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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Was the real ending to John Carpenter's THE THING in plain sight all along?

John Carpenter's 1982 science-fiction horror film The Thing is one of those movies that no matter how many times you watch it over the decades, you can always spot something new that you've haven't caught before. Case in point: I had never noticed that Doc Copper has a nose-ring until almost two years ago. It's the smallish details like that which keep the debate and discussion going about The Thing... and I'll admit that nearly thirty years after I first saw this movie, I still haven't figured out who was where and for how long at Outpost 31.

But I had thought that there was nothing major left to be discovered. Nothing at all. How could there be, in a movie that I've bought no less than three times for my personal library (the latest being the gorgeous Blu-ray that I watch every time I get snowed-in during winter). Heck, it's a movie so near and dear to my heart that I had already put the Blu-ray version on my iPad long before good friend Lee Shelton alerted me to this story about The Thing and its classic ending. Specifically, how John Carpenter possibly answered the last big question about the story and it has been right in front of us the whole time.

If you haven't seen The Thing (shame on you!) and you don't care about spoilers, it's like this: in the final scene, the only survivors of the camp are helicopter pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell) and mechanic Childs (Keith David). With the entire outpost destroyed and the hard biting cold of the Antarctic night bearing down on them, it is only a matter of time before they freeze to death. The film ends with both men starting at each other, wondering if the other is fully human.

Here's the comment that started it all, from one KicksButtson on Reddit.com...

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.

As soon as I read that I whipped out the iPad and went to The Thing's last scene.

And son of a gun... it's true.

MacReady's breath is so visible, so unavoidably obvious, it can't be anything but an in-your-face indicator of something significant.

But there is no breath at all coming out of Childs. He comes out of the darkness, he talks to MacReady, and he's not breathing.

Well played, Mr. Carpenter. Well-played indeed. Looks like I'll have to be watching your movie at least another dozen or so more times, just so I can study where Childs goes and when.


Lee Shelton said...

That article inspired me to want to watch it again. I see it's on Netflix.

Unknown said...

The breathing thing is lame. Hes still breathing....plus you can clearly see childs earing he almost displays it with his head turned.
Plus why would the thing carry around a flamethrower when fire is basically all that kills it!
If anything mccready is the thing. Nonchalantly passing the guy with the flamethrower an infected drink then smiling after he drinks it.

Anonymous said...

Because it is explained in the movie that fire doesnt actually kill The Things. Blair found that out when he examined the burnt one form the other outpost. his diary read "There is still cellular activity in the burnt one. It's not dead yet". The fact that it comes back to life and infects Bennings also proves this.

Unknown said...

After studying the ending closely, Id say it favors child's being the thing, I think this because you do see him exhale just barely, but only after the question comes up if they're both really human. As in childs starts breathing to blend in. However I don't know how Kurt Russell could realistically get away from the explosion so quickly and be safe and not hurt, perhaps his heavy breathing is him pretending to be human, explaining the the smile after childs sips the drink.

Ralph said...

Carpenter is the authority on this matter.