The Thing

The Thing ★★★★★

“Nobody trusts anybody now…. And we’re all very tired. ” — R. J. MacReady

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Seriously, someone give that dog an Oscar! 

While all of John Carpenter’s best movies have identifiable themes (nihilism, anti-authoritarianism, paranoia, generational sin, pop culture toxicity, etc. etc.), they’ve always felt a little surface level to me (which Carpenter himself will claim as well.) Where they lack in thematic depth, however, they more than make up for in aesthetic, production, and entertainment value. But I think adding the paper-thin thematic layering over all that is a big part of what makes these movies so great and rewatchable, and The Thing in particular a stone-cold masterpiece. 

You could watch The Thing and see it as a representation of male leadership’s inevitable failure. You could go even further and say that the failure of the crew to definitively defeat the shape-shifting alien is an allegory for how the arrogant (and overwhelmingly male) U.S. government failed to “defeat” communism by promoting paranoia amongst its own people. In the end, MacReady’s and Childs’s “victory” over the alien feels uncertain, at best. The only certainty is that they’ve destroyed their own shelter and future, just as by 1982 the U.S.A.’s anti-communist crusades had already fundamentally changed American society for the worse. The final exchange of dialogue — “How will we make it?” “Maybe we shouldn’t.” — feels like Carpenter suggesting that the world would be better off without the Reagan-led America of the 1980s. 

You could make that case. Or you could just as easily turn your brain off and enjoy this as “just” a paranoid sci-fi horror film, boasting solid performances (seriously, some of the best dog acting I’ve ever seen), incredible cinematography (Dean Cundey!), legendary special effects (Rob Bottin!), and a masterfully haunted soundtrack (Ennio Morricone!!) You could do that, too, and the film would still be great. 

And that’s really what I love about John Carpenter. Most of his movies have just enough thematic juice to allow you to project and amplify those themes into a greater “point,” while also being incredibly entertaining genre films that you can just enjoy at face value. They work whatever cerebral level you’re at, and that adds so much value in my book.

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