Horror-Tober VIII: Under the Skin

Written by Alexander Greco

October 28, 2020

I don’t know if Under the Skin is scary as much as it is unsettling, disturbing and deeply nihilistic.

I still don’t even know if I know what Under the Skin is about.

It’s about a girl who’s an alien who seduces male humans to come back to her home so she can steal their skin and turn their bodies into some sort of ground-beef-ish sludge. Then, she seems to gain self-awareness and decides to run away from that life, briefly living with some random stranger who tries to form a real relationship with her, and inevitably meets her demise at the hands of a terrified would-be-rapist.

But there’s still so much to the movie that is A) confusing, B) left unexplained and C) random.

Who are the “aliens”? What are they doing? Why are they doing what they’re doing?

On top of this, the movie takes a major shift about halfway through the movie (at the point of “self-awareness”), with not just a shift in the events and actions of the characters, but also a shift in the mood, atmosphere and, seemingly, the themes of the movie.

The movie shifts from disturbing, Lovecraftian horror to depressing, Dostoyevskian existentialism at the midpoint, transforming from a story that seems to be focused on psychopathy or amorality to a story focused on the human condition.

Then, taken in its entirety, Under the Skin seems to be a movie about self-consciousness and awareness, the dawning of empathy and a struggle with identity. More specifically, I think this movie delves into a look at the human condition, and, inadvertently, delves into a look at female identity and the human condition as a female. However, while I do want to delve into these things, and more, first, I want to try to understand what is happening in this film.

If you haven’t seen this film, I am on the fence about recommending it.

It’s great, it’s a fantastic film, and it’s both a subtle and highly complex film. However, it can be tough to watch, and it’s certainly not for everyone. It’s an exceedingly unsettling, uncomfortable and at times deeply disturbing film, and it excels at hammering home these emotions in subtle, quietly screaming ways.

This movie is so good at being uncomfortable that we get to see Scarlett Johansson completely naked a number of times, and these moments somehow manage to be exceedingly unpleasant to watch. I can respect that.

Anywho, let’s begin.

Literal Analysis

Summary

Some of this I guess would fall more into a film theory, especially since much of this wont play into the other parts of the analysis, and since of this I think might contradict portions of the analysis. Still, I think this is an important aspect of the film to look at (since, you know, this is the part where I actually try to understand what the fuck is going on).

I’m don’t want to spend too much time summarizing the movie, and there are a lot of small details to go through that I suppose support the major themes and story arcs, but fuck it, we’ll make do.

I was debating whether or not this movie should be broken into 2 parts, 3 parts or 4 parts, but I eventually settled on 4 parts.

The first part I’ll call the “Amoral Arc”. The second part, the “Dissonance Arc”. The third part, the “Discovery Arc”. And the fourth part, the “Annihilation Arc”.

In the Amoral Arc, we first see the “motorcycle man” bringing a limp woman into a van. While supposedly still in the van (though the van seems to possess extradimensional space), the alien woman and protagonist of the film takes off her clothes and puts them on herself. We see the possibly human woman begin to cry, though she is still limp and paralyzed.

Then, the alien woman goes to buy more clothes and some makeup before driving around asking men for directions. This tactic also serves as a way to flirt with men and try to bring them home with her, which seems to be her method of hunting/talking prey. Once she gets a man to come home with her, a man who also seems less likely to be noticed if they go missing, she lures them into her dilapidated house and into another extradimensional space—a massive, dark space, where the floor gives way to a large body of strange fluid the man sinks into while the woman walks on it normally.

Later, she tries to use this same tactic on a foreign swimmer, but the swimmer tries to save a man and his wife from drowning. Exhausting himself in the process, the foreign man fails at saving the couple and collapses on the beach, where the alien woman strikes his head on the rock. She and the motor cycle man take the foreign man and his belongings, both ignoring the couple swept out to see and their screaming infant they left on the beach.

In the Dissonance Arc, the alien woman continues preying on men in a similar way, first seducing and victimizing a man she met at a club and then an unsocial deformed man.

However, during this arc, their seem to be slight disturbances to the psyche of the alien woman. First, some men yell at her while she is parked, and she seems confused by this. Later, while going to and while at the party, she seems confused and even frightened by what is happening. Later, she receives a rose as a gift while in traffic, and the rose has blood on it, which seems to deeply disturb the woman.

While driving around with a man who continuously complements her and her looks, she seems more distracted than she was before and barely answers the man (who nonetheless returns home with her). After a short montage of random people out and about the city, the woman is sitting in her van alone at night, and a group of men come and attack her. She drives off, unharmed, but she does seem slightly disturbed by this.

Afterwards is the scene where she seduces the deformed man, and ends the Dissonance Arc.

Also in this Arc, however, we see how the skin is removed from bodies that have been in the tarry-fluid long enough, and we see that their bodies are processed and fed through some sort of trough into a red light. Where they go is not and is never explained.

The next arc, the Discovery Arc, begins with the alien woman looking at herself in the mirror, and then letting the deformed man leave. After this, she leaves the city, driving her van until the engine stops, then walking through a dense fog until she eventually makes her way to a town.

Here, she eats food that she immediately spits out, then wanders around until a man tells her a bus will be coming shortly. She gets on the bus with the man, and the man offers to help her (which she accepts). She ends up living with the man, and the two seem to develop something like a relationship, though the alien woman is an incredibly awkward individual. During this time, the motorcycle man and 3-4 other motorcycle men set off in search of the woman, each riding across the land in different directions looking for her.

The man and alien woman inevitably try to have sex, which seems to end disastrously when he tries to penetrate her. She freaks out, gets him off of her, sits on the end of the bed, and inspects her vagina (or where a vagina would be). We don’t know what she sees down there, though the reality of what she is (which we discover at the end of the movie) raises speculation.

The woman leaves, and this begins the Annihilation Arc.

This arc essentially consists of the alien woman traversing through a forest, where she runs across a lumberman who acts aggressively towards her, eventually to the point of rape and murder. She sleeps in a hiker’s rest area alone, and wakes up to find the lumberman molesting her.

She runs off into the woods, trying to escape the lumberman, but ends up finding his truck. She gets in his truck (I don’t know why) and the lumberman finds her. She honks the horn (I still don’t know why), then gets out and runs away again. The lumberman chases after her, and eventually catches her, pins her to the ground and begins trying to rape her.

However, at one point, he stops and recoils in horror at the sight of something, letting her go. We see that her skin is coming off, and beneath her “normal” human skin is jet-black flesh.

The lumberman runs away, and the woman begins peeling off her skin, revealing more and more of her body beneath. She even takes off the skin around her head, revealing a simplistic head with few features, then looks at her tarry body with her human head/face. The lumberman returns and pours gasoline, kerosine, oil or some other flammable liquid on her, then sets her on fire. She runs away, though she is still engulfed in flame, and runs out of the woods and into an open, snowy field, where she collapses.

Then, the movie ends.

Analysis

Each Arc of the film warrants its own literal interpretation, and then the film as a whole warrants its own literal interpretation.

First, the Amoral Act. What we see here, and what is even hinted at a few times, seems to be a take on entities who possess either a completely different form of morality than humans, or they possess no morality whatsoever.

This is an exceedingly interesting topic for me, amorality, and if you’re less familiar with the concept, it’s not that something possesses a bad or evil sense of morality, it’s that they possess no morality whatsoever, except perhaps a survival instinct.

While Lovecraft hasn’t explicitly covered amorality in his writing, he has explored to some degree the concept of an alien morality, or something that exists beyond a sense of morality, that operates under different existential parameters than humans do (typically ones that humans cannot understand or fathom). I personally have explored the concept in much of my fiction (so hit me up if you ever want to read some of it *wink wink*), and the key to understanding it, funnily enough, is empathy.

You have to be able to put yourself in the mindset of an individual, organism or other cognizant entity capable of agency or action, and think of what you would do in that situation. What would you do if you acted purely instinctually, or purely out of survival, or purely out of some cold, calculating, sociopathically-detached plan?

And Scarlett Johansen pulls this off perfectly. Watching her is like watching a praying mantis, a barracuda or a Komodo Dragon disguised as a human.

In the Dissonance Act, we see small shifts in the alien woman’s behavior (I keep calling her “alien woman”, but literally no one has any names except for Andy and the dead couple, so fuck off).

So, what is happening here?

Why would the alien begin to act oddly? Why is it afraid of the club and large crowds? Why does it react so strangely to the sight of blood?

And is the alien beginning to develop some sort of mental dissonance, or some form of self-awareness or awareness in general that runs counter to its previous understanding of the world?

What we can surmise from the club and from scenes throughout the film is that the alien woman does not actually know how to socialize whatsoever, which falls back to the “reptilian mind” thing. When the woman is seducing men, she almost has a program she runs to seduce them. She has her initial question, then she tries to figure out what they’re doing, if they’re free, if they have an excuse for her to get them in the van, and then finally to try and seduce them to bring them home.

She isn’t actually socializing with them, she’s running a program she uses to hunt her prey.

