of things to write about is insane, and it would be appropriate for me to take some time to write about Dexter (which is so exciting right now), or some of the episodes from the end of the last season of The Middle, or about a billion other things. I hope that will all happen at some point.
And I hope, that if you do read this entry, you won’t hate me because it’s not as…how do I put it?…satisfying as some of the others. It’s far from an ideal entry for this blog, I guess you could say. Far from an ideal entry to interrupt my accidental hiatus.
But for now, here’s Signs.
First off, let me say that for obvious reasons, I usually prefer watching, shipping, and writing about (here, and/or fanfiction-wise) siblings who are teenagers or older.
And since one of the things I try to be here on this blog is someone who freely ships incestuous pairings in not just a close/strong relationship type way, but in an actual sexual way, it’s very much preferable to be dealing with an older set.
But sometimes the relationship between a brother and a sister who are younger than that really speaks to me, and I gotta future-ship it.
I’ve covered (or briefly mentioned) a few of them here – like Lisa and Bart Simpson, Phineas, Azula and Katara’s relationships with their brothers (14, teenagers technically, but still quite young).
The thing about those characters – something often true of cartoons – is that they act much older than their official age. Most of the time, it’s scripted; but even if it’s not, their voices are almost always done by adults, and the animated medium (depending on the detail and style), can usually only visually distinguish adults from children using height and (sometimes) clothing. I don’t view them as children at all, really.I haven’t dealt too much with live-action children who behave their age. A detailed entry of the Pevensie siblings hangs over my head like a fun/daunting cloud – but I haven’t done it yet. (It’ll be overwhelmingly focused on the movies and not the books.) Lucy was 8 and Edmund 10 (though it was more like 9 and 13 for the actors, a small but still perception-shifting fact).
And I just skimmed the post I did on Aliens in the Attic, and I don’t think I mentioned it, but I sort of future-shipped (I’ll be using that term from now on, I think. It’s self-explanatory, I hope) little Hannah and Jake. They were only cousins – that’s back when I used to stick to mostly relevant discussion, so maybe that’s why I didn’t bring it up. I did dance with it a little in the fanfic I wrote, though.
So I really think this’ll be the first time I talk about two characters who are truly still children, and who are very much children in every way.
Did I preamble enough for you? I don’t know why I feel the need to do that, but I can’t stop. I’m addicted to preambling. Step #8: make amends with those who have been harmed by my preambling – that’s all of you. Apologies.
I guess I worry what someone would think if they saw that I had done a shipping entry (on a website focusing on incest) about two kids if they didn’t understand exactly how I was approaching the matter. Namely that I do view them as children and their relationship as innocent, and any shipping thoughts are firmly in the distant future: simply a path their relationship might take later on. They are far too young for anything at all technically incestuous to even be possible really – their interaction can’t be anything but innocent. (Like Jaime says of him and Cersei, it was innocent and then it wasn’t.) But the non-sexual foundation of a possible future incestuous relationship can exist even at that age. And that’s what I’m discussing.
End preamble section 1. Begin preamble section 2.Signs is one of my favorite movies. I saw it in theaters when it came out back in 2002, and I loved it then. This love has not wavered or diminished. In fact, I think I appreciate this movie more and more every time I see it. IT IS A MASTERPIECE.
M. Night Shyamalan has fallen out of favor recently – I discuss this at some length in my post on The Last Airbender so I won’t go into it much now. I do not share this opinion: I liked both The Happening and The Last Airbender, though some of the criticisms of the latter are deserved, and others are understandable coming from fans of the animated show who were disappointed by the change of tone in the adaptation. I also think that people know his name and have come to expect a lot from him, but he can’t blow our minds every time. You can’t put an open Word document in front of someone and tell them to be a genius. Of course you’re going to be disappointed when you expect that. But even the movies of his considered to be the most disappointing are solid films, new and different, that might have even been acclaimed if they had been made by unknowns. And he’s a great writer, but his directing is flawless and that certainly hasn’t changed. /end supportive rant
Though I have liked them all, Signs is my favorite movie of his. By far. For me, it is, in many ways, a perfect film.
It takes place on a corn farm outside of Philadelphia where Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), who lost his wife Colleen six months ago, and consequently lost his faith and left the church where he was a reverend, lives with his son Morgan (Rory Culkin) and his daughter Bo (Abigail Breslin).Graham’s brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) moved in after Colleen’s death to help out. The movie begins when a crop circle appears on their land, and freaks everyone the freak out.
