- Monthly Theme: Alien Invasions
- The Film: Signs
- Country of origin: U.S.A.
- Date of U.S. release: August 2, 2002
- Studio: Touchstone Pictures, et al.
- Distributer: Buena Vista Pictures
- Domestic Gross: $228 million
- Budget: $72 million (estimated)
- Director: M. Night Shyamalan
- Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, et al.
- Screenwriters: M. Night Shyamalan
- Adaptation? No.
- Cinematography: Tak Fujimoto
- Make-Up/FX: Steve Cremin, et al.
- Music: James Newton Howard
- Part of a series? No.
- Remakes? No.
- Genre Icons in the cast? No.
- Other notables?: Yes. Hollywood stars Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix. Child actors Abigail Breslin and Rory Culkin.
- Awards?: Top Box Office Film at the 2003 ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards.
- Tagline: “It’s happening.”
- The Lowdown: Graham Hess (Gibson) and his two children (Breslin, Culkin) recently lost their wife/mother in a tragic accident. They’re now struggling to recover and get back to normal life on their rural Pennsylvania farm. Graham’s younger brother Merrill (Phoenix) has moved in to help out. But one morning the Hess family discovers a series of strange crop circles in their cornfields and begin to glimpse a mysterious figure roaming the property at night. Soon, mysterious spacecraft appear all over the world’s most populous cities and the Hess family realizes they are in the midst of an alien invasion. How will Graham protect his children, both from the invading lifeforms and the existential grief of their mother’s passing?
If you haven’t seen Signs our discussion will include massive SPOILERS.
Kristine: Signs is my first M. Night Shyamalan joint. I have thoughts and questions. But maybe it would be best if you gave me a Shyamalan primer? He seems to be a situation. Is that true?
Sean: A primer in what sense? On my own personal feelings about his work? Or cultural context on the reaction to his work?
Sean: The story of his career goes like this: he came out of nowhere with a sleeper hit called The Sixth Sense, renowned for its “shocking” twist ending. It was the second-highest-grossing movie of 1999 (after The Phantom Menace) and also nominated for a bunch of Oscars, including Best Picture. His next two films are largely considered to be his “best” (depending on who you’re talking to): Unbreakable, a riff on the comic book origin story with Bruce Willis (who’d also starred in The Sixth Sense) and Signs. Unbreakable, in particular, has a devoted cult following and is thought of as an unheralded masterpiece (Quentin Tarantino is among the film’s admirers). Signs was a commercial hit and also pretty well-reviewed. But then Shyamalan’s career took a downward turn with a series of high-concept movies – 2004’s The Village, 2006’s Lady in the Water (a genuine box office bomb), and 2008’s The Happening – that critics and fans mostly hated. He then tried for a blockbuster success with a movie based on the beloved Nickelodeon animated show Avatar: The Last Airbender. It was supposed to kick off a Hunger Games-style franchise, but it was so terrible that it bombed, was critically reviled, and sent fangirls/boys into a tizzy. I think that’s where the last bits of goodwill evaporated for him. His next movie, a Will & Jaden Smith sci-fi vehicle called After Earth, was marketed using the Smiths names as the selling point, and Shyamalan’s name wasn’t even mentioned in the trailers (which is a big shift from how his other movies had been marketed). That was a pretty big sign that his image and his brand were (perhaps irreparably?) tarnished. Yet despite all of this, his movies always make a profit, with the exception of Lady in the Water, which barely made back its budget. Now he’s developing a lot of different projects, most notably executive producing a Twin Peaks-style miniseries for Fox called Wayward Pines with a pretty good cast: Melissa Leo, Juliette Lewis, Matt Dillon, Terrence Howard, Carla Gugino, Toby Jones…
Kristine: That’s interesting, because I got serious Twin Peaks vibe from Signs in certain places.
Sean: Right. Especially during their visit to town, when they all have separate interactions with townies, like the bookstore owner whose convinced that the number of soda commercials he’s seen on tv is proof of a conspiracy involving the crop circles, and of course my beloved Merritt Wever from Nurse Jackie.
Kristine: I was going to say that Tracey Abernathy, the girl who works at the pharmacy, totally stole the whole show for me. Is that Merritt Wever?
Sean: Yes. She’s amazing.