This is why she may seem so uncomfortable by going to the club and why she acts so strangely in situations with other humans that don’t fall under her pre-programmed responses. She doesn’t know what to do.

Now, as far as the blood, perhaps she doesn’t even know anything about human anatomy (evidenced later by her reaction to sex) or human biology.

And is she changing psychologically? It’s certainly possible, though what would do it? What would make that change? This I think I’ll get into later.

We must also discuss what the fuck is going on in the aliens’ house.

So, there’s a floor made of a tar-water/fluid/solid-floor/thingstuff, which the aliens seem to have some control over, since they can walk on it and others’ end up sinking into it.

There also seems to be some sort of psychological effect the place has on people, since no sane person would take a look at the endless black expanse of that room and think it was a safe place. In addition, there’s the blood-flesh-meat-slosh trough, and what the fuck is going on there?

I think we can assume the skins of humans are being harvested to be used later as suits, and then the flesh and organs of humans are being harvested to be used as flesh? Or fuel for something? Or maybe just discarded as waste? We don’t know, we really don’t know.

There’s a lot we don’t know, such as what the dark fluid is, or what the aliens’ purpose on Earth is. So, while some of these mysteries could be scoured for more details, I think we’ll have to leave this as a dead end.

Next, the Discovery Arc. I think this arc is relatively simple, though there’s three elephants in the room.

The deformed man, the motorcycle man/men and the sex scene.

There’s a few other minor things, such as the cake, the woman’s strange behavior in certain scenes and her aversion to dark castles, but I think these are either obvious or explained by what we previously discussed: not acclimated/adapted to this world, does not know how to behave as a normal human and so forth. These we won’t split hairs over.

With the deformed man, almost immediately after being released by the alien woman, he is tracked down and attacked by the primary motorcycle man. We can assume this is because he has seen too much and his existence might lead to the aliens’ discovery, but then the motorcycle man essentially kills him in broad daylight, and the motorcycle man even sees a witness and does nothing about it, then steals someone’s car. This isn’t discrete and seems somewhat odd.

Next with the motorcycle man/men, why is/are he/they hunting down the alien woman?

And what will they do when they find her?

Now, I have a theory about this, but I won’t delve into it until later.

Finally, the sex scene, and this is actually an incredibly interesting scene. In this scene, when the alien woman stops to look at her vagina, there are a couple things happening here.

One, perhaps something went wrong with her skin-suit. This is definitely a possibility, especially since we see the skinsuit tear later, and we see the body that is revealed underneath.

Second, and this is what I think, the alien woman has no idea whatsoever what sex is or what is happening as the man tries to penetrate her. I think it shocks her so much that she has to stop and try to figure out what is happening, which is insanely ironic, since her whole schtick for the first half of the movie is seducing men with the promise of sex, and essentially using her self as sexual bait without even knowing how sex works.

There is also the possibility that both of these things are true at once, and the sudden introduction of sex also brings a moment of shock and epiphany.

But why does this then make her leave the man and go out into the woods alone? Why does she no longer wish to stay safe and in his company?

Maybe she realized sex wasn’t what she thought it was. Maybe it was painful or uncomfortable for her (also ironic). Or maybe there really was an anatomical redundancy that kept her from actually having sex (the lack of a real vagina) and she didn’t want her cover to be blown.

I will probably come back to this in a bit, but it’s probably one of the most interesting scenes in the entire movie just because it immediately creates a network of implications connecting so many other events, themes and subtext throughout the film.

Finally, the Annihilation Arc, which is also relatively straight-forward, but with one simple thing we need to figure out:

When the woman was born, created, awoken, etc., did she know what she looked like on the inside, or did she live her entire life identifying with her exterior form? And did she always know there was another body under the skin

Or did she not discover this until the end of the film?

And while I think the prior sex scene is incredibly interesting (for scholarly, intellectual reasons), this moment is obviously the crux of the film.

It leads to many questions, and I don’t know how many answers there are.

Did the woman always know this was who she was and what she was like? Or was this a moment of self-discovery? Or was this a moment where she realized her own mortality and her body’s limitations and inevitable destruction?

So then, the question that follows many of the events of this film: How much does the woman know?

How much does she know about humans? How much does she know about herself? How much does she know about the consequences of her actions?

In the beginning of the film, I think there is an assumption of superiority in the woman. She is the ultimate femme fatale, who lures men back to her home to use them as a resource for her species. However, we slowly begin to see that she is incredibly awkward in unscripted social situations, that she may or may not understand human anatomy/biology, and that she may or may not understand her own anatomy.

At the same time, we slowly see this outward perception of superiority vanish and a sense of vulnerability slowly grows, until, at the end of the film, we see that she is essentially all but helpless when she’s alone (another very interesting thing to reflect on with this film, the complete turnaround from seduction-control-superiority to rape-helpless-vulnerability).

This will factor into a future part of the analysis.

Now, something else to discuss here, in the broader scope of the film: what are the aliens doing? What is going on?

More specifically, what is going on with the woman?

Now, I have other things to get to with this analysis, and this portion has already dragged on long enough as it is, but here’s my theory about the woman.

In the opening of the movie, we see an eye being formed, and then we hear the woman practicing phonemes (z-, th-, t-, s-, p-, f-, etc.). Immediately after this is the scene where the paralyzed woman is brought into the back of the van and the naked alien woman takes off all of her clothes and puts them on herself. The body of the paralyzed woman presumably is disposed of in a similar fashion as other used bodies.

So, I think this means that the alien woman was newly created or constructed, and is being “programmed” to speak while she is being made to look like a human woman. I also think it’s possible that the paralyzed woman is actually an alien herself and may have undergone a similar psychological transformation as the Johansson alien—meaning this woman was the previous seductress alien and was replaced by Johansson once it gained self-awareness.

Now, unfortunately, I don’t have much to back this up with. There isn’t much evidence for this, but it’s a gut feeling I have. I suppose a more rational take on this is that this is just some woman they found who just so happened to have the same sized clothes as the Johansson alien.

I do think, however, that it’s not a stretch to imagine the male aliens created the Johansson alien, or maybe the Johansson construct-alien, in order to carry out their aims (whatever they may ultimately be).

And so, this is why the Johansson alien seems to know so little about anything­—they’re programmed only to fulfil one task, and she hasn’t had enough experience to know how so many different things work (socialization, sex, biology—human and her own). Once she “goes rogue”, the other aliens try to track her down. This could be because they think she’s in danger, or it could be because they’re going to “recycle” her like they did the other female alien.

We don’t know, and I don’t think we’ll ever know. This movie is based on a book by the same name, written by Michael Faber and released in 2000, so the book may have more answers for us, but for now I think we’ll have to be content with what we have.

Gender Analysis

I don’t want to spend too much time with this portion of the analysis. This isn’t to minimize its potential depth or significance, this is simply because I think the true meaningfulness of the movie resides in a much deeper place, and I don’t think the director and co-writer, Jonathan Glazer intended it to be about gender.

However, the pieces of the puzzle are all but staring at us in the face, so I think an exploration of the significance of gender in this movie is warranted.

First, there is the foundational element of sexual dynamics here to examine. The seductress alien is primarily seen as an object of sexual attraction. There is something interesting that happens is done in the movie, something I don’t think even the creators are aware of. The woman-alien can only be an object throughout the movie because no human knows her true nature until the end of the film.

Throughout the movie, humans can only project their sexual idealizations onto the female alien because they cannot, and maybe can never understand the woman, as a subject. Because of their ignorance of what she is, it is impossible for them to know anything about the woman except for surface information. She can only be an object, until the very end of the movie. At the moment she becomes a subject (at the moment her inner self is revealed) the only human to have seen her inner self elects to destroy her.

Now, following this line of the seductress alien as an object of sexual attraction, there are two ironies on either side of all these interactions.

One, the men who are sexually attracted to her are only attracted to her because of her outward appearance, showing a shallowness to romance and sexual attraction. In some ways, it shows a sort of hypocrisy in love and romance and sexuality, since the woman is desired simply because of her looks. If anyone were to discover who/what she really was, they would immediately lose their attraction to her.

Another tangential irony to this is the fact that it might not even be possible to have sex with this woman. Her body may be physically incapable of sex, and only capable of looking attractive. In this way, the men who desire to have sex with her are completely fetishizing a non-sexual entity (non-sexual meaning incapable of procreating or having sex). Now, this might not be the case, simply because there’s a bit of ambivalence in the sole “sex scene” of the movie as to what the Johansson alien sees when she peers down at her vagina, but one of the possibilities is that she discovers a shallow dead end.

So the men sexualizing her may be sexualizing something that has no actual sexual function, and simply “looks pretty”, further adding to the idea that she can be considered nothing more than a sexualized object by anyone else in the film.

Two, the Johansson alien probably doesn’t even know how sex works, or what sex really is. There is a scene where she sees blood and freaks out. Why does she freak out? I mean, admittedly, I would freak out as well if I was handed flowers by a stranger and they were covered in blood, but I don’t think this is why she freaks out. When she sees the blood, she reacts, but then she doesn’t do anything to wipe it off.

