There’s an interesting point of connection between John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room (2015), a film about a punk band, The Ain’t Rights who, while playing a neo-Nazi club somewhere near Portland, Oregon, witness a murder and find themselves in serious trouble.
Saulnier has gone on record as loving Carpenter’s work, especially The Thing, which inspired him as a child and which he counts as his favorite Carpenter film.[i]
Not surprisingly, then, when he’s interviewed about influences on Green Room, Saulnier mentions The Thing, but he typically only mentions the earlier film’s influence on his creation of tension within small spaces: “it really is just people talking in a room, he says.”[ii]
There’s another connection, though, that seems minor but that has some suggestive implications.
The dog trainer in Green Room is named Clark (Kai Lennox)—just like the dog handler in The Thing (Richard Masur). They look not unlike—and they both have strong bonds with the dogs they handle.
What does this connection to The Thing mean, this connection which goes beyond the two films’ similar locations in tight enclosed spaces and extends to character?
In answering this question, it’s important to note that Green Room never offers any explanation for its neo-Nazi characters’ hate and violence: they seem poor, potentially unemployed, angry, left behind by the America that has embraced late capitalism and globalization. But we guess at this only through the visual aspects of the film: Green Room never offers backstories.
This connection suggests, I think, that the hateful neo-Nazi ideology espoused by these white men in rural Oregon could be seen as akin to “the thing”—something alien that takes over the characters, something that attacks them relatively randomly, because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Does the film suggest that the neo-Nazi ideology, signaled by so many external markers—flags, posters, tattoos—is not only not “human” but perhaps not entirely chosen by its “victims”?
That’s one possible reading. But the connection to The Thing pulls another way too. In The Thing, Clark’s beloved dogs are equally the targets of the alien: indeed, the Things takes them over first. Green Room, though, distinguishes dogs from humans. We see how Clark has to train the dogs to kill, to hate, while we never see the human characters trained to hate and kill. (Do humans come by it more spontaneously?)
Green Room’s Clark says to another of his neo-Nazi cohort, as he leaves one of his dogs with them at the club to kill off the remaining band members, “I’d consider it a personal favor if he died with meat in his teeth.” Clark speaks for the dog, seems to know what the dog wants. When the dog becomes free of human control, though, he shows no desire to attack and kill and heads straight toward his trainer, Clark. The dog wants only to die with someone he loves, not “with meat in his teeth.”
So the close connection between The Thing and Green Room may be suggesting that hate and violence in the latter film is an “alien” thing. But it may also be saying much more about humans than dogs. This fact renders this sign, on which Saulnier lets the camera linger, seem deeply ironic.
In Carpenter’s film, animals and humans are equally vulnerable to “the thing.” In Green Room, we must “Beware of Humans.”