Kristine: She is great. But I have to say that my feelings about this movie are very mixed. I really liked the first 1/3 , the middle 1/3 was whatever, and I really hated the end. Besides the Twin Peaks townie scenes, my favorite part was the opening ten minutes where Graham finds the crop circles in his field and then has to chase the mysterious figure around the yard. I thought all that was really well done and totally got me into the movie. But man, the ending was shit.
Sean: Why did you hate the ending?
Kristine: Oh, Christ, there’s so much to hate. Where do I start? I hated the trite “swing away” bit and how it related back to Graham’s trauma about his bisected wife. I hated the ridiculous flashback to Wife being pinned between the truck and tree – such blatant and unsuccessful emotional manipulation. I hated how stupid Graham and Merrill were. I thought they made a million idiotic decisions and it was really frustrating and just made me root against them. I hated “everything happens for a reason.” I hated Graham getting his faith back. I hated all the dogs dying (especially Houdini with the BBQ fork, though I realize that happened at the beginning and not the end).
Sean: Those dogs felt like a shout-out to Beauty and Beast from The Hills Have Eyes, another ‘all-American family endangered by outside forces’ movie. But maybe that’s a stretch.
Kristine: Also, I hated how all the characters in the movie murmured and I couldn’t hear shit, especially Graham’s raspy whisper voice. And, even though I know it’s legitimate because she was only 6, I hated Bo’s baby voice. It drove me crazy.
Sean: Yep. Those sound like the mostly commonly lodged complaints against Signs.
Kristine: “Commonly held complaints” makes me feel like just another average moviegoer.
Sean: Not at all. It’s just that I think most people who don’t like this movie also think it starts off promising and then has a shitty ending.
Kristine: Do you concur?
Sean: Um… no. I love Signs. In fact, I love most of Shyamalan’s movies, including some of the ones people hate (like The Village and The Happening). I totally get why people hate them, but I am big fan of his work. I hate Lady in the Water a lot, and of course The Last Airbender is a travesty, but for the most part I dig his movies.
Sean: People always accuse his movies of being “Twilight Zone episode concepts that can’t sustain a full-length film,” but I think that’s a pretty awesome ‘problem’ to have. I love his approach and I love his B-movie concepts. I prefer his movies to a lot of critically beloved ‘auteurs’ like Christopher Nolan or Darren Aronofsky (both of whom are massively overrated). I’ll take Signs or The Village over Inception or any of The Dark Knipple movies any day of the week.
Kristine: I just don’t understand how Signs could start off so awesome and atmospheric and cool and then get so shitty. I admit that there were a few impressive bits even during the shit segments of the film. I liked how the alien is mostly seen via its reflection in the TV screen. That was great. But those little touches are cancelled out by the lame and silly crap, like that “noxious gas released via perfume atomizer built into alien wrist” moment. So stupid.
Sean: Yeah, that’s a strange moment. You know the movie is actually about child endangerment right from the very first sequence – remember that its Bo’s off-screen scream that sends Merrill and Graham crashing through the corn to find the children in that opening scene, which leads to the discovery of the crop circle. When Graham first glimpses the alien, it is through Bo’s bedroom window at night. I thought there was a subtext that the alien is a kind of voyeuristic child predator there. And I think the movie’s climax tells us that that’s how we’re supposed to be thinking about the aliens. There are Freudian/erotic undertones to that final sequence, where the alien has Morgan in its arms and he is unconscious and the alien’s body both opens up (feminine) and protrudes (masculine) as it threatens him. That’s another moment where the alien seems to stand for some kind of child sexual predator – it lurks outside the bedroom windows of little girls at night, it “drugs” little boys in order to have its way with them, etc. This is underscored by that televised moment where the alien reveals itself to be skulking around the margins of a child’s birthday party. The mysterious intentions of the aliens are continually suggested to be perverse and pedophilic – why else would these strange figures be hiding and watching children all the time?
Kristine: I thought the reveal of the alien through the birthday party camera footage was good.
