Saturday, February 11, 2012

More on The Thing (2011)

Jackson Leverone at the blog The Horror Reviewer, has posted some very intriguing thoughts on the 2011 The Thing, which I reviewed earlier in the week. 

He suggests, basically, that the movie's flaw is in storytelling, in the depiction of the actual monster.

In "The Mischaracterization of The Thing in The Thing (2011)," he writes:

"Many complaints have been made about the 2011 film's use of CGI over practical SFX. That debate aside, I see a shortcoming in the storytelling. The monster in the remake lacks desperation. In the original, the Thing is relatively weak. That is why it hides in the guise of something familiar. Against a group, the monster tends to lose fights. It only transforms to attack a lone victim, or to defend itself when cornered. The Thing is very careful, which is what makes it so frightening in the original. It knows what to say and how to act to gain your trust. And because its stealth is its greatest asset, it only transforms as a last resort. The transformations are defined by their irrationality: on screen, we see a perfectly ordered human body devolve in an instant into a writhing, gory chaos."

I recommend the entire piece at Horror Reviewer, as it provides a fascinating analysis of the monster's behavior, and how it has changed from the 1982 Carpenter film.

I'm posting this piece today in part because I can't stop thinking about The Thing (2011).  A reader here, Cannon, wrote a lengthy, meticulous six-part comment after my review, and by and large, I find his arguments in favor of the film's quality persuasive. 

Most trenchantly, Cannon writes a bit about the sub-textual importance of featuring a woman as the film's lead character in an otherwise (mostly) male environment.  I complained about this facet of the prequel as unrealistic given the context of 1982 Antarctica, but I have become increasingly convinced that Cannon is correct, and my outlook was too narrow and not deep enough.

Cannon writes:

"It is here that the film toys with our expectations, as we take for granted that, because she's the female lead, everything Kate does is the de facto right way to handle the situation. As it plays out, there is something vaguely, indirectly disturbing about her character.

Consider how she’s able to turn three of the men, Lars, Peder and Jonas, against the other four, Colin, Adam, Edvard and Sander, when checking their teeth. The movie is careful not presume that her theory is entirely full-proof, as even Sanders at one point objects that there are “too many variables,” and he may be right. Yet, as the scene progresses, notice how the first three men become increasingly obedient to Kate while she herself becomes aggressively dominant over everyone in the room. In his native language, Edvard, not with admiration but dread, says to Sander, “She’s clever ...and now she’s in charge.”

Indeed, a key observation is made that Kate has attained a kind of unquestionable mother-knows-best sense of order and, regardless the merits of her rationale, has the power to decree each man friend or foe, human or monster. All at once she becomes a Columbia grad crucible of sorts. This aspect of her character reaches its apex during her final scene with Carter when she torches him for being the thing. In their commentary director Heijningen Jr. and producer Eric Newman mention an alternate version of the scene where it’s confirmed that Carter really was human but was burned alive all the same. It might have been ballsier had the filmmakers gong that route but, then again, it may also have been a little too on-the-nose. Perhaps it’s best left ambiguous that Kate was possibly presuming too much based on limited science or was downright imagining what wasn’t. Or perhaps the idea is more interesting metaphorically -- how even the voice of reason can ultimately become judge, jury and executioner."

I must confess, I find Cannon's thesis compelling, and accurate to the details of the film's narrative.  It tracks.  Also, my friend and another great thinker, Le0pard13 also noted in the comment sections that The Thing in the 2011 film initially resembled " a vagina with teeth."

Okay, let's couple these two pieces of information. A woman gaining power over men, becoming "judge, jury and executioner" by din of her sexuality, and a monster that looks like a "vagina with teeth."  Is form echoing content here more than I understood? 

Given this connection -- Kate as a vagina with teeth, almost literally --  I'm suddenly wondering if the new The Thing charts the sexual dynamics of human behavior as much as the original gazed at 1980s feelings of alienation, isolation, and paranoia in the warm-up to the age of AIDS.   If this is indeed the case, then I have grossly underestimated the quality of the film. 

Yet by the same token, I'm also rather taken with Jackson Leverone.'s reading of the alien's behavior, and its general discontinuity with the original Carpenter film.

So I'm right back where I started: Sensing that there is more to The Thing (2011) than meets the eye, but also that, on some level, it still fails to succeed.  One thing is certain: The Thing (2011) is no cheap knock-off, no fiasco, as many critics claimed.  It may not be the masterpiece that Carpenter's film was, but in twenty years, will we see this "thing" better?  Cannon and Jackson Leverone. are certainly helping me see more clearly.


