The Thing’s the Play

I watched John Carpenter’s The Thing over this past weekend, and thought it was a great creepy horror movie.  Then I saw, by chance, a video analysis of the film’s ending on i09, and now I think it’s brilliant (despite what people tend to think about criticism ruining art, I tend to enjoy things more after I’ve looked at them from more angles).

The analysis  tries to solve some of the mysteries left lingering at the movie’s end: how the thing(s) got into the blood samples, when Blair became assimilated (or “got thinged,” as I somewhat puerilely like to say), and whether or not Childs is a thing at the end.  In watching the movie I always thought these things were deliberately hidden from the viewer since they were unknown to the viewpoint character, MacReady.  Keeping information from the audience keeps them scared of the unknown, and since it followed a particular viewpoint and therefore made narrative sense, I can’t fault Carpenter for doing it, especially in a monster movie — the kind of movie that thrives on audience uncertainty.

As it turns out, Carpenter gives us all the information we need to figure this out.  He gives us the sound effect of Windows dropping the keys, but where other movies would give a zoom in for obvious foreshadowing, Carpenter doesn’t even show us the keys.  We have to hear it in the middle of an action scene.  But its still there. Carpenter is playing fair.  He just expects a lot more work out of the audience than most directors would.

Most movies want to tell you everything; this one wants you to figure it out.  You don’t passively watch The Thing, you solve it — you play it.  And the movie is concerned with games.  The antarctic base workers are shown playing poker, and in one of the first couple scenes, MacReady plays chess against a computer.  He ruins the game rather than lose which (as the video points out) is what he does by blowing up the base.

Now, The Thing isn’t quite as interactive as computer chess.  The audience can’t affect the outcome, but many narrative video games have a predetermined outcome.  The Thing seems to think that consumers wanted entertainments with which they could engage in some way.  One could rewatch The Thing and try and solve the mysteries they didn’t get on the first go round.  This is, in gaming parlance, replay value.

As an aside, I wish I could point to the characters named Mac and Windows as a sign of a preoccupation with interactivity, but strangely the film predates those operating systems by two and three years respectively.

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Published in: on August 24, 2011 at 1:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

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