Sean: Right? It’s great. But that opening scene where the children are off-screen and calling for help lets us know right away that the main challenge for both Merrill and Graham in the film is going to be keeping the children safe. It’s interesting that Merrill – the rogue, unattached, sexually virile young male – is the one who ultimately protects the family and stands up to the interloping alien predator (of course, using the most iconic American phallic symbol imaginable – the Louisville Slugger), allowing Graham to shield the children and usher them away from danger. The Graham/Merrill relationship becomes a kind of Wife/Husband proxy relationship, where traditionally “feminine” characteristics get projected onto Graham so that Merrill can play the aggressive “male” role and protect the family. “Please stop calling me Father,” Graham keeps telling everyone, the subtext being, ‘Now that there is no Mother, I am not Father. I’m something else. I’m both/neither.’ It’s just an interesting conceit that Merrill is the one to come to rescue at all, just by moving in and living with the family. That’s not traditionally the role of the young, unattached and marriageable man. In the beginning, Morgan worries over the meat on the grill because he’s afraid that “Dad’s gonna burn these again.” Graham is sort of messing up, even though he clearly loves his kids. And the whole sequence where the alien is locked in the pantry? That’s Graham showing that he’s too volatile, too emotionally fraught, too damaged to really protect.
Kristine: Yeah, that sequence made me mad at Graham, because he was the antagonist. That’s why that specific alien came back: for revenge. It’s all ugly Graham’s fault that his family was in danger.
Sean: You sure like to root for aliens for someone who claims not to like alien movies.
Kristine: I’m not so much pro-alien so much as I am anti-the asshole stupid humans who populate these films (i.e. Lifeforce and Signs). I thought it was utterly insane that there were no legit weapons at a rural farmhouse. Come on. But, that did make me notice how little violence this movie actually has. Other than the dog death and the alien finger-chopping, there’s no violence, which is pretty refreshing (especially for a Mel Gibson joint).
Sean: Right, right. It seems like I should make my case for the movie?
Kristine: Sure. But before you do I’ll tell you a couple of other things I liked. I thought the music was great. So many movies, especially thrillers/genre movies, open with tinkly, twinkly atmospheric music, and I loved how the score for Signs was rousing and frenetic. Actually, the whole opening is rousing and confusing, and then ends in this uncanny silence with the visual discovery of the crop circle, which was beautiful and super cool.
Sean: I totally agree that the opening theme – and the score throughout – are amazing.
Kristine: Ok, make your case.
Sean: It’s always tough for me to know what order to introduce stuff for the blog. Like, do I put classic stuff first? Or go with something more contemporary that modern audiences are responding to? For Signs, I chose to just throw something contemporary out there, without any historical context. Like a lot of the movies we’ve watched (and that I tend to dig), Signs is a “love letter” to a very specific subgenre. In this case, its 1950s alien invasion movies. To really understand Signs as a pop artifact and as a cultural homage, the ideal viewer would be well-versed in the classic science fiction movies of 1950s, as well as the original ‘60s run of The Twilight Zone. Of course, Signs needs to be able to stand on its own, and I think it does. But I do think it offers lots of delight and reward if you’re clued in to those homages (I’d say the opening theme music is one of those gestures, which is part Bernard Herrmann-Hitchcock, part ‘50s sci-fi bombast). You know how I love when movies are in dialogue with other movies.
Kristine: I can see that. I definitely got the love letter to Americana vibe. I mean, it is set in Buck’s County (very close to where my father grew up, by the way). The alien is defeated by an all-American boy with a baseball bat. It’s just that… I don’t dig that shit.
Sean: I would also argue that Signs is – in addition to being a love letter to 1950s alien movies – also Shyamalan’s response/answer to the classic Spielberg movies (especially E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, but also Close Encounters of the Third Kind). So many of the movie’s setpieces are answers to/riffs on things from E.T.: the alien hiding in the cornfield, the single parent household, the kids obsessed with unraveling the mystery of the aliens, etc.
Kristine: Bo in Signs = Gertie in E.T.
