Cultural Implications in The Thing (1982)
April 27, 2019 at 12:10 pm #1391ALISON AMESParticipant
I think The Thing (1982) is far more complex than it appears at first glance. I first noticed, and this could be due to the similarities it shares with my research paper, the cultural implications. Kurt Russell plays the man-of-action cowboy hero quintessential to the Reagan-era Hollywood hero. In 1982, nearing the end of the Cold War, this movie personifies the Communist threat to American individualism. The Thing’s primary objective is not to destroy humanity but to survive and to convert humanity in their image, removing all individuality in the process. Similarly, communism threatened to spread and infect the American way of life, leaving paranoia in its wake with no way to determine who is aligned with who. Dr. Blair’s initial attempt to remove any means of reaching civilization typifies Reagan’s stance against communism- that the spread of communism anywhere would threaten freedom everywhere. The climate and wardrobe add to the sense of paranoia and isolation. The all-male cast is decked out and bundled in order to combat the climate- the universal antagonist in the film. These circumstances reduce the individual to a collective unit, but only superficially and despite their universal purpose and concealing wardrobe, each character is still provided the opportunity to assert their individuality (cowboy hat, smoking joints, nose ring, J&B, chess, music, etc.); that is, until they are infected by the Thing at which point they are assimilated and stripped of their agency.
As for the hero in the film, I would suggest that there is no hero in terms of survival. However, the moment the remaining characters surrender their own lives they become heroic. Classic Hollywood closure demands its hero live and after the sacrificial blast we see that both MacReady and Childs survive, however the film suggests that neither will survive. The men have regained their identities and employ their agency in self-sacrifice for the greater good of humanity. The Cold War mentality is expressly framed by the dialogue between MacReady and Childs in the closing scene,
Childs. “If you’re worried about me-”
MacReady. “If we’ve got any surprises for each other, I don’t think we’re in much shape to do anything about it.”
Childs. “Well…what do we do?”
MacReady. “Why don’t we just…wait here for a little while? See what happens.”
The ominous score is reintroduced as the two men share a bottle of J&B suggesting that even waiting to “see what happens” can lead to unforeseen consequences.
Obviously, this is only one interpretation of the film, as I stated it seems to be very complex and provides multiple opportunities for interpretation against the grain.April 27, 2019 at 3:56 pm #1392Jason WhelehanParticipant
I agree. The unfortunate thing about horror films, particularly during the eighties, is that they were largely B movies and often the philosophical or in this case, social and political messages would go unnoticed, even by those of us who were B movie geeks. There were many films, Night of the Comet, Dawn of the Dead, etc. that had very interesting deeper meanings but were resigned to cult classic status simply because they were technically poorly made films.
Dr. Gillin defined horror as something that we recognize but is different in such a way that it leaves us unsettled. To the point you have made, this was exactly the feeling growing up at the end of the Cold War. Russians were the enemies or villains in many films during the time drawing a stark difference between them and us. From James Bond films to Rocky IV, it was clear the message was that we were the good guys and they were the bad guys. The underlying theme you’ve illuminated is contrary to that good guy/U.S vs. bad guy/USSR dynamic. It reminds us that despite any seemingly unsettling differences, we are actually not that different and we’re all in this together whether we like it or not. I would add that the Antarctic setting is more than just a harsh climate character but also a metaphor for the planet itself. We’re not going anywhere. Our differences, political or social must be settled here. There is no place else to resolve them, and you pulled a great interaction between Macready and Childs at the end to highlight this. It is almost forty years since the film was made and it seems we’re still waiting to see what happens.April 28, 2019 at 10:28 pm #1398Kelsey KwandransParticipant
Adding a historical context to this movie is an interesting interpretation! I think what you said about the attempts to demonstrate the individuality of each character makes sense. I really see your connection between their waiting around for whatever will happen at the end and the Cold War.
What do you think about the idea of resigning themselves to death so that The Thing can’t escape, rather than trying individually to survive? I know there’s a line where someone decides, “We’re not getting out of here alive, but neither is that thing” and one exchange where I believe Childs says, “How will we make it?” and MacReady answers, “Maybe we shouldn’t.” You wrote that this makes them heroes, which I agree with. Do you think this idea of perhaps sacrificing themselves so that the thing can’t go infect even more people is indicative of a collectivist mindset rather than an individualistic one? Or does it not matter either way- would the characters in both an individualistic society and a collectivistic society have to sacrifice themselves rather than try to survive on their own to be classified as a hero?
I also really thought this fit with the definitions of horror and the uncanny that we discussed in class, as it is a great example of something that should be familiar creating a feeling of dread. They felt that they couldn’t trust their own colleagues/friends, and knew that despite looking like their friends, they might have been something much more disturbing which led to a deterioration of relationships throughout the movie as they suspected each other.April 30, 2019 at 10:29 am #1404Ian OxmanParticipant
After discussing the potential political message behind Carpenter’s The Thing in class yesterday, it made me think of a particular scene that plays well into the Cold War allusions pointed out by Alison. I’m talking about the scene where they find the bags of blood tampered with, causing them to lose faith in the current station chief Garry. They decide they must elect a new leader they can trust. First they all suggest Vance (I think that was the character’s name, not sure), who appears nervous and declines the position. Childs then steps in saying it should be him, but they dismiss him as too aggressive. It is left to MacReady to step up as a sort-of medium and take charge.
I don’t know much about Cold War politics, but it struck me as another possible allegory because we see the crew lose faith in their leader in the face of an external threat and have to make the decision as to who would be the best replacement. They recognize that they can’t have a leader too passive nor too strong-willed, instead looking for someone who can be both and more importantly knows when to be either. Just a point I thought I’d add that I didn’t get to say in class.
- This reply was modified 1 year, 6 months ago by Ian Oxman. Reason: typo :P
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