I'd like to come back inside now

John Carpenter’s The Things is a well-regarded, much-loved cult masterpiece. It’s one of those films that has only grown in stature since its original release.   When The Thing was made, John carpenter and Kurt Russell were in the middle of an amazing run of films that included Escape from New York, Big Trouble in Little China, and Elvis.  Carpenter was creating big, loud, powerful hero roles for Russell, but The Thing doesn’t really fit into the same mold as the rest of them.  While Russell’s Macready is at the center of the movie, he isn’t the actual hero. That role goes to Dr Blair, portrayed by Wilford Brimley.

The Thing has a familiar plot. It shares a lot with Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Both films trade in paranoia and slowly building fear and distrust of others. Both can be read as either Red Scare ideology writ large, or backlash to that ideology.  Both involve a threat from space replacing people with copies. The Thing ups the ante by placing the action in a harsh, inescapable environment of an Arctic research station.

The team takes in a dog that shows up chased by med from another station. The pursuing men blow themselves up trying to kill the dog. Soon, the dog has attacked the other dogs in the kennel and revealed itself as a Lovecraftian monster capable of changing shape. We then start a “who is the monster” mystery. It’s Dr Blair who (using science!) figures out that the thing copies other life forms and that the dogs weren’t the primary target (“it wants to be US!).

Rather than try to figure out who is infected, or to escape, Blair sets about ensuring the death of everyone at the station. He’s the only one with the intelligence to game it out and determine that the probability of defeating the thing is zero. He’s also the only one brave enough choose his own death over any chance of the creature reaching civilization and destroying the world. The others, believing that he has snapped, capture him and segregate him in a shed outside.

Later in the film, the will check in on Blair who will insist that he feels better now and would like to come back inside. In a great touch, there is a noose hanging behind him in this scene indicating that he considered checking out, but thought better of it. At this point in the story it seems pretty clear that Blair is not yet infected. He is trying to get back inside so that he can finish the job of saving humanity. Macready foolishly thwarts Blair by leaving him in his shed, where the creature will find him in short order.  That is the last moment where the film has any chance at something approaching a happy ending. Once Macready walks away, we are plunged into a deterministic march to nihilism. The film has one of the darkest endings ever from a studio release. Macready and Childs (Keith David in a powerhouse performance) slowly freezing near the destroyed station. One of them a human, about to die. One of them the creature, going to sleep to await rescuers to find it and wake it back up. This is how the world ends. Blair could have stopped it.

-Nathan Tyree