Sean: Absolutely. Except in 2002, the precocious little girl is O.C.D. with acute paranoia and germophobia. “Morgan took a sip and now it has his amoebas in it,” for example. But the main thing that I love about this movie is that its really a trauma narrative, a movie about recovery and dealing with grief and coming to terms with death. I was really struck by that moment right after Graham encounters the alien out in the cornfield and he comes back into the kitchen and sits down at the table, clearly distressed, and his kids and Merrill just sort of slowly hover around the edges of the kitchen watching him until, finally, he speaks. That scene was, for me, so much about depression and grief and trauma, and what its like to live with someone (especially an adult caretaker) who is struggling with those issues. When we discussed Shaun of the Dead, we talked about how sometimes genre tropes can be external representations of internal dilemmas. So, Shaun’s character is in crisis (relationship with girlfriend failing, stuck in dead-end job, can’t commit to growing up and leaving his youth behind) and so the zombies come along and make that internal dilemma into an external one that is, for all intents and purposes, ‘simpler’ and ‘easier’ to deal with. It’s hard to know how exactly to grow up and leave your childhood behind, but when a zombie horde is swarming you its pretty simple to know what to do: run and/or fight. Signs is a similar kind of movie, in that the alien invasion manifests the existential problems of trauma and grief. But Signs is a cannier metaphor, I think, because the motivations and true nature of the aliens are, for most of the film, mysterious and unknowable. Their ontological status (if you will) is unclear. That makes them the perfect genre trope for the Hess family’s trauma, because just like they can’t really know what the aliens are or why they are here or what they want, they can’t know why their mother died, what death is, what lies beyond death, etc. Yet the aliens themselves, simply by appearing, gesture towards a more mysterious and complex universe and, thus, suggest the possibility of God, of the afterlife. Remember that when Morgan first discovers the crop circles, he tells Graham that he “think[s] God did it.” So the movie intentionally confuses the uncanny alien invaders with the supernatural and religious. There’s an almost Bergmanesque hand-wringing about ‘God’s silence’ in the film that gives it a lot of weight, like when Bo and Graham share with each other that they both talk to the dead mother/wife when they’re alone, but the pain comes from the fact that “she never answers back.” I also love how Signs is really about fatherhood and what a man’s role is in his community/family. It’s a total male melodrama, wrapped up in an alien invasion story. You know how much I love male melodrama.
Kristine: Shades of Manhunter… I certainly agree with that description. I just don’t find male melodramas that compelling.
Sean: I would also gainsay that this is Joaquin Phoenix’s best screen performance. I really hate him in almost everything, but he is so perfect as Merrill. I love the Merrill/Graham relationship.
Kristine: I did like Merrill’s ranting about nerds. “That’s what the nerds want!” So funny.
Sean: Yeah. I love how Bo asks him, “Why can’t they get girlfriends?” And Merrill’s “I’m a miracle man!” speech about how not getting thrown up on by a girl at a party proves the existence of God. He really is great, and maybe steals the movie.
Kristine: Yeah, that was hilarious. I hated the exposition of Merrill’s backstory in the army recruitment office.
Sean: I think it’s a fair and decent way for the movie to establish who Merrill is.
Kristine: I thought it was totally artificial. It’s confounding to me that Shyamalan is talented enough to create these funny and interesting characters (like Merrill and Tracey Abernathy), but then choose to focus on the trite wet dishrag character of Graham. I will admit that I did laugh at his half-hearted rant (“I’m insane with anger! I’m losing my mind! It’s time for an ass-whooping!”) when he’s trying to intimidate the intruder outside the farmhouse. It’s especially apt given that Mel Gibson usually plays dudes who really are insane with anger (and given all his public meltdowns).
Sean: I know. This is a weird and interesting movie to watch through the lens of Gibson’s screen persona. But he’s actually played the humble, small-town guy a number of times in his career (1984’s The River, 1992’s Forever Young, etc.). In fact, Graham is really a riff or extension of Gibson’s character from The Patriot (an underrated and ridiculous male melodrama/action movie set during the Revolutionary War). If anything, late-period Gibson is (for me) more tolerable when he’s not in a romantic scenario with a woman he’s treating like shit. He works better as a father figure.
Sean: And despite Gibson’s off-screen mania, I think Graham is sort of an amazing dad and a really warm, comforting presence.
Kristine: I disagree!
Sean: I don’t find his character to be a dishrag or anything even close – I find him incredibly moving. I am a sucker for the “man of God who has lost his faith” character, and though I’d prefer a less succinct and more morally ambiguous resolution for Graham’s struggle, I still think Graham is a very compelling character. I love his “People from Group #1, people from Group #2” speech about how some people see pure randomness is the workings of the world, while others see some sort of design.
Kristine: I am totally uninterested in that whole thing.
