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Cold War, Cold Fear: Analysis of John Carpenter’s “The Thing”

Cold War paranoia at our day and age seems so soothing, you can get real nostalgic about it. So why not take a trip down the memory lane, using one of the premier movies of the Eighties, and in the process perhaps realize that nothing was what it seems even then.

Phenomenology of imitation

Hitting the theaters in the wake of final decade of Cold war, John Carpenter’s The Thing came out to be unanimously dismissed by the critics, as everyone privy to the horror/sf genre is aware of. Yet, to this day, it’s creator claims it to be the acme of his craftsmanship.

Furthermore, it is equally true that nowadays The Thing boasts enormous cult following, finally spawning a sequel made with almost obsessive care to stay true to every detail of original plot line, comparable perhaps with the care the makers of Lord of the Rings trilogy took to satisfy the followers of beloved Tolkein’s book.

Of course, the sequel to The Thing remained true to minute details connecting it’s plot to what seemed to be the original. But it’s failure to assimilate it’s uniqueness marks the point this study will address. Namely it never touched the occult plot of The Thing: the escalation of battle of the two unrelenting enemies – their lethal game of chess – and it being the perfect imitation of a possible real act, the act of total war.

In using the term ‘occult’ I refer to it’s original meaning of ‘intentionally hidden’, while the term ‘plot’ does not refer to script, but to the structure of an act the motion picture imitates. The ‘act’ denotes meaningful action or interconnected set of actions. Therefore, to assimilate the act means to mimic the inner logical structure of real or possible events caused by intelligent agents.

Furthermore, this analysis is not concerned with praise or the critique of the original film nor the sequel. The scope is, in a way, both broader and more focused. It has a twofold aim: firstly, to depict meaningful patterns Carpenter employed to create unique sense of dread and bleakness and, secondly, to point out some of the implications such approach to motion picture creation can have – and indeed has – for media filtered reality of contemporary society; the society which more or less perceives itself as a picture in motion.


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