John Carpenter’s The Thing focused on a group of Antarctic research scientists and their fight against a violent creature without form. Capable of stealing the bodies and identities of its victims with perfect mimicry, the monster represents the existential terror of losing ones individualism to a soulless collective and the paranoia created by a situation where one cannot tell who is friend and who is foe. It was the perfect creature for an era dominated by the Cold War and the collectivist threat of Communism.
If The Thing is a metaphor representing the terror of losing one’s identity, then The Tear represents the terror of trying to hold onto one in a life of chaos, nihilism and egotistical subjectivism.
Like The Thing, the creatures in The Tear, as represented by June and Other-Smith, have a formlessness to their bodies. They can become someone else by drinking their blood. Their transformations are also violent and deadly to the people whose forms they steal. Unlike The Thing, The Tear’s creature’s retain continuity of self, but begin to experience a creeping crisis of identity the more they swap bodies and steal lives.
In 2016, I began considering the new climate and proposed landscapes of identity during the heated, cultural debates regarding the nature of being with the rising prominence of transgenderism, trans-racialism, intersectionality and identity politics. Modern thought leaders insisted that what is paramount in today’s world is the acceptance of another’s subjective identity, their subjective reality, and their ability to express that identity even if it goes against what can be observed or tested. In this paradigm, a claim of identity or perspective is no less valid than any other. This is a rejection of objectivity and an acceptance of radical subjectivism. In this view, there is no metric by which to determine what an actual identity is or what is true beyond one’s senses.
This debate made me wonder if one can actually, simply declare an identity. Can one change their identity on a whim or is there an objective cost within reality that pushes back on the individual trying to assert it? Is an identity merely a conversation with yourself, or is it also a conversation with the outside world and how do they resolve each other’s contradictions? Or does the lack of continuity generate existential crisis? Can you change your identity more than once? What happens if you do?
With these questions, I wondered what it would be like to be able to live inside characters who could change bodies and identities by consuming the flesh of other human beings. How would that affect their state of mind? Without the anchor of physical and physiological continuity, would a person really be able to hold onto who they were? Would they even be able to discover that for themselves?
If not, what is left? I believe that without the scaffolding of an objective reality and continuous identity, narcissism and vice can easily become the moral compass of the individual. With the primacy of subjectivity, all you have is how you feel and what you want. These are primal feelings we can all relate to and I think are fundamental to this debate about identity we are currently having.
In The Tear, this primal state is where we find Other-Smith. His desire for June’s undying affection and his bottomless ego has placed him on a quest to either get her back or kill her, whichever is more satisfying. Other-Smith is what happens when we continuously turn to vice and give into our feelings at every turn. Smith discovers that focusing on his feelings of self-love and satisfaction are a deadly trap.
June is on the opposite end of her emotional journey. June is the person we are when we measure the cost of our actions in more ways than just how we feel, want and believe. As June swapped bodies over the decades, her mind began to lose track of who she was? Was she Dorothy, was she the businessman she drank three weeks ago or was she the prostitute she drank eight years ago? Is she June right now or is she just what she wants? Which one of those people was she, and how many others suffered at within crises she helped create? We find her wanting to form a more permanent life in an attempt to rediscover who she actually is. June discovers that it might not be her choice after all.
Finally, there is The Tear itself. The nebulous, luminescent shape in the sky is a part of both our main characters. It created them after all. It’s presence hangs over every scene like a god, propelling Other-Smith towards his desire, watching, encouraging and communicating.
It is the apocalyptic, all consuming monster inside of us materialized.
The Tear is the chaotic struggle between the part of us that irrationally believes in our own delusions, the egotistical hunger for more, and that part of us that we’d like to elevate that which is congruent with reality and living a good life.
It is about the struggle between virtue and vice, good and evil.