I first saw John Carpenter’s The Thing when it hit theaters back in 1982 -- and it blew me away. The story of a group of men at an Antarctic research station doing battle with an extraterrestrial force that can become anything it comes into contact with is loaded with tension, cutting-edge special FX, and an absolutely fantastic cast. If all that weren’t cool enough, it also boasts one of the greatest ambiguous endings in history – an ending that’s inspired countless geeky debates and discussions over the years amongst Carpenter fans. Now we find there might be a definitive answer to the question of who was the Thing, after all. Needless to say, there are Spoilers Ahead.
A Reddit user has revealed information that he believes settles the debate surrounding whether Childs (Keith David) or MacReady (Kurt Russell) was infected at the end of the film. He claims the story comes from Carpenter himself.
A friend of mine, back when he was an assistant, spent a great deal of time with John Carpenter doing interviews and the like for video games and comic projects. I was discussing my conversation with Larry Turman with this friend and he said "You know, I asked John Carpenter about The Thing."
"Oh yeah? What did he say?" I asked.
"He said he never understood where all the confusion came from. The last frame of The Thing is Kurt Russell and Keith David staring each other down, harshly backlit. It's completely, glaringly obvious that Kurt Russell is breathing and Keith David is not."
I looked at my friend for a minute, soaking it in. Straight from the horse's mouth.
"That's a pretty subtle cue to expect the audience to absorb having seen severed heads grow spider legs and run around," I said.
"That's the genius of The Thing," my friend said, and we moved on to other subjects.
Could this be the solution after all these years? Honestly, we don’t think so.
MacReady does exhale huge plumes every time he speaks in the final scenes, but the assertion that Childs doesn’t isn’t technically correct. If you watch the clip below, you will see that Childs does indeed exhale a small stream at the 1:26 mark of the video, and he is actually breathing throughout. Could that be a technical mistake, like the countless ones fans have spotted in Carpenter’s Halloween? Sure – but it’s such an important sequence that you think someone would have gone back and fixed it.
What’s always been more interesting (and seemingly more plausible) are the theories surrounding Childs drinking from the bottle and MacReady’s laughing reaction. Many have posited that the fact that Childs would willingly drink from MacReady’s bottle proves he’s the Thing – and MacReady knows it in that instance. The logic here is that the Thing's cellular makeup could be transferred orally – which is why earlier in the film they mention that everyone should prepare their own food and so on. That Childs willingly swigs from the bottle without a second thought could indicate that he had nothing at all to worry about – because he was already infected and he knows MacReady isn't. Or it could just mean he knew they were screwed and going to freeze to death and figured he might as well drink up before the inevitable happened.
The real point here is that we’ll probably never know definitively if MacReady or Childs were infected – and that’s what makes the film so fascinating. Thirty years later, we’re all still talking about it and coming up with theories to debate. Plus, there’s always the chance that neither character was infected – remember that no one ever sees what happened to Nauls. We assume he’s killed in the explosion or assimilated (although he commits suicide rather than become part of the Thing in the novelization of the film according to The Thing’s Wikia…).
Whatever the case may be, we’ll give the poster's friend credit for being spot-on about one thing – this mixture of obvious and subtle is truly the beauty of Carpenter’s film.
What do you think? Share you’re The Thing theories with us in the comment section.