This seems to indicate that she gets upset by the sight of blood not because she knows what blood is, but because she doesn’t know what blood is. If she did know what blood is and reacted how she did, one would assume she would want to wipe off the blood.

This can lead us to believe that she doesn’t understand the fundamentals of human biology. Later, when she tries to have sex, the seductress alien freaks out for one of two reasons:

  1. She is physically incapable of having sex
  2. She suddenly realizes what sex actually is and this bothers her

I think the second has to be true, because it’s true whether or not the first one is true. Either way, whether she’s physically capable of sex or not, she doesn’t understand what sex: either she doesn’t know human anatomy and her anatomy, or she doesn’t know the process of sex.

What this means is that she spends the entire film as an object of sexual attraction—more than that, her entire purpose in life seems to be luring men to their death so they can be harvested—and yet she doesn’t even understand sex. Her entire purpose on Earth seems to be centered on sex and sexual attraction, and yet she doesn’t even know what sex is, how sex works or the anatomical structures responsible for sex.

Another aspect of this to look at is the shift in power dynamics from the beginning of the movie to the end of the movie.

In the beginning of the movie, the seductress alien is in full control. She lures men back to her home, like fish willingly putting the hook into their own cheeks, and guides them to their own deaths. She is in complete control, she possesses an air of superiority about her, and she is the predator.

However, in the end of the movie, she is completely vulnerable and has no control. She is an environment she doesn’t understand and cannot use to her advantage like her home, and she is being aggressed upon rather than being docilely followed by the individual sexually attracted to her.

I don’t entirely have a great analysis of this, but it seems to be about the social dynamics of sexuality, as well as perhaps a commentary on the different modes of behavior dependent on one’s gender.

However, while there’s more to delve into with these few topics I’ve mentioned, as well as other avenues left in the dark, I do think I’ll move on now to a more universal analysis.

Human Analysis

While I think the gender analysis might be the more obvious one, given the sexual nature of Under the Skin, I think the film deserves to be looked at on a deeper level.

Under the Skin is an exceedingly lonely film. The first half of it feels inhuman and detached, for some obvious reasons. The female alien is a cold, amoral, nearly-mechanical being who, as we learn throughout the film, doesn’t seem to know much about humanity or even their own nature.

They have pre-programmed socializations with one agenda, luring men to their deaths, and any other social interaction seems to be difficult for them to have. They don’t know how to react except in short, awkward responses, and sometimes with no responses at all.

Then, the female alien seems to gain consciousness or awareness of a sort, and goes off on their own—first developing a romantic relationship that quickly fails, and then being killed/destroyed by someone who attempts to rape them.

In many ways, this film reflects the human condition for everyone, regardless of general.

We all become programmed with social responses and behaviors that we use in a variety of situations, but we don’t have many original responses to things—we don’t know how to act in novel situations.

In addition, we all have “masks” or “skinsuits” we wear to hide who are underneath—both to ourselves and to others. We develop personas we use to mask our underlying nature, our underlying agendas, and our underlying identities. However, we sometimes even develop these personas to hide who we are from ourselves.

Or, we develop personas without developing any underlying identity, sense of self, or other psychological structure beneath our personas. Many people in some ways are only the skinsuits, with nothing else inside of us (psychologically/behaviorally speaking).

On top of this, we as humans seem to use each other mindlessly. We use each other for our own self-gain, for our own self-pleasure, for our own self-validation, and we do this all with our pre-programmed social behaviors without any thought of how the other individual might be affected by us and our actions.

We use our skinsuits to get what we want, and we don’t think twice about it.

However, there can be an awakening of sorts where we realize all these things, and this, I believe, is the awakening that occurs at the midway point of the film.

The midway point of the film, primarily involving the deformed man, is interesting in many ways. The fact that her last victim and the first victim she saves (or attempts to) is the way he contrasts with the beauty of the female alien. However, I think the deformed man signals a shift in a sense of self-awareness and self-image.

The ugliness (I’m sorry, guy, if you really look like that) of the man I think represents a self-projected self-image by the man. It’s his own insecurities, loneliness and sense of self-worth projected or manifested onto his appearance.

So there’s this implication here of the man’s outer image not mattering to the female alien (though we know this is because A: she isn’t planning on having sex with him and B: probably doesn’t actually care about human beauty standards).

This contrast in attraction might signal the female aliens psychological shift, which seems to come about by seeing her own reflection. This seems to be a shift in perspective where outward appearance and outward behavior stop mattering, which means there must be something else that matters.

This triggers the female alien into leaving the city she’s been living in, presumably to get away from the life of sexual seduction and human harvesting in order to maybe discover herself, or try attempting to understand what is happening.

A psychological shift like this unfortunately does not happen in everyone, but it is still an incredibly important turning point in many people’s lives: the realization of the true nature of one’s self, and the attempt at creating a different life than they are already leading.

However, perhaps the woman is still living a lie. She attempts to form a relationship which still seems to be entirely dependent on the woman’s appearance. Would the man she met on the bus still have brought her home, fed her, clothed her, sheltered her and so forth if he wasn’t attracted to her and didn’t think there would be a sexual reward in it for him?

And still, the relationship is also built on a lie because the man does not know who the woman actually is.

It isn’t until the end that the woman’s true nature is revealed, and we see that she is the pitch-black-bodied alien. She is immediately killed or destroyed immediately after.

This scene is interesting in our current conversation for a number of reasons.

First of all, the fact that the man is trying to rape her is, unfortunately, a purification or distillation of the underlying desires all men who meet the woman have. Rather than the overlaying social behaviors used to either mask what they want or get what they want, the lumberman simply tries to take what he wants.

Here, his underlying agenda is not masked or gained by pre-programmed social behaviors or responses, and his actions directly reflect his desires.

As far as the alien woman goes, the fact that she is destroyed after her true nature is revealed shows goes back to the idea of her being only an object of sexual attraction throughout that film, until the moment her true body his revealed. At this moment, the projected sexual object is shattered, and the individual perceiving her (the lumberman) recoils in fear.

This I think also has multiple angles to view it.

I think one could say that we as individuals do not enjoy seeing others for who they truly are. We don’t want to actually know a person, we want to create an idealized projection (whether negative or positive) of who we want them to be, with three modes of idealization: desire/attraction/love (sexual or otherwise), neutrality/ambivalence, and fear/disgust/hate.

The moment the lumberman’s idealization of the woman was shattered by seeing her true form, his model of reality was damaged or maybe even destroyed. As a defense mechanism, he attempted to annihilate the thing he suddenly understood too well.

I also think it’s interesting to note that the lumberman’s behavior mirrors the alien woman’s behavior as well. First, he gives some semi-bullshit spew of dialogue, where he’s not actually connecting with the woman, he’s just asking questions and talking at her.

All of these questions seem to be gauging how risky or not it would be for him to prey on her. Once he’s gauged that she would be safe to rape, he finds her again and stalks her through the woods until he finally catches her. This exactly mirrors, at least on a structural level, what the woman does when she herself preys on men.

Now, there’s another, more complicated angle that I find exceedingly interesting.

First, we build this premise (which we already started building):

Sex and sexuality is idealized and romanticized throughout the movie. The protagonist her/itself is a sexually idealized object which is not perceived as its own subject (its own subject for what it really is) until the end of the movie. However, pretty much every individual the protagonist comes into contact with sexually desires her, so all of their underlying motivations align with the same sexual motivation the lumberman-rapist has.

So, the sexual motivations begin as idealized/romanticized, but they are still the driving force.

The moment we have direct contact with the true nature the man/men’s motivation(s) (the assault/rape scene) we also come into direct contact with the true nature of the woman (revealing her body).

So there are two “bare” forces or concepts that come into direct contact—the true nature of the sexual motivations, or of the libido, and the true nature of the woman herself.

It is possible that the thing the lumberman actually recoils from while attempting to rape the woman is the fact of his own actions and behaviors. He might be recoiling from the sudden realization of what he is trying to do.

See, the black, alien body beneath the human appearance can be seen as symbolic of the actual, violent, insidious nature of the aliens’ actions/agenda/motivations. So, when seeing the true body of the woman, the man is seeing the dark, violent nature of behavior and motivations (possibly the dark nature of libido in general).

The sight of the woman’s body is the realization of a dark, insidious motivation, and the sight of the woman’s body may be the realization of one’s own dark, insidious motivations.

How so?

This is where it gets a bit complicated (if it hasn’t already) so I hope I explain this well.

There’s a fun trick you can play with films like these—in theory, any film with a woman who is evenly remotely sexualized or put into a romantic light. Part of the meaning of the movie is derived from the fact that we are watching it.

We as the viewer are perceiving characters in a sexual light, meaning we as the viewers have been observing Scarlett Johansson in a sexual light. If we ourselves are sexually attracted to her, then perhaps we’ve been existing vicariously through the male characters.

Of course, this does not end well for us as the vicarious/voyeuristic observer. However, then there is the sex scene with the guy the alien woman meets on the bus. He so far has come the closest to having sex with the woman, but it inevitably fails. Finally, the observer’s sexual frustration peaking at the fact they haven’t vicariously had sex with Scarlett Johansson yet, the lumberman attempts to rape her.

