Ok, so John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my favourite films ever made. The movie stands as the gold standard for practical effects, and on top of this, the film has an extremely well-crafted story that still stands the test of time. Laced with paranoia the movie is meant to leave us constantly second guessing which characters are the thing and this extends to the ending itself. The movie closes out with Childs and MacReady warming themselves by the blazes of their base before cold creeps in and kills them.
The Thing Breakdown
For decades, people have questioned whether Childs is a thing or not, and for the first part of the video, I want to discuss why I think that he is. Now, this is something I’ve gone back and forth on throughout the decades, and initially I believed that Childs was one of the good guys. However, there are two very important things that come at the end that I think spell out that Childs is indeed an alien.
Now the first of these comes when we catch him watching over the base from the sidelines. Childs is instructed to keep an eye out, and he stands in one of the rooms that lead to the outside. Later on, we see that he’s abandoned this post, and we get a look at the room, which now has the door wide open. Now, you might not notice this, but the coats are on completely different hangers than what they were originally when we first saw Childs in the room. Placing these shots beside each other, we can see that they’re all laid out in a completely different way.
In the movie, we discover that The Thing rips through your clothes in order to kill you, and my theory is that the creature ambushed Childs at this point and there was then a struggle. This caused some of the coats to fall off the pegs, and then, in a hurry, the thing grabbed one to wear and then put the others up so that it didn’t look like there’d be an attack.
Child’s coat in this scene is navy blue, and when he comes to meet Macready at the end, it appears to be a creamy white colour.
Now this may be due to the snow and there’s been several people that have argued that the coat is blue, we just can’t see it.
Either way, I think the peg position is a lot more telling, and these coats have been rearranged to spell out to us what’s going on. Though this may be a continuity error, it’s important to bear in mind that The Thing’s production schedule was delayed heavily due to weather conditions and this gave Carpenter months on end to plan out minute details and this is why the script is so tight.
We see Childs go out into the snow, and the lights cut out just a couple seconds later, hinting at him sabotaging it and then heading out into the snow.
Now Macready meeting Childs I think also spells out exactly what’s going on with the pair.
In the scene, Macready gives Childs a drink, and he then smirks after the character takes a swig of it.
I think this is very telling, and the more I watch it, the more I think this is actually a test.
In the movie, we’re told that the inhabitants of the camp should prepare their own meals. This is clearly spelling out that they shouldn’t share food or drink because The Thing acts like a virus and could spread through this. There was a follow-up sequel script that was scrapped that described The Thing in more detail and said it would create a perfect imitation of someone. If they had a blood clot, it would have one, and if they had a cold, it would even take over the cells of the virus and imitate that too.
Children would no doubt be warned about sharing food and liquids; however, he takes a drink without questioning it. Macready then smirks as if he’s got him because he knows The Thing wouldn’t care about this.
If children are already a thing, then he wouldn’t care about sharing drinks because he’s already infected. Drinks are also a way that he could pass on his cells and take over someone else so he would drink this willingly because it would give him an in to take Macready.
Just as he takes a drink, the theme tune kicks in, hinting to us through the score about what Macready has just realised.
Might be a reach, but yeah.
This theme tune itself perfectly plays upon the sense of isolation too, as we have a single note playing over and over again rather than a full orchestral theme. Even the note in the score is alone and it’s something that really elevates the soundtrack.
Now there is also the fact that he doesn’t have a visible breath, and there’s no light in his eye.
On the 4K Blu-ray, there’s a commentary with Dean Cundey, who explained there’s a way to figure out who’s human and who isn’t. He said
“You’ll notice there’s always a little gleam in the eye of the actor,” he says. “It gives life.”
If this light is missing, then it means that the character is a thing, and it’s absent in this finale scene.
However, Carpenter said this was only the case in the blood test scene, so it wouldn’t matter either way for the ending.
Is Childs A Thing In The Thing?
Honestly, I don’t think we will ever get a clear answer over whether Childs is a thing or not, because knowing is not the point of the film. We are meant to constantly be second-guessing this, and it’s a reason why the film is still talked about 40 years later. It’s laced with a constant feeling of not knowing what’s really going on, and this is seen from the opening all the way to the end.
Confusion and paranoia are what make the movie so great, and they’re in almost every aspect of the film.
We aren’t meant to know why the Norwegians are chasing the dog and the fact that they don’t speak English is put to throw us off of what’s really going on.