Spoiler line. I seriously, strongly, vehemently, and strenuously recommend that you see this movie if you haven’t already, and even that you rewatch it before you read this if it has been several years since you saw it last. I consider Signs to be an experience. I always feel exactly what Shyamalan wants me to – the startling jumps, the eeriness as the wind moves through the corn, the terror of the first glimpse, the chills when everything comes together. I wouldn’t want someone’s experience diminished because they read this instead of watching the movie.
Anyway, resuming: The dogs begin behaving strangely. Graham sees a man outside the house, but when he and Merrill try to chase him down he seems to defy physics. Eventually crop circles appear all around the world, far too elaborate to be a hoax. Morgan’s walkie talkie (actually Bo’s old baby monitor) picks up strange voices. Then lights appear in the sky. And then the aliens are seen and the invasion begins. The Hess’ decide to hunker down at the farmhouse; they board it up and retreat to the basement. They hear the next day on the radio that the aliens are fleeing, defeated.
So they venture forth, but one remains. It nearly kills Morgan, but a series of can’t-be-coincidences result in triumph over the remaining alien: Morgan’s asthma stops his lungs from absorbing the poison sprayed by the alien, Colleen’s dying words open Graham’s eyes to the signs around him, including Merrill’s conveniently placed minor league baseball record commemorative bat, which Merrill then uses to hit the alien, sending it flying against a shelf where Bo’s rejected half-full cups of water (which is like acid to the aliens) fall on him. Morgan is OK, and with his survival and what he witnessed, Graham believes again.I have never written a summary that did less justice in my entire life. You’re wishing you’d watched the movie, aren’t you? Well you should be. Unless you did. In which case you’re just thinking about what a crappy summary I wrote.
Basically, the titular “signs” are two-fold: the signs of the aliens coming, and then the signs indicating a greater force working in Graham’s life. It’s many different kinds of movie all in one. A story about a man getting his faith back, a story of a family dealing with loss surviving something together and coming out stronger, a sci-fi movie about an alien invasion, and a horror/thriller filled with chills and startling moments. And it’s very good at being each of those things.
It’s possible for me to understand how someone who didn’t like all of those different genres/subjects might not enjoy the movie. A hardcore atheist/materialist would reject the spiritual element; a fan of sci-fi might not appreciate the understated presence of the aliens (they are mostly glimpsed and half-seen, the global-scale battle is offscreen; personally I find it elegant and tantalizing and effective); they might also be disappointed by the small scale focus on the Hesses; someone who was not a fan of horror would be put off by the overall tone and scenes like the deaths of the dogs and Graham’s late night cornfield chase; shippers will be sorely disappointed by the lack of romance (the only other character of note is the lady sheriff, and while you can see affection and trust between her and Graham it is clearly a friendship and nothing more. In fact, I really appreciate how platonic their relationship is – it just goes to show what a well-acted platonic relationship between an unrelated man and a woman of the same age looks like. If I can recognize that, then all the times when I think I do in fact see sexual/romantic chemistry are vindicated).
While I have always loved this movie, it really wasn’t until I just rewatched it a few days ago that I truly appreciated all its subtleties. In past viewings, I have spent most of the movie anticipating the comedic, frightening, and/or uplifting highlights.
But this time when I watched it, I really let it wash over me. And I really tried to pay full attention to each element and every small detail. And besides a new admiration for Shyamalan’s masterful direction, I also truly saw for the first time the richness of all of the relationships carefully woven into the story. With only four characters, it’s remarkably rich in that way.I’m sure I’ve mentioned it enough to make it clear, but I have a special place in my heart for stories about brothers and strong brother relationships (complicated or beautifully harmonious). I don’t slash ship them generally (though slash shippers won’t hear much complaining from me in most cases), but I behave in a way very similar to shipping with regard to them and I do like it when they’re codependent – love interests existing but always secondary and expected to be secondary. And though I’m not as likely to deeply care about their relationship as I am to ship any given brother/sister, it’s still a habit with me.
For some reason I never prioritized Graham and Merrill in that way. I don’t know if it was because Merrill was so much younger, or if it was because my special interest in brothers is relatively new compared to my love for this movie, or if it was simply because my mind was occupied by the plot. But I think Graham and Merrill have a really wonderful relationship that I appreciate a lot more now.
Merrill used to play minor league baseball – and even though he was really good (he made a distance record, and several others), he was also really terrible because he always swung, even when it was a bad pitch. More strikeouts than any other two players, we learn. It sounds like Graham and Colleen used to go to his games, and Merrill’s trophy bat thing is even hanging in the farmhouse living room. And Colleen even mentions Merrill in her final, dying words. She says tell Morgan such and such, tell Bo such and such, tell Graham such and such (she’s not totally with it, because it’s Graham she’s talking to), and tell Merill “to swing away”. Now part of this is clearly related to whatever mystical precognition was going on here, but I still think it’s significant. I think Merrill has always been a big part of their lives.
