War of the Worlds explained: how does Spielberg’s movie ends?

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This article reveals the explained plot and the detailed events in Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, revealing its meaning and storyline. We recommend you to read it only after watching the movie, and not before, in order to preserve the pleasure of the first vision.

War of the Worlds is the science fiction film directed by Steven Spielberg in 2005, based on the novel of the same name by H.G. Wells. There are some differences between the film and the book, but overall the two works play quite similarly, drawing an apocalyptic scenario in which aliens invade the earth with the intention of colonizing it, destroying the human species and taking its place.

There are some things that may remain in doubt after watching the film. In this article we try to give answers to some key elements of the film.

The explanation of the plot and the ending

The film is set in the present: on an unspecified day in the early 2000s, the planet Earth is the victim of strange storms spread across the globe, immediately followed by a total loss of communications in that area. It is the beginning of the alien invasion, which looks like a real war: the aliens drive tripods, huge three-legged machines equipped with very powerful futuristic weapons capable of destroying men and vehicles with great ease. Yet, at the end of the film, the alien entities succumb. How does this happen, and why do the aliens want to invade the earth? Let’s see the most frequently asked questions related to the film.

Why do aliens invade Earth?

As the narrator explains at the beginning of the film, aliens are a more advanced civilization than us that has been watching us for centuries. This is why at the dawn of time they had buried sleeping machines all over the earth, which had remained there without ever being discovered. After centuries of observing us, the aliens decide they want to colonize our planet. This part comes from the novel by H.G. Wells and it’s a critique of the colonialist policies of Europe (the novel was published at the end of the 19th century). Simply, aliens find planet Earth a nice place and decide they want to live here and take humans’ place.

How does the invasion happen?

As the journalist explains in the first part of the film, the tripods, the alien war machines, had always been buried under the earth’s soil, without ever being discovered. The lightning storms that the world witnesses at the beginning of the film are not an atmospheric event, but it’s the way aliens arrive on earth: through those lightning bolts the aliens go under the earth’s surface and take possession of those machines.

In the book, things are similar: aliens end up on earth in cylinders, like falling meteors, forming craters. Tripods are built by aliens at night. In the film, the appearance of the tripods occurs a few hours after the lightning strikes, which is why the journalist assumes that the alien machines were already present, there would be no time to build them. This detail is not made explicit in Spielberg’s film and in any case it is not particularly relevant.

What do aliens do with humans?

In the first part of the film, the aliens simply exterminate any human that stands in their way. As the days go by and Ray and his children move closer to Boston, the scenario becomes more and more apocalyptic: Ray picks up some strange red roots that represent the alien vegetation, which the aliens are trying to make bloom on earth. The scenario that is seen towards the end of the film is frightening: the aliens capture humans, bleed them with a probe and then sprinkle human blood on their vegetation, like a fertilizer, to grow their roots.

Still, Ray notes that the roots crumble when squeezed, a sign that something is not going as it should for the aliens. This brings us to the ending of the film.

What happens in the finale and how do the aliens die?

As the end of the film approaches, we notice the aliens increasingly in trouble. The vegetation does not take root, and the tripods begin to move without the protective shield, exposing them to attacks by the human army. The reason is explained by the narrator at the end of the film (and the book): the presence of microscopic organisms such as microbes and viruses, to which man has adapted over centuries of evolution, is lethal for the alien species, which is not prepared to endure them. It is therefore these invisible organisms that kill the aliens after a few days.

The message launched by this detail is that humans, having lived on Earth for centuries, have earned the inalienable right to live there, through the adaptation of their body and symbiosis with microbes and bacteria that are part of the planet Earth. The aliens, as extraneous to the terrestrial ecosystem, therefore do not have the right to take possession of it. A message that can be extended to colonialism as a whole: taking possession of a foreign territory by expropriating it from their legitimate inhabitants is wrong, incorrect and unnatural. As the narrator points out in the final sentence, it was God who in his immense wisdom placed those organisms on Earth, a sign that the death of aliens falls within the plan of divine justice.

Small curiosity: Steven Spielberg himself was not satisfied with this ending, as he himself confessed to James Cameron in his Story of Science Fiction. Spielberg sees the death of aliens from “a common cold caused by microbes” as a weak ending, and believes that H. G. Wells himself did not know exactly how to end the book.