The Thing (1982)
I’m fairly certain that it’s widely agreed upon and that I can speak on behalf of everyone everywhere when I say that The Thing is awesome. I’m also confident that few people will disagree when I say that Kurt Russell in The Thing is awesome. But, despite the inarguable awesomeness of Mr. Russell, there is still one who monumentally and heroically overshadows even him, one who is the true star of The Thing, and that star is, of course, Kurt Russell’s beard!
As helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady, Kurt Russell, or more specifically Kurt Russell’s beard, is stationed at U.S. Outpost 31 in the Antarctic when all manner of alien skulduggery kicks off and it seems apparent to me that it was the beard who was running this show. Although part of a twelve man crew, MacReady is something of the brooding loner and prefers to spend his time alone in his cabin playing computer chess and cultivating an alcohol problem. Despite this, and a general all round feeling of mutual mistrust, he still commands the respect of his team mates and his unassuming confidence and quiet reliability sees the other crew members defer to him as an unsanctioned figure of authority. When the interloping alien organism stakes its insidious claim on Outpost 31 it is MacReady who takes charge (much like Scott Baio’s Charles and, of course, Bruce Forsythe). Fortunately for everybody MacReady has an innate and primal survival instinct that spurs him into heroic action against the eponymous Thing.
It is self evident that the MacReady’s beard is the hardest working beard in cinema. It is lush and verdant, the kind of beard not only created to battle the deadly freezing conditions of Antarctica (although it is clearly a master of that aspect of the role) but also to be a gallant hero against extraterrestrial menace, to save all of mankind with its epic, godlike might.
The beard is masterful and captivating delivering a multi-layered performance, effortlessly it emotes the pain and ravages of an ungodly fate and climate, it demonstrates the cool thought processes of a tactician and subtly but powerfully it conveys world weary acceptance, a reluctant, uneasy heroism, a beleaguered understanding of necessary self sacrifice and the weight of a past that was already to hard to bear. All of this and still all the while it unrelentingly manages to remain simultaneously both defiant and vulnerable, the defining traits that underpin the character and draw the audience in.
Kurt Russell’s beard, whether you be hoary with Antarctic frost or luxuriant and virile in combat with the intergalactic scourge, I salute you!