We as an observer might be torn by this.

The individual who has been sexually idealized to such an extreme throughout the film has yet to have sex with anyone yet, but now, finally, the sex will happen. However, it is through force that the sex will happen. It is rape, it is violence, it is wrong in so many ways.

The lumberman seeing the alien woman has who she truly may be the audience-observer seeing their own libidinal motivations at their darkest—their sexual desire and frustration taken to an extreme—and the darkest nature of what lies under the skin is revealed.

This can be extended beyond sexuality into any number of things we pursue in our lives—any number of obsessions, desires, motivations, agendas and so forth. The moment of witnessing the Johansson alien as who she truly is reflects the moment of seeing anything we desire or obsess over for what it truly is.

Perhaps it is people we desire, perhaps it is pleasure we desire, perhaps it is status we desire, but there will always come a moment where our idealized, romanticized projection of our desires becomes torn, and a truer reality reveals itself.

The knee-jerk reaction, of course, to such a revelatory event is to annihilate the evidence of such a reality.

We Have Come to Terms

And that concludes the analysis.

This analysis has already become exceedingly long, so I don’t want to spend too much more time here.

Despite being a relatively unknown box office flop, this movie has garnered an impressive number of accolades, with many credible sources stating it’s one of the greatest films of all time.

I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it’s certainly an excellent film, and one that deserves your attention if you’re into things like this (like I said previously, it’s definitely not for everyone).

Nonetheless, I greatly appreciate you reading this (especially such an article as long as this one). Please let me know if you have any thoughts, comments, questions or critiques.

See You Later, Space Cowboy.

I Know the Pieces Fit: An Analysis of the 1982 The Thing (Part 2)

Written by Alexander Greco

September 17, 2020

Where you been hiding lately?

Where you been hiding from the news?

Because we’ve been fighting lately,

We’ve been fighting with the wolves.

Ben Howard

Now, I will pivot into the second half of the analysis, the inversion of Thing as Metaphoric Object.

Analysis Part 2: Thing as Phenomenological Object

While the first half of the analysis is fun and interesting, and possesses moral/ethical/political considerations that are worth discussing (and will be discussed), this second half of the analysis is far more interesting to me.

For this, we will be examining what the Thing is to the humans.

For this, we will be examining the Thing from the perspective of humans as a metaphoric, narrative object, meaning: what is the Thing from a symbolic and psychological perspective?

But, if this is more important and more meaningful to me, why begin with the other analysis?

Because, while we are now looking at the Thing as an object, the nature of it as an object must be understood as an object capable of subjectivity.

When the humans are perceiving the Thing, they are not looking at an inanimate object, they are looking at a conscious and rational object.

However, the Thing and the contents of its subjective experience is a “black box”, a programming term that here means the contents of the Thing’s consciousness and cognition cannot be known.

In programming, a “black box” is a piece of code that has a function—there are inputs, which are then processed by whatever code exists in the black box, and then there are outputs produced by the code—but the function of the “black box” is completely unknown. The contents of the unknown programming can be guessed by looking at the inputs and the resulting outputs, but the code within nonetheless remains a mystery.

The fact that the Thing does have a consciousness and is capable of rational thought is known. There are measurable inputs and measurable outputs, the inputs being reality and events, the outputs being the actions the Thing takes. However, the humans do not know what the consciousness and rational thoughts of the alien are—they cannot examine the “code” inside the Thing’s “black box”.

So, when the humans perceive the Thing (possibly the most apt name here), they perceive an organism they cannot fully understand, with a psychological/cognitive/subjective black box that they cannot examine.

All humans are actually like this to all other humans.

No two humans can actually know what is happening inside the other human’s mind—not fully, at least.

The minds of all humans are like “black boxes” to all other humans.

Here, I can recall the fictional (though, unfortunately, not completely unmoored from reality) anecdote of the lesbian in a Muslim society.

She might be the only person on the planet who knows she is a lesbian. She might not have shared with any other human the fact that she secretly has a sexual and romantic attraction to other women. This, being a function of her mind, experience, psyche, etc., remains a content of the “black box” of her psyche.

This “black box”, however, extends beyond just our thoughts, our motivations, our sexual preferences, our beliefs and so forth, and extends to things like our memories—which then extends epistemologically to our actions, our experiences, our decisions and so forth. Not only can we hide from others what we think, feel or believe, but we can also hide from others our actions, our patterns of actions (actions taken as part of an agenda) and the things we have experienced in our lives.

Now, one of the great peculiarities of humanity is our ability to communicate the contents of this “black box” to others. We can tell other people: This is what I think; this is how I feel; this is what I have done; this is what I have gone through in my life; etc.

And here, we find the interwoven segments of a functioning, healthy society (or, on the micro-level, functioning, healthy relationships): communication, honesty and trust.

Humans have the ability to communicate what resides within our “black boxes”, so long as we trust what the other person is communicating.

By knowing what these contents are—so long as we also know these contents do not indicate a hostility towards us—the people we know can be perceived as something we understand.

That may be one of the most important functions of language and society: providing every individual with a socio-linguistic structure that allows us to understand to a high enough resolution who everyone else within a society is.

You don’t have to know someone’s name, you don’t have to know their address, you don’t have to know their job, but we are able to safely and comfortably walk into a Starbucks without immediately backing into a corner at the sight of a dozen hairless primates because society has provided us with enough information to know (or believe) that none of the people are actively or passively hostile towards you.

However, what happens at the point at which someone doesn’t make any sense? Let’s examine this.

If we have a socio-linguistically mediated epistemological structure which provides us with the information about others, and this information ensures as that particular individuals will not be hostile, what happens when this epistemological structure is violated?

What happens if you go into a Starbucks, and someone pulls out a gun?

What happens, I think, is much deeper than most might suppose.

On a rational, material level, very little has actually changed. The only change in the material environment around us is that a small, mechanical object has been introduced to the physical contents of Starbucks.

However, from a deeper cognitive and psychological level, the change is nearly infinitely drastic.

You are no longer standing in a Starbucks waiting for your coffee to be made. This idea, this perception of reality, is not the material reality, it is a cognitive, phenomenological reality. The idea of Starbucks, the idea of what you are doing in Starbucks, the idea of what others are doing in Starbucks, and the idea of how these things are situated within our understanding of reality are all socio-linguistically mediated knowledge-structures we base our decisions on.

Suddenly, by the introduction of a gun into the environment, these socio-linguistic knowledge-structures have disintegrated. The reality of standing in a Starbucks waiting for your coffee no longer exists—that reality is gone—and a new reality of being in a place where a stranger has a gun has taken its place.

In addition, the person who was also waiting at Starbucks for a cup of coffee also vanishes, and they become an entirely different person. They may not even be a person anymore—at least as far as your psyche is concerned. The benign stranger at Starbucks (another mediated knowledge-structure) has suddenly vanished, and is replaced with an object whose intentions, motivations, knowledge and experiences you suddenly don’t understand.

That person transforms into some other thing that is no longer a person as you understood them to be.

That person, on a psychological or phenomenological level, literally transforms their being from a defined, articulated, mutually understood citizen of a country into a living, thinking, acting black box.

And here, now, I hope you can begin to see how this connects back to The Thing.

At the moment at which one of the dogs or humans is transforming into its alien form, what precisely is happening from the perspective of one of the non-aliens?

What subjectively and psychologically is happening?

We’ll take the scene at which Palmer is revealed to be one of the Things.

The poke his blood with the hot metal, and the blood reacts as a living organism.

Suddenly, we now know Palmer is a Thing, and at this precise moment, Palmer “physically” begins to transform.

He begins convulsing unnaturally; his eyes bleed and bulge; his head grotesquely deforms; his entire body transforms into a pseudo-human horror; his head splits open into a giant, monstrous mouth and attacks Windows; and MacReady finally burns the creature alive then kills it with dynamite as it tries to escape outside.

What is happening is Palmer begins with a defined, articulated, orderly form. What Palmer is—Palmer’s being as a perceived object—is understood. Then, at the moment Palmer is revealed to be a Thing, Palmer transforms into something that is not understood.

What is happening when the humans or dogs are turning into the chaotic monstrosities we refer to as “the Thing”? All of our fundamental and assumed knowledge about their being suddenly vanishes. They transform from something that has a rigid, defined form and a concrete definition-of, into something that cannot be easily described, except as something grotesque, volatile and chaotic.

Now, viewing this as a phenomenological event (rather than an actual, physical event), it is not that the people and animals are physically turning into these chaotic alien-creatures, it is that we are witnessing the psychological transformation of these beings from the perspective of the human-observers. The moment a dog or human transforms into a “Thing” is the moment where a defined, ordered, articulated being transforms into something that we cannot understand.

The perceived physical transformation is therefore actually a projected psychological transformation of the other being.

So here, if we view the entire film in this light, with the transformations as symbolic, phenomenological transformations, what is happening is quite peculiar.

What if, instead of viewing the movie as a sci-fi horror film where they’re being attacked by these assimilating aliens, we view this as a movie where everyone is subjected to a mass hysteria where they begin to “hallucinate” that their fellow outpost members are turning into monsters?