And then, the biggest thing, of course, is that Merrill came to live with Graham to help out. He’s not living in the house – he’s got some sort of barn shed loft situation going – but he mostly lives in the house because that’s where the TV is (he falls asleep on the couch watching TV one night), and that’s where the kitchen is. And it’s hard to judge what’s normal (after six months there is a normal – that’s how long it has been since Colleen died) because once the events of the movie begin things stop being normal (alien invasion ≠ normal), but I’d say that Merrill mostly just sleeps in the barn shed loft, and lives in the big house.
Merrill confesses to the sheriff that he doesn’t think he’s helping very much, but she says, “You are” in just this absolutely perfect tone that is so confident and conveys so much with just two words. (Cherry Jones is the actress, and I think she’s fabulous. She just exudes this integrity and wisdom. It’s a particular quality of hers.)
When Graham sees the dark figure lurking around the house, he and Merrill go out and chase it (thinking it’s just a local troublemaker), and Merrill tells Graham to yell and swear at it, but Graham says he can’t. But then he does finally say he’s going to kick his ass at the last moment, and he tells Merrill that he swore, and Merrill says, “I heard” in just this impressed and shocked voice. I don’t know, the little exchange struck me.
Graham’s loss of faith really hurts Merrill. Not as much as it hurts Morgan. But Merrill says that he always looked up to his big brother, that Graham was the man he always wanted to be. And near the very end, after Graham has gone through a particularly hopeless moment, Merrill tells him that he never wants to see his eyes like that again (authoritatively, like a parent), and Graham just sort of nods obediently.
I also like the way Merrill is with the kids. He’s not brilliant with them, but I think there’s something very natural about it all. And there’s an easiness between him and the kids. Usually Graham will have one, and Merill will have the other, just depending upon what’s going on. They’re all watching TV, and Morgan falls asleep against Merill with Merill’s arm around him, and Bo falls asleep next to Graham. Or closer to the end during the height of the action, Graham is holding Morgan to calm him during an asthma attack, and Bo just sort of drops into Merrill’s lap.There’s also a great trust between Graham and Merrill regarding the kids. In the first scene of the movie, Graham is just waking up. He’s in the bathroom brushing his teeth and hears Bo scream. He looks around, but it came from outside. So he goes running towards the corn field. In the meantime, Merrill in his little barn shed loft or whatever (it’s nice, isn’t it?) falls out of bed at the scream, he runs down to the yard and meets up with Graham and they take off into the corn. They come across Bo, who thinks she’s in a dream. Graham discovers she isn’t hurt and immediately begins searching for Morgan, running off towards where he thinks Morgan might be, just leaving Bo behind. So Merrill scoops Bo into his arms and follows. I just feel like there was an instinctual cooperation there between the two of them. I mean, Graham heard Bo scream, he doesn’t know where Morgan is, he doesn’t know what’s going on, Bo is very little and I doubt he’d want her wandering in the corn in the best of circumstances – but he just absolutely abandons her there without a word or hardly a gesture to chase after Morgan. And I don’t think he even had to think about it, because he knew Merrill was there, and that was all he needed to know. It’s a small thing, but I liked it.I’m just so glad I took the time to smell the roses this rewatch. I even rewatched it again the following day. Because my appreciation for Graham and Merrill’s relationship was probably my favorite thing to come out of it.
But that’s not even what I set out to write about. I want to focus on Morgan and Bo’s relationship. It’s just so sweet.
The age situation is a little complicated. Signs came out in August of 2002. So let’s say they filmed in late 2001. Abigail Breslin was born in April of 1996, so she was probably five during filming. And that’s what I would have guessed for Bo. Rory Culkin was born in July of 1989, so that would make him 13 then. I can’t base this on the dialogue, but I really don’t think that Morgan was supposed to be quite that old and I never would have guessed that Rory was that old either. I’d say Morgan is 12 at the oldest, and probably 10 or 11. And honestly, without having looked up Rory’s age, I might have even called Morgan 8 or 9. And now that I think about it more, it’s not so much to do with Morgan’s looks or demeanor (although Rory must be rather short for me to have been so egregiously off-base with my estimate): it’s the way he was with Bo.
You see, Bo and Morgan are constantly together.
