To wrap up THING WEEK here at Confusion Central, I have a small collection of screencaps that are from my favorite scenes in John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). These are scenes and moments that I really enjoy, or that create a specific mood, or give a little insight into the characters. As with the previous two posts, there be SPOILERS AHEAD.
The Norwegians arrive at Outpost 31:
Chasing what appears to be an Alaskan Malamute, two Norwegians descend in their helicopter on a US research base in the Antarctic, guns blazing. One shoots Bennings (Peter Maloney) in the leg, grazing him; the other accidentally drops a thermite charge, destroying the helicopter and blowing himself up. The gunman gives the bewildered Americans a warning in (broken) Norwegian: “Se til helvete og kom dere vekk. Det er ikke en bikkje, det er en slags ting! Det imiterer en bikkje, det er ikke virkelig! Kom dere vekk idioter!” Translated to English, he’s saying, “Get the hell out of here. That’s not a dog, it’s some sort of thing! It’s imitating a dog, it isn’t real! Get away, you idiots!” As he advances on the US camp, he is killed by Garry (Donald Moffat), base commander, and the Americans are left to make sense of what just happened.
This opening gives us a small hint to how the film will end – with two men, with fire, and with no hope of survival.
This might seem like an unusual image to include in a discussion on The Thing, but the introduction of Nauls in the film is one of my favorite little moments. Carpenter’s roving camera tracks in front of a pair of roller skates, coming down a hallway flanked with boxes and containers. The shot then reverses, and we see the man on the skates, Nauls (T.K. Carter), from behind as he looks into the recreation room where the men have brought the dead Norwegian gunman. It’s a dynamic introduction to a character that ends up lasting quite a bit longer than most people would probably predict, since Nauls isn’t given much as a character until much later in the film. It’s all part of how The Thing keeps us guessing who the survivors will and won’t be.
“It isn’t Bennings!”:
At this point, we’ve seen the alien attack and replicate the camp’s sled dogs, but we haven’t seen it assimilate a human until it takes over Bennings. This is basically when the shit really hits the fan for the other men on the base, because now it’s open season. The initial look on Bennings face evokes terror, but when he opens his mouth and lets out an unholy scream, we know that the terror is ours, not his. There are several moments in the film where we feel that we’re losing control on the situation, and this is one of them.
“You think that thing wanted to be an animal? … No, you don’t understand! That thing wanted to be US!”:
One of the film’s most chilling scenes is when Blair (Wilford Brimley) destroys the radio room, cutting off all communication to the outside world. What seems to be on the surface an insane and incoherent rant on how the “thing” wants to become us is actually entirely accurate – the alien indeed seeks to invade by taking over us completely. Anyhow, you haven’t really lived until you’ve seen the Quaker Oats guy chop up radio equipment with a fire ax.
Prior to Blair’s breakdown in the radio room, he discovers the method the alien uses to take over its host, as well as the time it will take for the world to be completely invaded. As he times out the seconds it takes for the invader cell to replicate dog cells, the sound of his pocketwatch ticks in the background. He types information into the computer, the clicking of the keys blending into the sound of the watch, and as the scene progresses, a sense of dread and inevitability creeps ever further in from the edges of the screen.
“I feel much better now.”:
My brother and I endlessly quote most of Blair’s lines from this film, including the whole of this scene, for laughs. But in the context of the film, this is another completely disturbing moment – Blair, locked in the tool shed, noose hanging from the ceiling. The conversation that follows between him and MacReady (Kurt Russell) is entirely calm as he makes his case for coming back into the base after his breakdown. His claims that he’s feeling better do little to convince anyone, though, including the audience.
This lens flare:
I don’t know, folks. I really like how that blue line just cuts right across the frame.
Kurt Russell as MacReady- An Appreciation:
Okay, I’ve been trying to downplay MacReady’s role in The Thing as much as possible, because I don’t want to slight the other characters in the film. But my deep love of Kurt Russell just won’t let me not talk about MacReady, so let me share with you a lil’ bit o’ Kurt:
Ohhh, dat beard.
This is my hands-down favorite image of MacReady: beard covered in frozen condensation, eyes ice blue, ready to blow the base to hell if anyone so much as touches him. He looks entirely like a ghost, a spectre with eyes glowing inhumanly…almost unearthly.
Paranoia strikes deep:
“Nobody trusts anybody now”:
The twin themes of The Thing are paranoia and trust – as the men find that the alien replicates anyone it comes into contact with, they realize that it’s increasingly difficult to tell who is infected and who isn’t. Trust, which was a tenuous concept to begin with, begins to crumble as paranoia settles in among the men. When Copper (Richard Dysart) discovers that the blood supply has been tampered with, the accusations begin to fly, and the men begin to really fall apart as a cohesive unit, leading Windows (Thomas Waites) to break into the gun cabinet to get a shotgun, and Garry to pull his pistol in retaliation. A tense standoff occurs, and when both men drop their weapons, Garry decides to relinquish control to someone else. This is the point where MacReady steps tentatively into his new role as leader.
Paranoia runs deep in The Thing, that much is true. I believe the film endures because ultimately, humans are distrustful of each other on some deep-seated level, and when trust is established it’s often fragile. I hate to sound completely nihilistic, and I’m sure a lot of these feelings about The Thing are reflective of my own fears and emotions, but that’s how people interact with film. They bring themselves to the table, and they get out of a film precisely what they bring to it, even on a subconscious level. Film is, at the end of the day, a reflection of ourselves.
This wraps up my three-part celebration of John Carpenter’s The Thing. Thanks for coming along on the ride, and remember, trust is a tough thing to come by these days.