What if the members of the outpost are going insane, and begin projecting these monstrous psychological transformations onto each other?

Throughout the beginning of the movie, we see many of the characters at odds with each other, just over mundane things. With the introduction of the Thing into their midst, they suddenly become paranoid, suspicious of one another, and delusional. They perform purity tests on one another (like the blood tests), and enact a sort of martial law where the typical legalities and civilities are out the window.

How much of this is caused by the actual introduction of the Thing into their population, and how much of this is caused by a mass hysteria?

To bring this back to our prior quasi-fictional anecdotes:

At the moment the lesbian woman reveals herself to be a lesbian in the fundamentalist Muslim-dominated society, she is no longer an accepted, understood human within that society; she transforms into a being that must be ritually annihilated.

At the moment the benign coffee-drinker at Starbucks pulls a gun out from their pocket, they are no longer a benign stranger in a socially mediated/understood setting; they have transformed into a chaotic, undefined being who is armed with a mechanism that can quickly and effectively end lives.

To bring this back to our prior analysis of Thing-as-Subject, we (“we” as all of us as individuals) are at all times both Thing-as-Subject and Subject-Observing-OtherThing-as-Object.

And now, to wrap this analysis up, we will examine what this perpetual duality means.

Conclusion: Bring the Pieces Back Together

There are two obvious but conflicting moral or ethical statements to the analysis:

Communication between two beings—and so an understanding between two beings—must be established in order for there to be peaceful co-existence.

That which cannot be communicated with or understood may have to be annihilated if it cannot otherwise be survived.

While with the 1982 The Thing, the ethical question of communication and survival may remain ambiguous, in the original 1951 version of the film, The Thing From Another World, this ethical question is actually confronted, but is answered in a much less ambiguous way.

One of the characters attempts to communicate with the alien, but is killed for his efforts, and the remaining characters then annihilated the alien in order to survive it.

While I can applaud the original film for confronting this question more outrightly (itself adapted from the 1938 novella, Who Goes There? (of which I know little about)), and perhaps the 1982 The Thing ought to have brought this ethical issue more to the surface, the 1982 film nonetheless captures the true, phenomenological or subjective reality of this moral issue more accurately (though opaquely).

The problem is we never can know what to do.

The problem is not that we should create a society where there are no Starbucks shooters, or a society where we don’t murder lesbians in the streets (though both are admirable goals).

The problem is that it is impossible to create a society that does not possess analogues to these anecdotal societies.

The true “point” to the 1982 The Thing is not a moral answer to this combined problem of every individual being at once a Subject-Who-Perceives and Object-Being-Perceived.

The true point here is a pragmatic and amoral one, and the point is this:

We cannot know what is truly going on in the minds of anyone else. We cannot truly know what is happening in others’ minds, what they are motivated by and what actions they may take for or against us. We cannot truly know who (and, so, what) another person is.

And, so, psychologically, people we cannot understand transform into grotesque monsters before our eyes, even if physically they are exactly the same.

What The Thing proposes to us is not a moral proposition, but an amoral Truth about the reality of subjective experience and the phenomenology of human relationships.

All humans—all organisms and, more broadly, all objects with a personal subjectivity—are simultaneously:

  • Subject Perceiving Other-Object

And

  • Object Perceived by Other-Subject

Now, this is more applicable in situations where the aforementioned social-structures have been violated, but the problem here, as I tried to illuminate, is in part that we can never know when these violations will be made, or what the nature of this violation is.

So, I said previously these were not intended to be made into political/moral value statements, but, fuck you, I’m a lying black-box-bastard, live with it.

What is the most pressing moral/ethical/political and even epistemological (knowledge-based) issue today in America? (And, likely, throughout the world right now)

Our ability to communicate with one another has all but been corrupted to an impossibly unreconcilable state.

Our politics (in America, and, from what I know, in many places across Western society) has become so polarized that to say you support Trump is to self-declare yourself as a Fascist, and to say you support Biden is to self-declare yourself as an Anarchist.

Of course, except in the marginally extreme, neither of these cases are true. 99% of Trump-supporters are not Fascists, and 98% of Biden-supporters are not Anarchists (I’m kidding, fellow-Liberals, I really mean 97%).

However, those 99% who’ve fallen into the “Trump Camp” cannot convince those in the “Biden Camp” that they are not Fascist Bigots intent on inciting the Fourth Reich; and those 95% (I kid) who’ve fallen into the “Biden Camp” cannot convince those in the “Trump Camp” that they are not psychotic Anarchists seeking a Communist Revolution.

So, what has happened?

Both sides of our political divide have decided they can no longer convince the other side that they are not vicious monsters, so they’ve taken to treating the other side as vicious monsters.

What has happened to both sides of our current political “war”?

The Right and the Left currently perceive themselves as the humans, and they perceive the others as the “Things”.

We have a strange and potentially catastrophic situation right now where both the Right and the Left are simultaneously Subject-Perceiving-Object-as-Thing and Object-as-Thing-Perceived-by-Subject.

So, what do we do?

Obviously, we must come to understand that the shooter at Starbucks may actually be a Muslim Lesbian. I mean this jokingly, and I mean this seriously.

Imagine the moment you realize someone you know supports the candidate you currently oppose. How quickly does that person transform into something grotesque and horrific?

If you support Trump and you discover someone you know supports Biden, how immediate is the effect on you? How immediately do you either go quiet and politely smile and nod before walking away, or attack them on the spot, engulfing them in the fiery Truth of your words?

How immediately do you, a Biden-supporter, see your friends transform into a Fascistic Existential threat to equality and compassion the moment you see them don a MAGA hat?

How it feels telling your friends you support Constitutional Rights and Mixed Social Economics.

At this moment, you may even be wondering whose side I am on, so you can know whether or not to condemn my words as profanity or praise them as sacred wisdom. “He poked fun at Liberals, but then he called himself a Liberal, but then ambiguously quasi-supported/quasi-criticized both sides, so what the hell is he?” Fuck you, that’s what side I am on.

The ending of this upcoming election may precisely reflect the ending of The Thing. The architecture we live in that protect us and trap us with the Thing—the structures of society/the outpost of Antartica—are destroyed in fire. We are left in the wreckage, only remaining alive by the dying light of burning buildings. And we face each other as the last survivors of a great cataclysm, wondering if the Thing across from us is a friend or foe.

We must communicate with each other.

We must learn to trust each other again, whether or not we agree on the other’s opinions.

We must learn to understand each other again, to open up our own black boxes, despite the ensuing vulnerability, so that others may open up their own black boxes.

And while we may find that our friends turn into Things and Things turn into friends, maybe, just maybe, if we can stop, think and speak to each other, we’ll come out of this alive.

Covid Month #6: “I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time, I’d rather not spend the rest of the Winter tied to this fucking couch.”

I Know the Pieces Fit: An Analysis of the 1982 The Thing (Part 1)

Written by Alexander Greco

September 16, 2020

Cold silence has

A tendency to

Atrophy any

Sense of compassion

Tool / Maynard James Keenan

This article is the first of two on the 1982 The Thing. This article will introduce the movie and the two halves of the analysis, then present the first half of the two-part analysis. The second article will present the second part of the analysis, then conclude by examining both and comparing them to current social events.

The contents of the first article will focus on a theoretical analysis of the film revolving around the key element of Information Control, while the second article will delve into more philosophical and psycho-social territories.

Introduction

The 1982 remake of The Thing has gone down in history as one of the best sci-fi/horror films of all time, with good reason. It’s a tremendous movie, it was made in the golden age of classic special effects, right in between the developing stages of earlier films and the rocky slide into 90’s and 00’s effects and CGI.

The setting was great, the characters were memorable and unique, the pacing and storytelling was masterful, and the underlying Cosmic Horror themes and tones of the movie were pitch perfect.

However, while The Thing has gained enormous notoriety since its initial box office flop, I still think it’s a vastly misunderstood movie, and even a vastly underappreciated movie. The source of this misunderstanding and underappreciation comes from the most overlooked element of the film: Control of Information.

The key to understanding The Thing, what made The Thing so horrifying and why the The Thing has been misunderstood is how the film’s director and screenwriter, John Carpenter and Bill Lancaster, controlled what information the viewer does and doesn’t know:

– The absolute knowns, or facts

– The assumptions

– The absolute unknowns, or known unknowns

– The unknown unknowns, or things we don’t even know that we don’t know

Control of Information is important in any form of narrative, but it is key in genres like sci-fi, horror and mystery, where so much of the meaning or emotion is derived cognitively rather than aesthetically.

For Future Reference, Left to Right: Norris, Bennings, Childs, Copper, Fuchs, Garry

With The Thing, nearly the entirety of the film’s true horror is derived from what we know and don’t know as opposed to what we are perceiving physically or aesthetically. So much of the horror is derived from Carpenter and Lancaster’s Control of Information: What we know; what we don’t know; what we’re lead to believe; what we assume; what assumptions we’re forced to question; and what information is left to the imagination.

