After recently going back and rewatching John Carpenter‘s The Thing (1982), I decided to analyze some of the more popular fan theories, IE can you tell who has already been assimilated by The Thing based on a glimmer -or rather the lack of a glimmer- in that person’s eye, whether or not their breath condensates in the freezing cold, who sabotaged the blood bank, and last but not least, the popular “molotov” theory, which states that in the end of the film, Childs is exposed to be The Thing when Macready gives him a bottle of gasolina (AKA a molotov cocktail) and tells him its whisky. Childs drinks, supposedly not knowing any better because he’s an alien, and Macready laughs, exasperated by the hand he’s been dealt.
Two of these theories I’ve debuned outright, while two others require further study. I think what I’ll end up doing is a two part video series as the last of these theories mentioned above, which you can probably tell from the title of this post, actually has an alternative theory which precious few seem to catch onto as I have.
Now, it’s worth stating that this theory is not perfect -no theory about The Thing truly is. Carpenter intentionally left it ambiguous and there’s a reason a film from 1982 still hasn’t been definitively solved. All I can do is present the supporting evidence for each theory and let you decide for yourself which you take to be most plausible. Now, onto the good stuff.
The movie opens with R.J. Macready (Kurt Russell) playing chess on a primitive ass computer. Believing he’s just won, he makes a smug remark, only for the computer to counter his move and win. Irritated, Macready opens one of the computer trays and dumps his scotch into it, causing the computer to short out. This is symbolic of the movie to come: a game of chess. Know what else chess has? Pawns.
In the first scene of the film, The Thing arrives in the form of a dog, which immediately runs up to and licks Beinning’s face. Seconds later, a Norwegian helicopter pilot arrives, raving like a madman as he attempts to shoot the dog. In the commotion, he unintentionally grazes Benning’s leg, prompting Gary, another member of the research team, to shoot and kill the pilot, the only man who knows the truth about the dog. In the next scene, we see Bennings getting stitches. Macready proceeds to offer Bennings a swig from his bottle of scotch, which the man gratefully takes. That night, we see Macready back at his shack with that same bottle, now almost empty. By this point, it has pretty much been established that Macready is a border-line alcoholic.
Later on, after the team has already learned of the alien menace within the camp, Bennings is revealed to be infected. When the team confronts the Bennings Thing in the blistering cold, Macready, in front of everyone, torches him without hesitation, thereby establishing himself as not only human but a leader among the team.
The team then speculates that Blair, the primary physician who is now acting erratically, may also be infected. Blair proceeds to confirm he is at the very least off his rocker as he takes an axe and pulverizes the team’s communications equipment and helicopter, cutting off all contact and stranding them in the Antarctic.
After overpowering Blair, Macready and the others proceed to lock him in a shack separate from the main facility. Before leaving, however, Macready takes note of Blair’s bottle of Smirnoff and takes a swig. After the others are gone, we see Blair’s eyes fall to the bottle.
Now, it’s important to note that Blair was hyper-paranoid about The Thing making it to a populated center, running several simulations suggesting that the probability of one or more members of the team already being infected is at least 75%, and that should the creature reach a population center, the entire planet could be overtaken 27,000 hours after first contact. To me, this makes his actions in the radio room and outside at the helicopter rational. It’s hardly the kind of thing the others would’ve liked hearing, but his intention is clearly to prevent the spread of this alien force. It’s here that things begin to get a bit sketchy and really point the finger at Macready being infected.
About midway into the film, Fuchs, one of the scientists, remakes to Macready that the thing could conceivably spread its infection via a single particle, and that Macready should warn the others to eat from cans and not share their drinks. Nodding, Macready wanders off. Less than 10 seconds later, the generator goes out. Fuchs approaches the door with a candle and a shadowy figure races by. Panicked, Fuchs run outside. When the lights come back on a couple of minutes later, we see Macready lead a group of 3 men in search of Fuchs. It’s then we find Fuch’s smoldering body in the snow. We never see how Fuchs died though. With pretty much every other character, we either see their human-self die, or their Thing duplicate, but not Fuchs. Seeing Fuch’s charred remains, Macready simply speculates that he may have burned himself, or rather sealed his fate when he identified a means of which the infection could spread. As if Macready wasn’t already a suspect at this point, we never actually see him or see evidence that suggests he told the others about Fuch’s warning, and even continues to share his scotch.
