It’s not exactly Satan nor a derivation of him, but it’s a god of inverse polarity compared to that projected by our conscience of attenders and connoisseurs of the catholic rituals. Actually, it’s very likely that it’s precisely the same god we worshiped without knowing it, that lives – monstrous and grotesque representation of the polymorphic trinity structure – both in our world (the entity shielded in the shrine, the Son) and in the over-perceivable one (the Father who lives over the looking-glass and tries to join again with his Son), where the third pole, corresponding to the Holy Spirit, could be identified as energy, i.e., according to Aristotele’s theories, as the ability to shift from possibility to act or, in this specific situation, to move among the space-time passages, continuously shape-shifting (1).
1) In all Carpenter’s movies, Evil presents, in a deformed and paradoxically trenchant way, the essential features of the principles, dogmas and precepts of Christianity (“God’s monkey”, as it is defined by the Fathers of Church), starting from the trinity structure, as reported in the text, and extending to the mystery of incarnation of the Son through the body of a chosen mortal (in this case, the scholar Kelly, being the Mother and the link between the earthly and the afterlife dimension). The progressive contamination which affects the researchers who come into contact with the noxious liquid (and who actually become terrible survivors’ enemies), on the contrary, represents the blasphemous conversion to Evil. We must never forget, however, the basic ambiguity which also pervades these features of the relationship between the Divine and the Demonic in Carpenter’s work; the second never seems actually so, but it is always the expression of Chaos, of the irrational which becomes the origin of the universe.
Christ is the Anti-Christ and God is the Anti-God, in a continuous game of deformed mirrors. This is stated by an enormous and ancient book written in Latin, Greek, Copt and numbers, that is located in the basement where the monstrous secret is shielded. The Church lied, more or less deliberately, for a long time, about the true nature of the so-called “God’s Son”, and had to trap him into that shrine, under the custody of a strange congregation, the Brotherhood of Sleep, a sect of priests-guardians with a great “political” power, whose existence has been hidden even to most of the Vatican elite. In a strange paradox, the sleep of the monster, the ignorance about its presence in the world, has generated the reason, i.e. has led philosophers, physicians and mathematicians, along many centuries, to build systems of thought where the interpretation of phenomena created a reality logically organized according to a prearranged harmony.
The Church shields, but does not understand the actual identity hidden in the substance into the glass cylinder. As for itself, science does not shield, but begins to understand, following its own path of knowledge, that the nature of the visible world (and, as in this case, the invisible world, as it is, and the transcendent one, where the Divine should be located, mix themselves together and become indivisible) and of the micro-particles which compose it does not correspond at all to the laws of equilibrium and logic proportions which seem to rule the macroscopic world. The shape-less abjections shielded but not understood by religion are the same which are discovered, watched but not dominated by science. The chaotic world of subatomic particles, where Evil is located, leads to the formation of an aberrant universe, where both the supposed teleological order of religion (whose man is the fulcrum) and the one founded upon the principles of traditional logic, upon which an as much traditional science is based (whose man is again the fulcrum), collapse.
As professor Birack (Victor Wong) states: “Our logic collapses at a subatomic level, between ghosts and shadows”, and “Even though an order exists in the universe, it’s not the one we were thinking about, at all”. The nature and the matter we watch are only projections of a indeterminable/indeterminate-structured reality, where the multiplicity of variables in the microscopic level, but often in the macroscopic one as well (2), prevents the watcher to establish precisely the laws and rules of an inaccessible world. This is probably the worst evil for man and for his ambition to be the center and the measure of all things.
2) See Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition (1979), in particular pp. 107-110.
In John Carpenter ’s movie we watch a strange a controversial request of help from the Vatican elite (in particular father Loomis, performed by Donald Pleasance) to the scientific-academic world (professor Birack, with other teachers and researchers) in order to face the threat of the Thing suddenly awake after a millennial sleep.
Actually, the conflict we watch is not mainly about the contrast between science and faith, but about the contrast between contemporary and traditional science; the quantum theory, supported by Birack, paradoxically is much closer to the theological ideas than to the concepts of a traditional, and yet surpassed, knowledge. Precisely the collapse “between ghosts and shadows” of erudition beliefs learned during centuries of study, whose cause is not a dogma or a truth of faith, but a new development of knowledge, which quantum physics gets thanks to scientific study and watching, brings to the spurious alliance between the science of invisible and the revealed truth of invisible.
On both sides there will be a bitter surprise. Both the man of faith (Loomis) and the men of research and experimentation (Birack and the other scholars) will have to change idea on many of their beliefs. Loomis will watch his Manichean vision of a duality – the division between Good and Evil, both absolute entities –, his life had led him to, fall down: universe originates from chaos and disorder, which lay in the subatomic dimension in the first place, and is ruled by them; there is not even the “consolation” of a fight against a diabolic intelligence. All that is real is also irrational, we could say. The enemy is nothing more than pure dynamic energy, a real destructive power. The scholars will be dismayed to see that the anomalies of the microscopic world are not only typical of this one, but they also overflow in the macroscopic one, affecting every human being, the whole human community, besieged on every side by the coming of an original power, that is even more ancient than the world itself, that is dull, blind and owns an immense destructive force.
Because of the absence of a principle of Good, of a possibility of safety which comes from the transcendent, in a world whose fate seems ruin, the only possibility for man is to commit to himself. The Church is quiet or lies about a lethal and tragic truth, but also the laical institutions seem indifferent both to the danger for the group of fearless scholars – actually, a danger for the whole world – and to the unease of the least, the homeless (the beings who, after stopping to be useful for society, simply begin to be, authentically taking their existence back without over-structures that come from a “useless usefulness”), who wait for the comeback. They do not just want it, they feel it, and their hopes lie in the coming of an afterlife Power, enemy of the society and the civil assembly which marginalized them. These least, inhabitants of the extreme suburbs of the town, are the ones who perceive that a substantial changing in the earthly hierarchies is forthcoming, and who besiege, without speaking, the church where the scholars gather to face the danger and where is near the coming of the ontological revolution which is going to change the future of the world.
In almost all Carpenter’s works, the individual heroism, or that of a small group of characters, faces a threat which the rest of the community ignores (the examples are countless: Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, Fog, The Thing, They Live, Vampires and others). Therefore the original topic is missing, the topic which is always present in the epic American cinema, the birth of a nation, i.e. the birth of a heterogeneous society, bus substantially united in its aims and motivations and able to support those extraordinary men who are its rampart. So there is not, in Carpenter’s view of the society and the world, any great ideal to defend, any community to represent, any institution or power to give life in behalf of, although sometimes it is possible to find in his works a generic humanism, nevertheless pessimistic in its core.
When a representative of the scholars, Catherine (Lisa Blount), sacrifices herself falling into the mirror (located in a room into the church) – the passage to the dimension of (anti)matter-reflection, laying at the borders of our world – to drive back the noxious power (the “Father” who is trying to join the “Son”) in the dimension where he comes from, she does not do it in behalf of a no-existing principle of Good, nor of a society-nation which does not watch its members. On the contrary, she does it for herself and for her friends and colleagues, and, at most, for the rest of a basically unaware and ungrateful human race. Therefore, it is an individual and laical martyrdom, whose final outcome is uncertain, as there are lots of mirrors and door opened on the abyss of the (in)visible.
Written by Gian Giacomo Petrone
Translation from italian by Fabio Tasso
Reference section: English/Français
Articolo in versione italiana: Il signore del male – Il visibile e l'invisibile