The entire film is centered on an alien who can assimilate other organisms and disguise itself as any organism it has assimilated. So, throughout the movie, right to the final scene, we are constantly questioning who is an alien, who isn’t an alien, how the alien can be discovered, how the alien can be defeated, and what might happen if the alien isn’t defeated.

While The Thing is a master-class on Control of Information, with its ability to penetrate and terrorize your consciousness with doubt, isolation, paranoia and these constant questions, one question is never actually asked—one question is kept hidden by such overt terror, or the answer seems so obvious we never think to ask it—and this may be the question that is most crucial to understanding the film:

“I just want a home…”

What does the alien want?

This is one piece of information is secreted away, hidden and kept beneath all the other layers of the story to such a greater extent than anything else in the movie.

And so, the Control of Information—and, as sub-sets, both the ignorance of individuals and the inability to communicate or perceive information cohesively or coherently—may actually be the deepest and most important theme of the movie.

The instinctual assumption of both the characters and the movie-viewers is that the alien wants to assimilate other organisms for its own gain, and to eventually take over the world by assimilating all other lifeforms. However, this may only be a projection of motivation onto the organism, as this motivation is never explicitly confirmed by the end of the movie. The grotesque, violent horror of The Thing is so great that we never stop to question this motivation. We simply take it as a given.

However, we know so little about the monster in The Thing that it seems foolish to assume anything about it:

– We don’t know where it’s from

– We don’t know why it came to Earth

– We don’t know what it was doing before it came to Earth

– We don’t know how it’s able to assimilate organisms (we don’t know very well, at least)

– We don’t know what it is, that’s part of the point of the film: it’s just a thing that came from space

This of course connects to Cosmic Horror and the Lovecraftian Cosmic Nihilism, but I won’t delve too much into this. Feel free to read my articles if you want to read more about Cosmic Horror/Nihilism.

The short of it is we are small, limited creatures living on a small, blue dot in an imperceivably vast reality. We are far more blind and ignorant that we are perceiving and knowing, and the knowledge that we don’t know is so tremendously more massive than the knowledge we do know.

We don’t know where the alien is from or why it’s on Earth. We don’t know what the alien is or what it is capable of. We don’t know what it wants, what it’s goals are or what it it’s like to be the alien.

What is interesting, is that we do know the motivations of those who have remained humans: survival.

The motivations we do know (of the humans) are the will to live. The motivations we don’t know (of the aliens) are assumed to be violence, domination and usurpation.

But, we don’t know what the alien’s motivations actually are.

What are the motivations of, what is going on in the mind of, and what is it like to be The Thing? As an important inversion of this, why are the Thing’s motivations, and the Thing itself, perceived the way it is?

These will be the focus of the analysis.

Summary and Structure of Information

This summary will, of course, have spoilers in it, so be warned.

However, the summary will be centered on how information is controlled throughout the film, so, though much of the film is luckily centered on this as well, it will likely leave out decent swaths of the film’s content.

If you haven’t watched The Thing, it goes without saying that I highly recommend it. If you have watched The Thing, this will all be old news, so feel free to skip to the meat of the analysis.

After one of the most memorable and iconic opening title scenes in sci-fi history (up there with the 1979 Alien), the movie begins with two Norwegians in a helicopter, chasing a husky dog across the icy wastes of Antarctica.

The Norwegians are shooting at the dog, and at one point throw dynamite at it. The husky arrives at the American Outpost, Outpost 31, where the majority of the film takes place.

The Norwegians follow the sled dog and soon arrive at the outpost as well. One of them accidentally blows themselves and their helicopter up, while the other pursues the dog on foot with their rifle.

While trying to kill the dog, the Norwegian shoots one of the Americans, then begins yelling something at the Americans in Norwegian, brandishing the gun at them. However, no one can understand the Norwegian, and they shoot the man dead, then take the dog inside their outpost.

Immediately, we are introduced to both the key tool of the film, Control of Information, and a key theme of the film, Communication.

The sad irony of this opening scene is that the dog (spoilers) is actually the alien that will later terrorize the outpost for the remainder of the film. The Norwegians know this, and their actions to kill the dog may have (spoilers) saved the lives of everyone at the outpost, but the Americans cannot understand the Norwegians, and so kill them.

However, we as the viewers cannot know this, just as the characters cannot know this, and so we are left with the same blind assumptions as the Americans (if that ain’t a metaphor).

The dog is allowed to wander around the outpost, doing god-knows-what behind the scenes, while we still assume it is only a dog, until it is put into a kennel with the other dogs.

After MacReady and Copper have investigated the Norwegian base, the dog finally reveals itself to be what it truly is: the Thing.

The dog’s body begins to change, with tentacles and other appendages growing from it, and its face eventually splits open to reveal a monstrous “mouth”. It begins attacking and assimilating the other dogs (meaning it absorbs their bodies into its own and begins copying the cells of the dog). But then, the alien is killed by the Americans, though the question remains open as to whether or not other members of the outpost have been assimilated.

There are two important threads to follow through the beginning of the movie:

The Salt is strong with this one.

One: we see the relationships of the characters as tense, often with a lot of conflict between them that erupts over minor things. One example is Blair asking Windows if he’s been able to reach anyone over the radio, with Windows blowing up and saying it’s impossible to reach anyone at this time. (This, along with other moments, builds on the them of communication, and comes into play more in the second half of the analysis.)

Two: our knowledge of the alien/Thing is developed, though only to a certain degree (we never fully/explicitly learn much about the Thing). Primarily, we learn of its ability to assimilate other organisms, and of the possibility that it could eventually assimilate the entirety of organisms on the planet, if it were to make it to any other continent (if it was motivated to do so).

And, of course, much of the rest of the first two thirds of the film is devoted to determining who has been assimilated or not.

Blair suspects Clark, who was in charge of looking out for the dogs, and was alone with the dogs when the Thing began assimilating them.

Bennings becomes partially assimilated, and attempts to escape, but is discovered and killed before it could fully assimilate.

Blair goes crazy, suspecting anyone and everyone could be an assimilated alien, and is locked up in a building outside of the main structure.

A supply of blood samples that could’ve have been used to test who has been assimilated is destroyed, implicating the small number of people with access to the blood as being assimilated (and subtly implying the alien may have assimilated the DNA of all members at the outpost).

Fuchs goes outside to find a piece of clothing with MacReady’s name on it (this happening shortly after MacReady himself mentioning the alien seems to tear apart people’s clothing while assimilating them).

Fuchs is then found dead outside, apparently burning himself alive to keep himself from committing suicide.

Mac and Nauls go out to check on Blair. However, a storm hits, so the two are late coming back. The rest of the outpost decides to close off all entrances.

While closing off one of the last entrances, Norris sees Nauls coming back alone through the blizzard. Nauls is let back inside and says he found a scrap of clothing with Mac’s name on it (the same one Fuchs previously found).

Mac then returns to the base, but the outpost members refuse to let him inside. Palmer and Norris are both quick to decide Mac ought to be killed, since he has likely been assimilated.

Mac breaks into the outpost, brandishing a flare and a stick of dynamite, letting everyone know he’ll blow himself and the others up if the try to stop him. However, Norris then collapse and stops breathing. He is brought to the infirmary where Copper tries to revive him, but Norris’s stomach splits open into a giant mouth and kills Copper (thus revealing Norris to have been assimilated all along).

After the Norris iteration of the Thing has been killed, Mac forces everyone to do a blood test to see if they have been assimilated. The assumption is that the cells of the Thing act autonomously, and so will attempt to survive if harmed. Mac uses a hot piece of metal to poke the blood, and eventually Palmer is revealed to be a Thing.

Palmer transforms and attacks the other outpost members, killing Windows before Mac can kill the Thing.

Here, we finally arrive at the wind-up to the climax.

The team discovers Blair has gone missing and has built a spacecraft beneath the structure he was put in, and so Blair is the last remaining Thing (that they know of).

While getting ready to blow up “Blair’s” spaceship, Nauls sees Childs run off into the blizzard. Immediately after this, the power for the entire outpost goes out. They assume this is Blair shutting down the power so that everyone else will die and Blair will be frozen until a search party comes and recovers everyone’s body (effectively reviving Blair/the Thing once its body thaws).

Mac, Nauls and Garry decide to blow up and burn down the outpost, effectively committing suicide, but ensuring the Thing does not survive as well.

While preparing the explosives and incendiaries, Blair picks off Garry then Nauls, then attacks Mac. Mac kills the transformed Blair-Thing and blows up the outpost. Mac escapes outside and is sitting in the cold as the outpost burns down.

Childs finally returns and sits down with Mac, telling him he ran off into the blizzard because he thought he saw Blair, then got lost and couldn’t find his way back. Neither can tell whether the other is a human or a Thing. The film ends ambiguously with the two of them sitting outside, “[waiting to] see what happens” as the outpost burns down and the Antarctic cold sets in.

That’s The Thing. Got it? Good.

The Poetry of Squaring Off: Analyses of the Thing as Subject and Object

And so, I will jump as quickly as I can into this.