School is cancelled – alien day (like a snow day only with more terror and death – depending on how much snow your area typically gets because a little snow can be apocalyptic for those with no experience with it – that was supposed to be joke and now it seems serious – joke fail) – so that’s part of it, and with the centering on these four characters and a series of events covering only a few days, you don’t really get a chance to see them with their friends.
But they really are together every scene. In fact, one of the only parts where I am really remembering them not being together in any way is when the sheriff comes to interview Graham about the intruder he saw. Morgan sits at the kitchen table with his father and Merrill, while Bo is in the next room watching TV. And that makes perfect sense: Morgan is interested in the excitement discussion (as boys are apt to be), and Bo either isn’t, or Graham doesn’t want her hearing about it.
So I guess the fact that Morgan and Bo were always together made it seem like they were closer in age. Because if he was really 13 and she was only 5, well they’d probably want to do different things most of the time.
Another reason I think Morgan is younger is because of his asthma. We see him puffing away on his inhaler a couple of times. And yeah, of course older people have respiratory problems, but that’s really an image we associate with children. Especially the way in which he does it, which is very child-like.
So, I already described the first scene of the movie. Morgan says that the dogs barking woke him and Bo – they went outside to investigate, and wound up walking through the corn only to discover the crop circles. Bo must have wandered away while Morgan was investigating, because Graham and Merrill find her on her own, though only by a few feet. She thinks she’s dreaming, so the dogs didn’t do a very good job of waking her up. I wonder if Morgan woke her up to take her with him, or whether she just followed him because that’s what she is accustomed to doing. The dogs woke her and Morgan, but not Merrill and Graham.
They all go back to the house, but the dogs are still behaving strangely, peeing themselves and just being weird. Pet owners know when their pets are being weird, even if it’s just because they lie down differently. It’s part of the special human/pet relationship.
So they take the dogs – Houdini and Isobel – outside.
Graham has the sheriff come, and while the two of them are talking inside, Bo and Morgan take water out to the dogs. Bo takes a drink from the cup and says that it’s contaminated. Morgan tells her that she doesn’t even know what that means. He takes a drink and tells her that it’s fine and it won’t matter to a creature that licks its own butt. So she moves to pour it in Houdini’s bowl, but the dog growls at her. She’s terrified and wants to run away. Morgan tells her not to run, and tries to calm the dog down, but the dog will not be calmed.
So then we cut to Graham and the sheriff out in the fields. She’s describing that some of the animals in the county have turned violent, and exhibited some of the same behavior we saw with Houdini. Graham worries that he can’t hear his children anymore, and it’s just so well done, because a part of you really is afraid that the dog has killed Bo and Morgan or at least hurt them.
Graham runs back to the yard, and we see that Morgan has driven some sort of gardening implement through the dog’s chest and killed it. He tells them that it went after Bo.While on the one hand I would expect nothing less from not just a loving brother but from anyone; on the other hand, it takes a lot of protective instinct in order to pick up a weapon and end up impaling your pet. It’s pretty clear from Morgan’s constant attention and concern for the dogs that they matter a great deal to him. Obviously he loves Bo more, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been hard, that it wouldn’t have given him pause. And yet he must have been lightning quick, because neither he nor Bo were even scratched.
After the crop circles around the world are connected on the news, Graham – on advice from the sheriff – turns off the TV and the radio and forces the family to go into town and try and have some normalcy and fun. He goes to the pharmacy to pick up Morgan’s asthma medication, Merrill goes off to a recruiter’s office and has a nice talk with a scary military man. (It’s hilarious to me that between that army guy, the character Shyamalan plays himself that says he doesn’t think the aliens like water, and the book that Morgan buys – they basically know everything they need to know about the aliens and their invasion. And yet they don’t use any of that information.) Morgan goes to the bookstore, and Bo comes with him. She might just as easily have gone with her father or even her uncle, but she went with Morgan. And that’s not significant, except that it’s just them, inseparable, once again.
While they drive back, Bo is trying to poke him or something. Morgan takes her hand and forces it gently and patiently back into her own space. It amused me, the way he responded to her being a typical annoyingly little sibling compared to how most others would have responded.Morgan has been using Bo’s baby monitor like a walkie talkie, and it picks up strange voices when they drive back to the house. Graham and Merrill are trying to convince him it’s all nonsense and there aren’t any aliens, but Bo assures him supportively that she heard the voices.Graham has a close encounter out in the corn while Bo and Morgan are inside washing dishes. It’s so cute – they’re throwing water on each other and stuff. It’s the only scene where they are playful at all. These poor kids don’t smile much. Merrill is in the room flipping through the pamphlet he got at the recruiter’s office. (I’m not really sure what the purpose of all that was. I understand that he’s unfulfilled by his job at the gas station. I even understand that he’s considering the military. But it never goes anywhere. There’s just the two parts. I feel like there must be a cut scene or something that makes it relevant.) Graham walks in, shaken. The kids notice and stop washing dishes. Merrill is facing the other way and doesn’t notice Graham, but he turns around when the children become silent. He’s developed parenting instinct.Graham finally agrees to let them turn the TV on, just in time for the discovery of the lights/ships.