Sean: I think this movie talks in an interesting and dramatically compelling way about the parts of religion that are really hard to make dramatically interesting. Signs also focuses on questions about religious faith that are compelling to me, personally: How does religion offer us a cosmology that doesn’t make it fucking depressing to be alive? I really appreciated the focus on big theological/existential questions without any Jesus crap getting in the way. Nothing about sin or morality. Instead, big questions about the nature of reality and the existence of the divine.
I’m not convinced by the movie’s (admittedly really stupid) conclusion that because Vivisected Wife said “Swing away” that meant that it was God’s plan for Merrill to hit an alien with a baseball bat and spill water on it. I don’t even really understand the logic of that whole thing, it’s so dumb. But just because Shyamalan didn’t stick the landing and deliver a satisfying (or appropriately ambiguous) conclusion, the film still poses interesting questions and is pretty riveting and engaging for most of its running time.
I think Shyamalan’s problem is one of hubris, of thinking he has to deliver answers or even better, thinking that he actually has some of the fucking answers. The person who I think Shyamalan’s career is most indebted to is Rod Serling, writer/creator of The Twilight Zone. Serling understood that the lack of tidy conclusions and the lack of clear answers to big, strange and important questions was more intellectually and aesthetically honest than saccharine or succinct platitudes. Shyamalan doesn’t understand that at all, as evidenced by Signs.
But even when Shyamalan is screwing up the existential inquiry part of the movie, he nails Graham Hess’ emotional character beats, which is still something. This movie reminded me a lot of Rare Exports in how it showcases an all-male universe in which men are navigating how to be caretakers of children. We could so easily pair this movie with Rare Exports, Manhunter, The Changeling and Jacob’s Ladder (and even, God forgive me, A Serbian Film) in order to think about how genre movies sometimes articulate very sentimental and nurturing ideas about fatherhood, as opposed to the more common mode of horror movies in which the paternal figure views children with either disgust and horror (It’s Alive, The Brood, The Omen) or cold and ‘rational’ intellectual curiosity (Village of the Damned). Then, of course, there are the movies in which fathers out-and-out abuse their kids (The Shining, The Amityville Horror). And as we’ve discussed before, I’m very interested in seeing more depictions of good/engaged father-figures.
Kristine: Sean, Graham is not a good dad. He’s inconsistent, he freaks out, and he makes terrible choices. Who doesn’t know where the coal shoot is in their own goddamn basement? I also am troubled by Graham’s decision to isolate himself and his family during the crisis. Why didn’t he buzz Officer Paski? She at least has a weapon.
Sean: I love that virago cop. But I would still argue that Graham is warm and present, despite his faults.
Kristine: Okay, that’s fair. I get that the isolation, the boarding oneself in, was a metaphor for Graham retreating into himself, away from society because of his grief or whatever. But this is what makes him a shitty dad. I didn’t appreciate that Graham won by “standing his ground” as opposed to doing the smart thing (the thing that wouldn’t put his family in jeopardy) and going to the lake.
Sean: I think that also winds up being a class judgment on him also though, doesn’t it? Because they’re a rural farm family – that’s who they are. They live out on ‘the land.’ Of course, they’re sort of isolated. A lot of rural Americans are.
Kristine: I disagree 1000% percent! Listen, a rural farm family would at least have a shotgun around. A rural farm family would know where the coal shoot was in their basement. A rural farm family would have their shit together a lot more. Plus, the real issue isn’t with them being geographically isolated, it’s with Graham making these weird, obstinate choices to not call Officer Paski and to board his family up in the house. And he put his son in jeopardy when he lashed out at the alien hand with the knife.
Sean: Right, right. I concede those points. But, as you said, Graham creating the emotional womb/cocoon is at least understandable. Also, the conceit of boarding the family up in the farmhouse is itself a riff on Night of the Living Dead.
Kristine: I did get that.
Sean: Also, Graham is not angry or cruel. He is calm and resolved, for the most part. I wish I’d been so lucky in the father department. I really love how the movie manifests his fears about being unable to protect his family with all these small gestures – like when Morgan shows him the book about U.F.O.s and Graham fixates on an illustration of an alien ship burning down a house that looks eerily similar to the Hess farmhouse and there are three figures lying, dead, off to the edge of the picture, one adult figure and two smaller, child-like figures that represent Bo and Morgan.