This analysis has two halves: One, examining the Thing as a Literal Subject capable of perceiving, rationalizing and critical strategizing; and Two, examining the Thing as a Phenomenological Object being observed by humans.

The Thing as Literal Subject must be understood first in order to transition into an understanding of its inverse, the Thing as Phenomenological Object.

What do I mean by these terms?

Thing as Literal Subject is exactly that: we assume the Thing has sentience, and we build a possible model of its phenomenological reality from what we can assume in the film, then examine this reality.

This will fall more into a “film theory” than a proper “analysis”, though it is pivotal to understanding to the second half of the analysis.

Thing as Phenomenological Object: we examine not what the Thing is perceived as by the humans, but we examine why there is a Thing being observed by the humans.

This will contain more of my typical approach to analysis, though more focused on one specific aspect of the film rather than the broader narrative analysis I typically write.

Analysis Part 1: Thing as Literal Subject

What is the immediate conflict that arises in The Thing?

The Norwegians and the dog.

The Norwegians are chasing the dog through the Antarctic wastes, trying to kill it—knowing fully what the dog is and what it is capable of—but the last standing Norwegian is killed because the Americans can’t communicate with the Norwegian, can’t understand why the Norwegian is doing what he is doing, and don’t know what the Norwegian knows or perceives.

Of course, the brutal irony is that the Norwegian could have saved the entire American outpost from catastrophic destruction and death, and this as I mentioned implicates the deepest themes of the film: ignorance and communication.

It’s like the Mark Zuckerberg of dogs.

What is the dog/alien thinking at the start of the film?

What is going on in the alien’s mind at this point?

Well, first, let’s construct a potential reality for the alien as a conscious subject. This might be technically impossible, considering there’s so much about the alien we don’t know (and that’s part of the point of the film), but, if we start from one basic assumption or premise, we can work our way to something that I think is most likely to be true.

The one basic assumption is: the alien wishes to survive.

Why assume this?

Because, as far as we know, all life forms share this instinct. Instinct might not even be the right word, it may go even deeper than instinct, as it’s difficult to say single-celled organisms possess “instincts”. The will to live seems to be a mechanism that is embedded so deeply in the fabric of “living” that it may be at the core of existence for life or even proto-life.

The will to live, or something like it—and, as tangents of this, the will to maintain life through various motivations and functions, including replication—had to have been present even in the earliest stages of life as the theorized “first replicators”.

So, assuming the alien wishes to survive, let’s reconstruct what its experience would be like before the start of the movie and at the start of the movie.

God damn, I love MacReady’s hat.

The alien crash-lands on Earth, and we know the alien piloting the ship is the same alien capable of assimilation (rather than the pilot of the ship becoming assimilated pre-crash) because Blair as the assimilated alien version of Blair has begun constructing a new spaceship by the end of the film.

The alien is frozen in Antarctica, and is then unfrozen by the Norwegians. We don’t know the full scope of what happened with the Norwegians, but we do know something went fucky-wucky, and the Norwegians and the alien decided they couldn’t work out their differences.

Now, another assumption here is that the alien likely treats assimilation as something relatively natural and commonplace. We are capable of natural acts like eating, speaking and procreating, and the alien’s act of assimilation is likely as natural to it as any of these acts. So, while assimilation is remarkably violent and grotesque to humans, it may not be so violent and grotesque to the alien.

However, assuming the alien’s act of assimilation was at least a part of what led the Norwegians to hunt down and try to kill the last remaining alien, and knowing the alien is intelligent enough to build a spacecraft and pilot it across the cosmos, then the alien is probably smart enough to have realized the humans do not appreciate the alien’s act of assimilation. That said, the alien may not fully understand why the humans do not like this, just as we would be confused if we went to another planet, and the natural inhabitants did not enjoy us trying to breathe air, eat food, have sex or speak words.

So, the last of the Norwegians attempt to hunt down and kill the last of the aliens, resulting in the brutal irony of The Thing’s opening scene.

Throughout the rest of the film, once the alien is discovered in the iconic dog scene, the plot turns into a sort of cat-and-mouse/Clue/who-dunnit plot where the humans are trying to survive and the alien(s) are trying to survive.

So, what is the rest of the film after the opening scene like from the perspective of the alien?

Each scene must be looked at as the alien’s attempt at survival, rather than the pre-supposed attempt at world domination. Why?

Well, other than the base instincts the alien likely has, there is one telling scene: the Thing-as-Blair attempting to build a spacecraft.

Why would the alien build a spacecraft rather than find some other mode of transportation or find some other mode of survival? Obviously, because it is trying to leave the planet Earth and return to its own civilization, or return to whatever it was doing beforehand.

It could be argued that the Thing would use the craft it created to travel to some other part of the planet and begin its worldwide domination there, but why? Why would it want to?

It has already seen the humans to be incredibly hostile towards it, and it landed there accidentally rather than on purpose, and, if we assume the alien’s core motivation is to survive, why risk trying to interact with other Earth-organisms that are likely to be just as hostile? On top of this, all it knows of Earth so far is the frozen wastes of Antarctica, unless it is smart enough or has learned enough to know what the rest of Earth is like (which may be unlikely, since it crash landed thousands of years ago, pre-civilization).

So, in these circumstances, why would the alien behave as we see it behave?

With the dog scene, this is possibly the most unclear, but, if it was assimilating the dogs as an act of survival, than perhaps it was doing so to create “allies”, or to spread itself out among a wider array of individual organisms and so increase its likelihood of survival. Perhaps it was an attempt at communication, though we don’t know enough about assimilation to know if this is a form of communication, and we do know enough to know it is used for functions other than communication.

The rest of the movie after this, however, is much more clear.

The dogs are now all under suspicion, and are killed because of their potential contact with the alien. And, while all the other humans are now under suspicion, they cannot be killed so recklessly. So, the alien begins assimilating humans to blend in and survive.

Another reason for assimilating humans is that this may be the only mode of communication the alien currently possesses. If you are trying to survive, one of the best places to start is to ask the hostile population, “Please! Don’t kill me!”

But, knowing the humans are hostile towards it, it may have decided not to communicate in the given circumstances—especially since no communication from the humans has been attempted.

So, the alien is in a circumstance where it is being hunted down. It may wish to communicate to the humans, which would be a reason to assimilate the other humans, but communication may also result in its own death.

Let’s say, as an example, you are a lesbian woman in a non-Western country that is predominated by a Muslim population (just to be arbitrarily controversial): while one mode of survival may be to yell out, “Please! Don’t kill me! Yes, I am a homosexual, one of the things you wish to kill, but, please, I mean you no harm! Don’t kill me! Let me live!”

What are the odds this woman won’t be killed?

The better, though less-optimal, choice would be to blend in with the population around you, and survive as long as you can until you can find understanding allies in others, or until such a time that you can escape to a less hostile population.

Let’s say the alien as an assimilated human were to shout out, “Please! Don’t kill me! Yes, I am the alien that has assimilated other organisms, but, please, I mean you no harm! I only wish to survive! Don’t kill me! Let me live!”

What are the odds the alien won’t be killed?

The better, though less-optimal, choice would be to blend in with the humans around you, and survive as long as you can until you can find a human willing to communicatee with you, or until such a time that the alien can escape Earth and go back home, or at least go somewhere it won’t be hunted down.

These assumptions and this understanding of the alien as a conscious and at least somewhat intelligent/rational creature can explain its actions throughout the rest of the film:

  • Attempting to escape as the half-assimilated Bennings
  • The alien as the fully assimilated Palmer and Norris being so quick to want MacReady killed, knowing MacReady is not an alien and that MacReady is the biggest threat to their existence
  • The alien as the “deceased” Norris attacking Copper before attempting to escape
  • The alien as Palmer attacking the others once it is discovered
  • The alien as Blair constructing the spaceship
  • The alien as Blair attacking the remaining humans once its spaceship is destroyed and the other humans are attempting to kill it

There is of course the ambiguity at the end of the film, with the final scene of Childs and MacReady in the wreckage of the destroyed outpost. While I could go into this and the various theories of whether or not one or both of them are the alien, and then what this would mean for our analysis, it is not so important, and I will let you decide.

So, here we have a construction of what the subjective reality and the motivations of the Thing most likely are.

There is a single hole in this argument: why didn’t the Thing-as-Blair simply run into the cold and be frozen, which would allow it to survive until a rescue party came and recovered their bodies, which would result in the Thing surviving until it was thawed out enough. But, this “hole” can have several counter-arguments to explain it, the least of which being: fuck it, it’s just a movie, and what a shitty ending that would have been.

Plus, if Childs or MacReady are an alien, then the alien being frozen and revived will likely happen anyway.

The Thing is trying to survive on an alien planet. It has woken up in an incredibly hostile environment, Antarctica, and it finds itself being assaulted on all sides by incredibly hostile lifeforms which do not seek to communicate with it.

The grand conflict here is on two levels a conflict of survival (the deeper, though maybe less interesting conflict), and the conflict of epistemology: the conflict of what is known and what is unknown.

The Thing cannot communicate with the humans unless it assimilates them. If it assimilates a human, then that assimilated human will be killed, so broadcasting that you are the alien disguised as a human will likely result in death.

