Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Imitations: The Thing

The Thing was a film I was looking forward to: the concept of a monster imitating humans, tissue extraction, cloning, the Arctic, all kinds of variables peaked my interest over the remake of the original 1951 version of Howard Hawks' The Thing From Another World. So what happened? The same thing as in Paranormal Activity 3: there is a moral discontinuity issue that I have really been thinking over, trying to work it out, hoping it would come to me and get untangled, but alas, I think it is just an example of poor writing and, moral discontinuity which seems to be the real monster lurking in theaters these days..
Actually, "the thing" is incredibly well done, in my estimation: it's very gross and a bit of a hybrid monster between an insect, that large mouth/pit that's going to eat Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi, and finally, a touch of Tremors. It's pretty gross. And on top of that, it eats you and imitates your cells, so it re-creates an exact replica of you.
Well, nearly exact.
And this is really the big, moral knot that I have with The Thing:  the thing cannot replicate anything that is not organic, so gold teeth (which the Arctic team uses to identify who is human and who is not), a titanium screw for holding a broken arm together, an erring... these are the indications of what the monster cannot reproduce (yes, the ones with porceline fillings are in trouble because the others can't see the false gold teeth). It can even continue being symphathetic towards people, it can show fear, it can display the entire range of human emotions. So The Thing tells us that what's uniquely human is what is fake about us.
I have tried elaborate schemes to support a viable thesis, for example: it was the experience of having broken his arm that makes Henrik unique and that uniqueness is what the thing can't reproduce; the titanium brace is just the symbol of it, the artifact, the memento; the act of getting a cavity and the filling is... a unique experience,.... but the mouth symbolizes the appetites. A cavity would equate sin, decay, rot. The filling isn't really a "conversion" experience... loosely considered, it could be a "healing" experience, but what's the significance, symbolically speaking. of the difference between the gold and the porceline fillings? And then, you have the real wrench in the works: an erring.
Joel Edgerton in The Thing. His gold erring is on his left lobe.
Warrior, starring Joel Edgerton, has been one of my favorite films of the year (please see Warrior: Competing Modes Of Masculinity). Nearly everyone gave a good performance in The Thing (the Norwegians were great) but another interesting aspect of it is, like Paranormal Activity 3 and Killer Elite, it takes place in the 1980s: this has become a serious storyline development, because, in the 1980s, there were no cell phones, internet, personal computers, there was no Facebook. To intentionally make a horror film prior to the dizzying introduction of the "digital revolution" is taking us back to the dark ages.
But there is something else important about the 1980s: men who were gay wore an erring in their left ear. In The Thing, I had forgotten this until the film was over, but that certainly contextualizes a comment made by Edgerton's character Sam Carter: "You don't want to be locked up in a storm with 14 Norwegian men." At the time, after he has expressed so much interest about finding out about his basketball team, the Cavaliers, you don't consider that he's gay; the small gold-loop erring is a bad fashion decision. This is the reason for the lack of romantic involvement between Carter and Kate Lloyd.
Towards the end of the film, when "Sam" and Kate appear to be the only two remaining people, the thing has gotten everyone else, Kate comments to Sam that his erring had been the reason she knew he was still a human because, again, the thing couldn't have replicated his erring, and he points to the wrong ear where the erring had been, so she knows he's been killed by the thing. So how would--in a morally continuous way--the erring missing, a sign of homosexuality in the early 1980s (in the beginning, she's listening to Men At Work's hit Who Can It Be Now, so it's around 1981-2) be a sign of unique individuality and experience? And this is another problem: Kate has fillings. And there is really no reason why she should be a heroine, she hasn't done anything heroic. I am probably being picky, but I just couldn't make a moral connection anywhere in the film.  
Like Captain America, it opens in Antartica (or a frozen desert, in other words; interesting, Cowboys and Aliens opens in a desert environ; we can never underestimate the importance of these kinds of locations, especially when they are being repeated throughout several films). Like Cowboys and Aliens, the gold fillings in teeth play an important role in understanding the monster, I just haven't been able to figure out what that role is in The Thing, and like Paranormal Activity 3 and Killer Elite, it takes place in the 1980's. I believe that the monster imitating the humans in the film is going to be an example of identity destabilization which will probably be in films such as Anonymous and In Time and probably many others. So it's a timely piece, I just don't feel like it has really achieved anything. (For reviews on some of the films named, please see Cowboys and Aliens: the US-British AllianceCaptain America: a Movie Of MoviesKiller Elite: Definitions of PatriotismParanormal Activity 3: It Runs In the Family and, just for fun, a note on Kate listening to Men At Work's Who Can It Be Now? in Australian Apocalypse: Men At Work).