John Carpenter’s The Thing holds one of the most ambiguous endings in cinema history. Even after 40 years, viewers wonder if the truth about this sci-fi horror finale will ever be revealed, and the filmmaker weighed in with his thoughts recently. Carpenter’s comments rattled a few cages, but if anyone should know what the movie’s intention is, it is the director.
The Thing takes place in Antarctica, where a group of researchers encounters a shapeshifting creature that begins to wreak havoc among them. The Thing picks off the crew one by one – transforming into a human form, too – before the station is blown up. In the end, only two men are left standing: R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Childs (Keith David). Childs is suspicious in this scenario since he disappeared for a while before returning, while MacReady also can’t be trusted since no one has seen a carcass for the Thing. Even though the two men don’t trust each other, MacReady says, “Why don’t we just wait here for a little while … See what happens.” They share a bottle of whisky in the bitter cold, and the film ends.
What John Carpenter said about The Thing’s ending
A popular theory that did the rounds came courtesy of The Thing‘s cinematographer, Dean Cundey. He said that a light beam flickers in the eyes of the person who is actually the creature throughout the film. According to Cundey’s hypothesis, this means the Thing is imitating Childs in the last scene.
John Carpenter is having none of it, though. “[Cundey] has no clue,” Carpenter told ComicBook.com before adding the ending was deliberately created to make people wonder and keep everyone guessing. “Yes, I know. I know who’s the Thing and who’s not in the very end.” That said, Carpenter isn’t prepared to spill the beans, refusing to divulge this important detail to fans.
Interestingly enough, Bill Lancaster’s original script had MacReady and Childs both turning into the Thing before they are saved. Essentially, this would have allowed the creature to create more mayhem and rack up a higher body count in a brand-new location. In other words, a sequel!
For many fans, the question is who and not why. Whether it’s MacReady or Childs, neither man is going to make it out of this situation alive. They are doomed to die out in the blistering cold and never see civilisation again, so even if the parasite alien decides to kill the last remaining human, it makes no difference in the long term. Everyone dies in the end, and there’s no winning in this scenario.
What is important to note and appreciate is John Carpenter’s intent in this scene. Both MacReady and Childs are the ultimate heroes of the story since they both knew there was no way they could leave Antarctica – especially with a shapeshifting creature in their midst. Instead, they sacrifice their lives to keep the rest of the world safe from this alien. Essentially, by sharing a drink, it’s a touché moment between the Thing and whoever is real, acknowledging that they will all die together here. Sometimes, the best kind of endings are the subtle ones that hold a bigger impact in the long run.