However, if you do speak Norwegian… spoiler alert, because it gives away the whole film.
The character says:
“Get the hell away from that thing. That’s not a dog; it’s some sort of thing! It’s imitating a dog, it isn’t real! GET AWAY, YOU IDIOTS!”
The fact that the thing disguises itself as a dog is also genius for the story. Dogs are, of course, man’s best friend, and this unassuming husky is instantly brought into the group because it’s seen as a victim. It’s also allowed to lick people without question and pass on its germs, potentially transmitting the thing to others. Because it’s an animal it’s also given unrestricted access to the entire compound so the alien can just walk around until it’s eventually put in the kennel.
A really cool moment happens when we see Doc bandaging up Bennings and, in the background, we can catch Clark. He is bandaging up the dog but this ends up not being on it later because The Thing has an accelerated healing factor.
Now we’re going to get into the rest of the movie in just a bit, but if you’re enjoying the video, then do the right thing and hit the thumbs-up button. Make sure you subscribe to get assimilated, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the video.
In retrospect, one of the biggest mysteries in the movie is who got to the blood. Gary was said to be the only one who had the keys, with Windows occasionally getting access to them. Both are revealed to be humans during the blood test, so it doesn’t really make sense.
However, there’s a split-second audio cue that lets us know when the keys could’ve been snatched.
Listen closely to this.
Now huge shoutouts to Rob Ager for pointing this out and it’s possible that the keys were snatched during the confusion.
It’s a great detail and what I love about the movie is how well crafted things are in the intro that show us what the characters are really like.
We catch Macready playing chess against a computer, and it pulls off an impossible move to win. Macready then tips his drink into the machine to break it and this is very much foreshadowing the entire plot of the film. The computer very much represents the alien which cheats and manipulates the game so it can win. On the other side of this Macready, someone is willing to burn it all down just to come out on top. This computer is now f**ked, and had the alien not come in, it would’ve been a lonely couple of months with him having nothing to play chess against.
Gary also breaks through a window in order to shoot the Norwegian soldier. This is quite cowardly, and it shows that though hes the leader, he will hang back and try to stay out of trouble. He does this later on, when he hands over the leadership position. We also have Bennings, who rushes in and gets shot, and though he’s not actually the first person to become a thing, he is the first one we learn about.
The Norwegian also has weird goggles on with tiny eye sockets, making him seem impossible to connect with because we can’t see his eyes. This heightens the sense of paranoia because he’s someone we know nothing about who’s brandishing a gun and screaming in a foreign language.
Now who gets turned first we don’t know, but we do see a silhouette on the wall with curly hair. This could be either Norris or Palmer, and to be completely honest with you, we’re not meant to know who it is. Carpenter actually cast a completely different person for this shadow, who just so happened to have curly hair. Because of this, we don’t know which character it is, which heightens the paranoia.
I love the way the intro plays out slowly, introducing us to the character, and Carpenter even has a bit of fun with the music cues.
As we see the dog making its way through the base and over the top, we can hear superstition by Stevie Wonder. Though it’s on the nose, it’s something I only really noticed when doing an in-depth breakdown of the film because it just feels like the kind of song you’d hear on the radio randomly playing.
Some of the group fracture off, and there’s a team that travels to the Norwegian base, which is when the dog thing makes its first move.
It purposely waits until people are divided, which is a tactic we see throughout the film.
Now upon reaching the base they find a cube like structure that has been broken out of from the inside. Subliminally this is meant to be a similar shape to a coffin and the idea that something has burst out of it is supposed to feel us with feelings of dread. Ideas that it’s a monster, a vampire, or something unknown are hinted at here.
When crafting the film, Carpenter also made the rule that the thing doesn’t truly have a form. It never appears the same way twice, either, and therefore we never really get a true grasp of what it really is. However, amongst its body, we always see something familiar, something we recognise, but this has been twisted and malformed into something more horrific.
After collecting the carcass from the base, the thing makes its first attack on the dog. One of the reasons I think that Norris was probably assimilated first is that we see Palmer with Childs and later on he’s cleared as being the creature. If it was the thing, it would’ve attacked at this point. If we look at the collar on the shirt too, it’s also similar to the jumper and undershirt that we see Norris wearing throughout.
The dog attack is horrifying, and it also shows how useless guns are against the beast. Instead, they have to burn it with fire because the majority of our weapons don’t work. This attack is carried out by Childs, and along with Macready, they’re the only characters that actually manage to kill a thing. Interestingly, they’re the two characters that survive until the end, but whether Child… look, we’ve been over it.