The only time you really see a disagreement between Morgan and Bo is when he wants to use the tape of her ballet recital to record the news. She refuses, and he turns to Graham for support, but Graham tells him to get another tape. And quite right, too.
The next day, Merrill has moved the TV into the closet because he was worried the children were too obsessed with it because they were watching it ceaselessly (though he’s obviously doing the same thing – yes, he’s watching the TV in the closet – and who wouldn’t be? My mom doesn’t turn off the TV when there’s coverage of an ice storm and you know how local news can be when they think they’ve got a big story.) Graham finds Morgan and Bo up in Morgan’s room, with aluminum foil hats on their head, reading the book about aliens that Morgan got at the bookstore.Later Morgan is looking through his telescope, and Bo is standing right beside him. “You don’t think something bad will happen, do you, Morgan?” she asks.“Why? Did you have one of your feelings again?” he asks back.
We haven’t heard of Bo’s feelings yet, although it’s an unsurprising development given how she is. Considering her age, Morgan treats her with a lot of respect, especially in this scene. He ridicules her a little for her water tick – but not nearly as badly as her father does. (Unusual for siblings, especially for an older brother, especially for a boy of that age.) And other than that, he’s very respectful.
“Is it bad?” he follows up.
I just love the trust here. I doubt her father – even back before he lost his faith – had put much store in Bo’s feelings, if she even confided in him. Morgan treats them with a certain gravity.
She nods again.“I won’t let anything bad happen to you,” he tells her. And in a way it’s almost casual, because he’s not even looking at her while he says it, he’s still peering into his telescope. But it’s more like there’s just a confidence there. An “of course” that he doesn’t say. But his tone is completely serious. Contemplative.She hugs his arm, and says, “I don’t want you to die.”Finally he turns to look at her. “Who said I was going to die?”It was her feeling, Morgan. Duh! And as you already know, Morgan is in pretty serious danger at the end of the film. In fact, he almost actually dies, to be revived by an epinephrine shot.
After Graham sees one of the aliens trapped in the pantry of a house, he decides something needs to be done. Merrill, in the meantime, saw one on the news, and has joined in on the wearing of the foil hats.They vote whether to go stay at a place by the water, or to remain at the house and board it up. Graham and Bo vote to go, and Merrill and Morgan vote to stay. Morgan confesses he doesn’t want to go because that was the place where they lived with their mother, and he doesn’t want to leave home. This causes Bo to change her vote. Now, I love this movie, but a whole lotta trouble could have been avoided if they would have just gone and stayed by the water. They have a crop circle ON THEIR PROPERTY and they decided to stay there? It’s idiotic. I would have gotten as far away from the crop circles as I could. That’s one flaw this movie has.
Graham flashes back to his last moments with Colleen while she was dying after being hit by a truck. She wants him to tell Morgan to play games, “it’s OK to be silly”. And she wants him to tell Bo to listen to her brother; “he’ll always take care of her”.
It’s just so true. So true of them in particular. The part where Houdini attacks her, and the scene with the telescope just exemplify what she said.
While Graham and Merrill are boarding up the house, Morgan just holds Bo’s hand.
Those are really the only parts I wanted to talk about. Nothing is different for the remainder of the film – Bo and Morgan are still usually side by side, and she’s absolutely heartbreaking during the scene where Morgan is in trouble.
I love the bantering sibling pairs, but it really gets me when they get along so perfectly like Morgan and Bo do. When being together and supporting each other is like a second nature. When they are extensions of each other.
As for Morgan and Bo, I just love to think of them 12 years in the future, with Morgan just as protective as ever, and Bo just as ethereal and perceptive and adorable, and still thinking the world of him and following his lead. Or surprising him with her intelligence and strength.
I’m going to append some recent pictures of Abigail Breslin and Rory Culkin for kicks. Ten years later – can you believe it? They both had movies come out recently – she was in New Year’s Eve, and he was in Scream 4. I’ve seen New Year’s Eve, but not Scream 4.