Monthly Archives: April 2019

Plot Armor in The Thing (1982)

The concept of Plot Armor has existed forever and is something that any audience understands even if they don’t know that it has a name. In any given book, movie, tv show, or other form of story, the hero is guaranteed to survive at least until the end because the death of the hero would mean that the story could no longer progress any further. Only recently has this trope been subverted in popular culture by franchises like Game of Thrones, where no character is guaranteed to be safe.

Throughout John Carpenter’s The Thing, the largest source of tension is not the actual presence of the monster from outer space but the ever-looming uncertainty of where and who the monster is. At any point, any character on screen could be the Thing with no one the wiser, and no one would be able to figure it out because of how perfectly it can become a replica of the organisms it ingests.

There’s one exception to this though. At no point, throughout the entire film, does the audience ever really worry that MacReady, the main protagonist, is the Thing. Because of the established concept of Plot Armor, it would be impossible for MacReady to be The Thing and still act as the hero of the film.

One particularly dramatic scene in the movie illustrates this really well when you think about it, and that is the scene when MacReady and Nauls go out to search the shack together and Nauls discovers MacReady’s clothing bundled up in the furnace to be burned. In a panic at this apparent evidence that MacReady is no longer MacReady, he struggles back to the compound as fast as he can and cuts MacReady’s safety line to strand him in the blizzard, but MacReady manages to return and arms himself with a bundle of dynamite to keep the others from killing him. If this evidence had been found against any other character, both the other characters and the audience would be fully convinced that that character was the Thing. The evidence was irrefutable, except for the fact that it was against MacReady. The tension at this moment is not caused by the collective uncertainty by the characters and the audience of whether MacReady is the Thing or not, the tension is caused by the audience’s uncertainty of whether the other characters will trust MacReady or try to kill him. Paranoia has reached a peak in this scene and every character besides MacReady was non-essential to the plot and therefore expendable, so it was really up in the air how it could have progressed.

(There’s been some technical difficulty uploading to the forum, so hopefully at least this one posts.)

Setting the Tone

I think because  I had already seen “Wind River” before we watched it in class I was able to appreciate the way director Taylor Sheridan was able to use the harsh Wyoming landscape to create the overwhelmingly bleak atmosphere of the film and comment on how that kind of environment affects people. Specifically I noticed this second time around an interesting moment when Cory talks to Natalie’s brother, Chip, in the police car. Chip says something about how it’s the land that destroyed him. And Cory reminds him that he could’ve left either by going into the military or going to school as though leaving the physical space around them is the only way to survive.

I’ve read in film reviews about the idea of setting becoming a character in a film (for example Woody Allen’s Manhattan is often described as a love letter to New York City) and I think this movie really does a similar thing with the snowy plains and mountains of Wyoming. The reservation and the surrounding area becomes a villain in and of itself, a constant threat that the characters have to be aware of. The audience can feel the land’s power and danger as the camera hangs high above the snow mobiles as they tear across the white mountains. Each person, truck, and snow mobile is reduced to tiny black dot crawling through the massive snow fields. It’s a rural, open, wide landscape and each person is dwarfed by the massive size of the nature around them. There’s no where to hide in this environment and everywhere you go there is danger.

The only time the bleak grey/white/black color scheme really lets up is when we are transported into the orangey glow of Matt’s trailer in the brief warm and happy moments with Natalie where they talk about where they will live once they finally move away from Wind River. And almost immediately the positive atmosphere is torn apart and the unrelenting danger of their attackers and the Wyoming winter bursts in and destroys their peace. It’s almost as if it’s the land that is the real adversary in the film, or better put, the land is the most dangerous adversary in the film. There are evil, evil, evil characters in the film but it is interesting that in the end,  it’s the environment that does the real killing. Cory’s daughter Emily, Natalie and the disgusting Pete (the rapist) are all killed in the end by the freezing, unrelenting environment. Maybe Sheridan is commenting on how unfair and ruthless the world is in general and uses the Wyoming reservation as a more extreme, exaggerated example. Or rather that there is never any balanced or fair justice in the world that rewards the good and punishes the bad. In Wind River, the cold does not discriminate –  it will kill you regardless.

What role do you think the environment played in this film? How are the characters shaped by their responses to their environment?


Could there possibly be two heros?

I went into this film never even having heard of it, and I finished the film thoroughly enjoying it. Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), is a wildlife conservation officer soon turned into a criminal investigator in a pretty large case. When Cory arrives on the reservation it is just a normal task for him to go out and protect the livestock from a mountain lion. This all changes when Cory stumbles upon the dead body of young Natalie. With a phone call to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, we are introduced to Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen). Jane quickly realizes that Natalie was raped, and demands the coroner to rule her death as a homicide. She also realizes how useful Cory could be to here on investigating the case, and quickly draws him into helping. In the end, the question still remains, who truly is the hero?

I automatically thought that Jane would end up being the hero simply because she was the FBI agent, as well as fitting most of Campbell’s hero’s journey. Her call to adventure is the call from the local sheriff department requesting an agent for a possible homicide. In the scene where Jane arrives, Ben, Martin, and Cory begin to mock her clothing as she attempts to go with Cory out into the snowstorm in a pantsuit and her FBI jacket, this we could see as her refusal of the call, as she gives the attitude right back to them and I believe threatens to leave. It isn’t until Cory and Jane are at the crime scene that we truly see that Cory serves as the mentor, showing Jane minors details and teaching her things she may not have known otherwise such as when Natalie was running and breathing in the negative degree weather at such a fast pace she had a pulmonary embolism (shown by the spot where she fell and began to cough up blood), and that up until that point she had been running but crawled to the spot where she indeed died. Cory also points out that there are snowmobile tracks leaving the house of Natalie’s brother and his druggie friends.

Jane is put to the test when she and the fellow deputies are surrounding Matt’s house, and end up being shot by Pete, she has to fight for her life and she crawls and hides away in the snow under the trailer. This leads us to her almost death, where thankfully she is saved by Cory, and this brings us to the reward of Pete and the rest of the guilty men being killed. Finally, we reach the road back to the ordinary world as we leave Jane healing in a hospital bed.

And then there is Cory, with his call to adventure being the job to kill the mountain lion to protect the livestock and the people on the reservation. He quickly refuses that call when he receives a new call, to help investigate the murder of Natalie, his late daughters best friend. I would have to say that to Cory, Jane is the mentor in this journey. As well as Jane, Cory is put to the test as he is the one to go up into the mountains time and time again to discover if anything new has come to light (for example: finding Matt’s body, and the track leading back to the trailer where Pete is living), as well as being the one to get Natalie’s brother talking about her boyfriend, realizing that the brother indeed was an ally.

As sickening as it may sound, the reward for Cory I think was making Pete suffer the same way that Natalie did, after being raped. I think it was Cory’s way for making justice be served, not just for Natalie but also in a way maybe for his daughter, Emily. Another possible reward for Cory was being able to save Jane in the end. And again, we reach the road back to the ordinary world as we see Cory reading out of a magazine to Jane, trying not to think about all that has happened.

Personally, I still cannot decide who the true hero is, I would love to hear your thoughts on if it is Cory or Jane!