I will return to this in the conclusion, but I think you get the idea here.

This essentially wraps up this part of the analysis. There’s no grand conclusion here, but it’s intended to roll right into the next analysis (where you will find a grand conclusion).

What a hat, man.

Here At the End of Our Days

By Alexander Greco

I look out my window to the beautiful city my people have made, stare at the marvels of our age, and yet this feeling won’t leave me alone. In the streets below, I see my people moving like a tide of drifting ghosts. My lips mouth the words, “Brothers, sisters.”

I look out at our star and whisper, “My people.”

Walking away from this view, I move from room to room, trying to escape the sight of the city, hoping that will ease the unrest in my body, but there is no escape. I find my bed, but sleep will not come. In the mirror across from my bed, my large, dark eyes stare back at me. I look across the thin landscape of my hairless, bone-white body, and briefly amuse myself, thinking of how grotesque I must look to my ancient ancestors

I’m average height for a woman, a little over seven feet tall, and I’m one of the few females who still have wide hips. Ages ago, they would have said I was perfect for child-bearing, but people don’t talk like that anymore. I’ve joined the many who’ve given up on having children. Being born seems like too cruel of a fate to enjoy the idea of motherhood.

In the mirror, above my reflection, is another window. I sit up in bed and turn to look out this window. My dark eyes move from building to building, tracing the forms of spiraling, stalwart architecture that stand like titans against the horizon, and I cannot rid my head of these thoughts. I look for the subtleties of my people’s long, distant history in the curves of our towers, and I cannot forget this will be the end of our history.

Somehow, we’ve managed to live this long. We’re certainly not the people we started off as—the slow progress of evolution has made sure of that -but, since the farthest point of our prehistoric times, when we hunted the Ge’Herut of the northern plains, and through the hundreds of thousands of years since, we have survived. We have survived, but now, we face the death of our star.

Our species, shifted and evolved as it has over time, has seen may rises and falls. We’ve seen nuclear winters, solar flares, meteors, and countless wars. Some have been for food or water. Others were for oil and land, then, once we entered our succession of technological revolutions, they were for control of information and communication rights. Some wars were just for power and hurt egos.

Nothing ever finished us off, however. We managed to come back, even when we’d completely fallen. We learned to live in the ruins of our old cities, reverse engineer relics of a dead age, and recollect our histories, our sciences and our philosophies. The lights would go out, and we’d find new energy sources. Food would be scarce, and we’d genetically engineer animals with more fat, people with better metabolisms.

We survived for so long, but it doesn’t matter anymore.

It’s over.

Our star had begun dimming a few thousand years ago. At first, our ancestors thought it might only be a temporary occurrence, or some error in calculations. This dimming had begun nearly thirty-thousand years earlier than they assumed it would have, but the calculations were verified over and over again across the world. Was there some factor that had been forgotten? Some supposed “constant” that had shifted with the growing universe?

We scrambled to create spacecrafts that might save our species, but nothing we made could carry enough of us away to do save the majority of our species. Some ships were designed as homes for a select few- a thousand, at the very most -who could reproduce and teach their children generation after generation until they found a new home. Other ships were built to carry frozen embryos of thousands of species, including our own, and trigger terraforming events on a suitable planet before gestating these embryos. No one knew if anything would actually work, however.

Terraforming, deep space travel, weather control, these were things we had only recently been developing, and we had far from mastered these technologies. As a collective species, as a united planet, we repeatedly launched the best we had into the sky and out of our solar system. We still monitor their progress through the cosmos, thousands of years later. We’re still watching, hoping.

Eventually, our star dimmed enough to begin drastically effecting the natural cycles of the planet. First, the water cycle was thrown entirely off kilter, and our weather began to shift dramatically. We could artificially stabilize these, to an extent, but it wasn’t enough. We couldn’t artificially create light from our star.

Plants began to die out. The hardiest grasses, shrubs and lichens survived, but, once fragments of the planet’s ecosystems began dying out, the rest of the life in that ecosystem would quickly collapse. Trees quickly disappeared, followed by large mammals.

The more adaptive species began to evolve with the changes, us among them. We had already grown taller, thinner, and quite a bit smarter, but we had also evolved to digest nutrients far more efficiently. We no longer grew hair- we metabolized all the nutrients that our hair would have grown from -and our core body temperatures dropped, we no longer needed as many calories for our bodies to function properly.

Once the dimming began, our bodies were ready to starve, freeze and still flourish. Our digestive systems could already break down most substances, even a number of formerly toxic ones, and rearrange them to synthesize whatever our bodies needed. Centuries into the dimming, we had adapted enough that we could eat a bowlful of mud and be fed for a day or so.

That’s all we really can do, there’s so little else for us to eat. There’s some lichens left. A handful of scavenging animals are still alive, and they find their own ways to manage. There’s still plenty of insects, and some birds who prey on the insects. In the ocean, there used to be fish, crabs, sharks and whales, but their food chain fell apart several centuries ago with the dying of the phytoplankton.

Perhaps the sea creatures of the ocean’s depths, those already suited to the harshly cold and lightless abysses, will survive. Maybe they will inherit the Earth, along with any surviving ants, spiders and cockroaches. Surely, anything else will die.

We still have our cities, our beautiful and godly cities. They tower into the sky, shining brilliantly, even in the dim starlight. We walk solemnly through our twilight streets. We walk silently through our cities as tall and pale parades of dark-eyed people. There is no small talk among us anymore, no passing comments. So little need be said anymore. Everyone already knows what’s on everyone else’s mind.

We barely feel the bitter cold anymore, as if it’s become a part of us. Our warmest days are comparable to the autumns of boreal regions when our climate was still stable. The cold is everywhere, the cold is present at all times, and the cold has become a part of everything. There is no escape from this cold, there is no escape from this dying light, there is only an acceptance of it. There is only letting the cold winds wash over us, and staring up to the sky, waiting.

The arts are still with us. In fact, they have become one of the only things we invest any time or resources in anymore, especially with so few resources required for anything else. Here, at the end of our days, our kind has finally found an appreciation for the soul, and the things that erupt forth from it. New symphonies of various musical mediums are made every other week, hours are spent reciting prose in city squares, and art galleries fill warehouses of space.

Just as the ancient explorers discovered the lost civilizations of prehistoric times, we discovered the far reaches of emotion and thought. We live with a present-minded reverence inside the long, melancholy notes of orchestral arrangements. Within a single phrase, we rapturously disappear into the most tragic of sorrows and herald the most ecstatic of joys. In paintings, we stare down long, endless hallways of thought, like staring at a dream through a telescope, and we sculpt the shapes and forms of our thoughts with clay, glass and cold steel.

Yes, if there were to be any evolutionary step for the last of us, it would be an enlightened capacity for emotion, and an intuitive understanding of the soul. However rapturous this may be at its peaks, we all fall into deep crevasses of despair.

What mattered anymore? Why care? Why care even about our own souls? What was the point of existence? What was the end to any of our means, except for a slow, cold death. It was in such a despair that I found you. It was in the pits of loathing and contempt for our universe that I reached out to you.

It was in the pits of a desperate agony that my soul screamed with all it’s might. “Hear me, someone! Please! Is there not more than this? Is there not someone, something, some higher entity that can hear me? Some ritual to be performed? Some prayer to be said that could save us from this final dying of the light?”

I was curled pitifully in the dim gray of my barren bedroom, wailing and screaming whatever god might be listening, when my soul reached its hand out to grasp at you. These wails, screeches and screams I produced were not uncommon to hear in the cities that still stood. They were not thought to be odd, neurotic, or some symptom of insanity. They were understood with more clarity than any word that could be spoken.

I lay on the floor, my body heaped up feebly against the wall. A dozen or so of my people had walked into my room- there were no locked doors anymore. They came not to comfort me, only to share this commonplace pain. Together, we huddled in the cold- not escaping it, only sharing it. Together, we screamed. Together, we shared each other’s grief, our fear, and our rage.

There, in the gloom, our souls rage out into the cosmos, yelling, “Please, please, there must be more! Please, someone hear us!” Together we were bright and brilliant, manifesting as one chord that struck into the dark. There, in the vast cosmos of thought and emotion, we found you.

Perhaps you are from another planet, or an earlier time. Perhaps you live in a dimension incalculable by our mortal-made instruments and mathematics. Perhaps you live in a universe parallel to ours. Wherever we found you, whenever it was, and whatever you, we reached out with our naked, despairing souls and met in your thoughts.

We stepped across a bridge where time and space were irrelevant, speaking to you as you slept and daydreamed. In the chaotic music of your thoughts, we taught you our histories, our sciences and our philosophies. In the cities of your imagination, we found the medium by which to recreate our grandest of architectures, our most revered symphonies, and our most magnificent works of art. We showed you the vastness of our culture, leaving behind an ocean of life where our last decades form only the surface.

Through you, through your imagination and the thoughts drifting to the surface of your conscious, we hope to survive. We hope to be remembered. Here, with you perhaps we have found something “more”. Perhaps we will live on.