John Carpenter’s The Thing is another movie I’ve seen multiple times and which never ceases to be enjoyable. Aside from the special effects (amazing for 1982, and I still curse the day that CGI was invented), the film is notable for its atmosphere–isolation and paranoia saturate every frame of the film. There is no place on earth more inhospitable or empty as Antarctica, and it is here that The Thing is set, at a research station which suddenly finds itself cut off from radio contact with anyone else.
The Thing is an intimate film, yet apocalyptic in tone. That the alien ship crashed in Antarctica and not some metropolis only heightens the tension; this is a species capable of copying the cellular structure of any living organism it chooses and turning itself into a perfect replica of its host. If the alien manages to escape Antarctica, it will rapidly take over the entire human population. There is no immunity. Humanity will be extinguished.
Writers and directors from Tolkien to Srđan Spasojević have condemned the application of allegory to their work, yet I cannot help but see shades of the Red Scare each time I watch The Thing. The threat of communist infiltration into every facet of society–that they were amongst us right now!—was very real to many people, and it was only a matter of time before the domino theory toppled all the righteous (i.e., approved by the U.S.) governments of the world, leaving in its wake a monolith of states run by those godless commies. Witch hunts and blacklists ensued. In The Thing, any one of the men could be harboring the alien; thus no one trusts anyone anymore, as MacReady notes, and it is evident in their words and actions. Unfortunately the victims of such rampant paranoia are often innocent–Clark is one such example. Though he tries to attack MacReady, his blood test proves, after MacReady has already shot him in the head, that he was not contaminated.
Unbeknownst to MacReady and the others, Blair, who was locked up in the tool shed after a violent rampage that destroyed any means of escape or ability to call for help, has been building a ship beneath the shed using scavenged parts. The only option left to MacReady and the few remaining survivors is to blow up the entire camp, thus preventing the alien from freezing itself until a rescue team arrives in the spring. Despite the fact that they will freeze to death as soon as the fire dies down, it is their only recourse for preventing the alien’s escape into the world.
Yet even as the fire burns, and only Childs and MacReady remain, the tension has not dissipated. Childs had disappeared for an extended period of time; he claims it was to search for Blair. It is entirely possible that he became infected during this time, and that he will merely freeze as the original organism did, and wait to be freed in the spring. I enjoy ambiguous endings, and I enjoy not knowing whether the alien has been destroyed or if it has taken up residence in one of the survivors.
The Thing is probably one of the strongest examples of a recurring theme this semester–who is the real monster? The alien, after all, is simply responding to its biology and its survival instinct. It is the men who shoot each other, tie each other up, cut each other loose in a snowstorm. The answer, then, seems to grow clearer with each text we study. These creatures are merely a veil behind which we try to hide the hideous urges within our own minds. Humans will always be the most terrifying of monsters, because they are real.