  1. Wow. Very interesting discussion, and a great piece by Jackson T and commentary by Cannon. I think I'll have to re-watch this again and give it another evaluation. As I noted, Mary Elizabeth Winstead easily is the strength of the film, likely now in more ways than previously thought by me, given what I've read. Like with the character of Ripley (at least for the first two Alien films), her actions (and reactions) brought a decided female (read smart) persona into the very midst of a lot of testosterone attempting to solve the nightmare presented.

    Hmm... perhaps, there's more of an 'Aliens' aspect to it all in the 2011 version I didn't think about earlier. I mean, our female (MEW) dealing with another, more monstrous, female ('The Thing'). Makes the initial attack on Kate Lloyd by the creature as the smart move to eliminate its/her real threat. It provides an added dynamic going on with the men of that encampment, now doesn't it? That would also give Carpenter's classic another evocative slant to what MacReady was really dealing with in '82. Why am I now thinking of Jody's line from PULP FICTION:

    "That was pretty f*cking trippy..."

    I know that plot hole and the onus of continuity of a preuel I mentioned aren't going to be overcome and change it to a masterpiece, but there seems to be more depth here than I originally gave the film credit for. Thanks for posting the follow-up, and the kind mention, John. I appreciate it.

  2. The presence of thematic content is always a plus, but even better is how well it is expressed cinematically. That’s where 2011’s The Thing fails, at least by comparison with Carpenter’s original. I’m convinced that the ideas I mentioned in my (typo infested) six-part blowhard response -- that you reposted here -- are at the very least exhibited in the film. However, with a cleaner, less clichéd scrip and a more deft hand at staging these particular scenes with finer visual storytelling, the ideas could have resonated more powerfully. I still think it works, but there are scenes a plenty in Carpenter’s film were themes blend with staging and performance in a seamless, transparent fashion. Add to that the monster depiction in the prequel that is distinctively less memorable for all the reasons mentioned in this ongoing discourse.

    2011’s The Thing does achieve a few of its own subtle moments, and any thoughtful, halfway decent continuation of the thing premise is enough for me to engage with enthusiasm. That’s why I enjoy this film as a companion piece to Carpenter’s original; other’s may enjoy it (less) as an optional accessory, while others yet may entertain the film merely as a curious oddity in relation -- as a way to mirror and/or reexamine why 1982’s The Thing is such seminal horror masterpiece.

  3. claudiu4:24 AM

    I'm no great thinker but... if I may:

    - the biggest problem this movie had - I think - was the lighting. it was way, way, way to bright. there was no mystery, and there was no suspense. maybe that was a deliberate choice by the producers, considering that we already knew what was going to happen but... still... it didn't work very well.

    - the woman lead character thing. her part was dumb (if you ask me) and nothing else. I'm not saying that she was dumb, far from it, as she was an accomplished scientist, after all. but... well... not very well thought out, that's all. lazy writing, I guess.

    - the part of how the leader guy was in control at the beginning was also very dumb. no one challenged his authority except for the girl, and she was easily brushed aside. If I were there I would've blown his brains out, before he would have done anything stupid. In the face of certain death any kind of authority - except that imposed by sheer fear - doesn't mean anything.

  4. Hi everyone,

    Le0pard13: I agree with you. I can't say The Thing (2011) is a masterpiece, but I am starting to see a level of depth and perhaps even sub-text (thanks to Cannon) that I did not adequately recognize on my initial viewing. I wonder, are we all making the same mistake that critics made in 1982, with Carpenter's film? I'm not ready to declare that yet, but I really must see this film again, with the new observations from Cannon and Jackson in mind.

    Cannon: I am starting to see your viewpoint that there is more to engage with here than I initially believed. I agree with you that the cinematic aspects of the film are somewhat lacking, compared to Carpenter, but that the film in some way, is getting at something deeper than I imagined at first.

    Claudiu: Why would you ever say you're no great thinker?! Your comments are always terrific, and now when I watch this film again, I'll be looking more closely at the lighting.

    So far as authority -- who has it, how they get it, and when they have it -- I'm starting to see that those ideas, perhaps seen through the lens of sex, formulate the heart of The Thing (2011). Like I said I want to see it again now.

    best to all, and thank you for continuing this discussion.


  5. Jake Lockley4:44 PM

    My only complaint about the further analysis is that it seems like a stretch to justify a movie that didn't have anything additional to offer. Yes I can analyze a Coke bottle in a dumpster and find deep meaning about it's relationship to the universe, but the reality is this movie was predictable and not scary. If what you describe was intentional, a well made film would have had everyone trust her only to have her turn out to be infected. So in the end what we got was the same old strong female trope.