Shoutout to Somek_pamak on Reddit for pointing out that this scene foreshadows the deaths and events of the film. One is shot, similar to Clark; other dogs are absorbed; and some are burned.
Interestingly, two dogs escape, representing how Macready and Childs escape. Maybe he’s not a thing then.
Anyway, the next day, Blair examines the creature, and it’s possible that he gets infected at this point. We see him touch the carcass with a pencil and then put it to his lips, which would be enough for it to potentially infect him. Blair then goes crazy and smashes up the radio room and any transport out of the base.
I’ve seen lots of theories saying that potentially this is a ploy by The Thing to have Blair removed so that it can work on the ship we find hidden at the end. However I think he’s probably assimilated later for a number of reasons. Firstly, we find him studying the creature on his computer alone. This runs through a simulation of how the thing duplicates itself. If Blair was a thing, he wouldn’t need to know this.
When they visit his cabin later we also see that he has a noose hanging up which he set up to end his own life. This is likely in the case that The Thing came to get him, and therefore I think he was absorbed much later.
Either way, Blair puts the idea in Macready’s head that he needs to watch Clark, which ultimately leads to Macready shooting him. He was never a thing, but this scene creates a domino effect that leads to an actual person’s death.
The blood bank sabotage is discovered and a little detail on Doc is that he has a nose ring. The Thing can’t replicate inorganic material and this is something we discover in the 2011 film. So yeah you’d need a time machine to know this but it’s nice when we revisit it. Now another detail I absolutely love happens right after this, when Windows goes to grab the shotgun.
The group chases after him too, but you might notice that some members are absent. This is Norris and Palmer who hang back and we later see waiting down the corridor. All the people in this shot are human, and it shows that they’ve turned on each other while the actual things hang back and let it play out.
Another nice touch here is that the sniper’s weapon from the start actually appears in the cabinet where the other firearms are kept.
The incident at Macready’s shack happens, and we get the amazing chest scene. This was accomplished using an actual amputer with a mask, and it stands as one of the best practical effects in cinema.
The Thing Ending Explained
Interestingly Palmer self snitches during this moment and points out Norris’ head. I’ve always wondered what this was for, and it’s possible that the individual cells of the thing are so centred on their own survival that they’ll happily kill others in order to gain trust.
It’s even possible that the Things don’t know they’re things and that the cells inside actually hide out and wait until it’s the perfect time to strike.
Cut to the blood test scene, and in a nice bit of set dressing, we see a poster behind Macready of someone showing ID. This says ‘they aren’t labelled chum, and this is a nice little nod to how the thing isn’t labelled chump.
I love the body language in this scene too, and as each character is tested, we see them looking intently at Macready as he carries out the test. This is the case for every single character who is transfixed by Macready, and the results are… well, every character except one.
Palmer just stares down at the floor while his test is being carried out because he already knows the result. He even smirks as if to say, Well, this is it, and after the explosion, he puts his plan into place.
Though Windows is removed, I love the sense of relief that extends through the part in which the rest of the cast are cleared. There’s a real sense of eleviation knowing we can trust certain characters again and this shows just how much paranoia that the movie induces. Typically in horror movies humans and the quote unquote group are the people that we feel at ease with.
For example, in a slasher movie, the times that are the least tense are when the characters are all together because we know there’s safety in numbers. It’s only when they split up that we feel uneasy but THe Thing is a reverse of that. Even when the characters are in a group together, there’s still that feeling of tension because we don’t know who to trust.
They go out to Blair’s cabin and discover the ship he’s building under the cabin.
Slowly he picks them off one by one, and an interesting detail here is that Blair doesn’t wear a coat. This is because the thing doesn’t actually care about the temperature and was just wearing coats to blend in.
We end with Childs and Macready potentially sharing a drink, either as enemies or friends, which closes out the film.
Also, Windows was called that because he’s always wearing sunglasses.
Anyway, that’s our breakdown, and I hope you enjoyed our trip through one of the best films ever made. I think the thing will probably still be discussed in another 40 years, and who knows what will be found the more people watch through it.
Obviously if we missed anything then make sure you comment below and let me know.
If you want something else to watch, we have a breakdown of all the cool details in Jordan Peele’s Nope, which will be linked on screen right now.
With that out of the way, thank you for sitting through the video; I’ve been Paul, and I’ll see you next time. Take care, Peace