Those moments, when the movie expresses this deep paternal panic at all of the dangers posed to his children, really work for me. The family dog becomes a violent threat; malevolent voices come through the baby monitor. The everyday life of the American family is suddenly shot through with menace. The movie could actually all be read as Graham’s nightmare – we first see him waking from a bad dream, and later when they find the first crop circle, Bo asks him, “Are you in my dream, too?” Remember also that Graham is upset about the crop circles because “the kids were confused by it” and he wants to “take the strangeness away” from the occurrence.
He wants there to be no ambiguity and no uncanniness to the world his children inhabit – and the movie is all about the way in which the world’s (nay, the universe’s) “strangeness” pushes inexorably in on you. You can’t keep it out. When Graham is unsettled by Tracey Abernathy’s (actually banal and ordinary) problems, he tells the kids they’re not allowed to “be alone” with her. Anything unusual, anything “queer” is a threat. Which is ironic, of course, because of the fundamental queerness of Graham’s circumstances, his family’s motherlessness, the “my two dads” household they’ve arranged for themselves, and the inherent weirdness of his own kids – Bo’s macabre germaphobia, Morgan’s flat-affected interest in the uncanny.
I do find the movie’s ending annoying because it really suggests a return to traditionalism, to conservatism after the vanquishing of queerness. But we could also choose to see Graham’s return to the church as an acceptance of a queerer universe, and a willingness to be himself now that he’s come to terms with the basic strangeness of the world. The movie does ask us to laugh at the old conservative unwilling to budge in the face of modernity, right? That’s the whole point of Office Paski’s story about Old Mrs. Kindleman who spits all over the skateboards at the local store after she’s inconvenienced by kids riding skateboards on the sidewalk. She’s supposed to be ridiculous. (Can I also add that she’s one of several examples of female hysteria offered up by the movie? Another is the woman who freaked out because the gas station didn’t have her brand of cigarettes. Interesting that they’re all off-screen, these madwomen, only hinted at through stories).
Kristine: But Graham is still the reason why his family is in danger. If he hadn’t made a point of going and messing with the alien in the pantry, nothing bad would have happened.
Sean: I mean, who wouldn’t hack at an alien monster hand that spazzed out at you from under a door?
Sean: I think it’s unfair for you to judge him for that.
Sean: You’d be crying the fetal position while aliens ransacked your pantry. You’d be like, ‘Take it all!’ and you’d give them first dib on the clothes in your closet.
Kristine: Perhaps, perhaps.
Sean: That moment at the beginning when Graham is talking to Bo in her room and he glances out the window and sees the figure on the roof? When I saw this in the theater I jumped and screamed and dropped all my Twizzlers all over everyone around me.
Sean: So the number one nerdrage complaint about this movie is…”Why would aliens who are allergic to water come to Earth, where the surface is 71% WATER!!!!!!!!???????????”And then they throw their hundred-sided dice at the wall.
Kristine: Well, the water thing was pretty weak. I mean, c’mon.
Sean: Oh, the water thing is a dumb deus ex machina. It didn’t keep me from crying at the part where Graham’s wife is pinned by the car, which you called dumb.
Kristine: I’m sorry I said it was dumb, but it is truly ridiculous. Sorry. I appreciate that Graham is flawed and has weaknesses and emotions and warmth, but it was too much.
Sean: I am going to take the pro-melodrama, pro-sentimentality side of the argument here and argue that, as a semi-gruesome/Southern Gothic setpiece that also demanded maximum pathos, the wife-pinned-to-the-car thing was pretty fucking brilliant.
Kristine: If Wife hadn’t been perfectly composed and lucid, it would have been brilliant.
Sean: Why does her lucidity make it dumb?
Kristine: Because we didn’t get the gruesome, Gothic setpiece. We didn’t even get a clear shot of Wife’s brutally mangled body.
Kristine: I cannot even belief the defense team you are leading.
Sean: I really don’t fault or judge anyone for not liking Shyamalan’s movies. They’re indisputably flawed. I just happen to have a real soft spot for them.
Kristine: You are allowed. We all have our soft spots.
Sean: Hmmm… Is this a trick?
The Girl’s Rating: Daddy dramz! AND Failed emotional MANipulation.
The Freak’s Rating: Pop perfection AND Daddy dramz! AND Poses great questions, fumbles the answers.