Still standing over Fuch’s body, Macready then takes note of his shack, seen in the distance. The lights are on, and he states that that wasn’t the case when he left his shack the morning before. Giving orders, he sends one man back to the main facility and tells the other to join him as he investigates. Minutes later, the man who joined him to his shack returns alone, claiming to have found evidence that Macready is The Thing. The man, Naul, holds Macready’s torn longjohns in hand, and it has already been demonstrated by this point that The Thing can’t replicate inorganic material and tears through clothing as a result. Having found this evidence, Naul states that he cut his line with Macready (a guiding line back to the main facility due to the intense blizzard outside).
Just then, Macready attempts to open the now locked door back to the main facility. Childs quickly remarks that no one could have survived the exposure that long, but before anyone else has time to comment, Macready breaks through the window of the next room and enters the facility.
To avoid being killed, Macready holds up a lit flamethrower up to a roll of dynamite, threatening to kill them all if anyone makes a move. He does this, buying time until another member of the group “things out,” leaving Macready again there as the only armed individual to kill the creature and re-establish trust within the group. He even waits and holds the others back from putting out the flames until the detached, spider-like head of the creature flees into the open hallway.
But rather than scurry away, the creature sits still and lets Macready torch it in front of the others. With two swift kills, Macready has earned back the majority of the trust he’d lost.
From here we move to the famous blood test scene. Interestingly enough, Macready comes up with the idea himself, telling the others that it should work. At first, the others are suspicious but their remaining distrust doesn’t take long to fade. Macready even starts by testing his own blood, stating that “it’s time [they] learn what he’s known all along,” again, re-affirming trust. His test comes back negative and he continues with the samples.
As he progresses through the tests, coming up with negatives over and over again the distrust begins to rise once more. Just then the other infected reveals itself, first by its blood leaping out of the petri dish, and then by the restrained infected crew member mutating in a gruesome display.
Conveniently, Macready’s flamethrower malfunctions just then, allowing the creature to assimilate another of the team members before he’s able to kill it. He then kills the infected member, Windows as his mutation is just beginning, once more establishing trust. At this point, all questions of Macready’s humanity are forgotten. The torn longjohns, the seemingly impossible survival in 40 below temperatures, unguided back to the main facility, all of it.
Now we enter the home stretch.
Childs is set to watch the base door while Macready, Nauls, and Gary, the last of the survivors, go to test Blair’s blood. Instead, they find Blair has escaped, using an underground tunnel and apparently attempting to build a small space craft. The group destroys the craft (which is not far along in development and I think more a ruse than anything). Just then, we see a strange shot of Childs running out into the snowstorm, abandoning his post. Some speculate he runs to the generator but I don’t think so. The lights go out immediately and the group heads to the base with intent to destroy it entirely. Burn it all. Kill everything. Just don’t let The Thing re-freeze itself in order to survive.
While setting the charges, the Blair Thing attacks and assimilates Gary. We never actually see Nauls killed, but he vanishes suddenly, leaving Macready to face down the Blair Thing.
The fight isn’t all that exciting. Macready rolls away as it bursts through the ground and then throws single stick of dynamite, destroying the beast and the base after having doused it in karosine.
Outside, Macready is greeted by a returning Childs. The moment is tense. Where was Childs that whole time? Could one of them be The Thing? Unable to fight anymore, Macready shares his scotch with Childs, then chuckles under his breath the moment Childs takes a drink, just before the credits roll. The music rises the moment Childs puts the bottle to his lips, escalating the tension further. There’s a reason it does this. Macready got him, just as he got Blair. By drinking from his bottle, Childs has been infected, and by remaining in the cold with no base to provide cover, the two will freeze in the snow, just as The Thing did thousands of years earlier we’re told.
So, if Macready is the thing, why fight the Blair Thing? Because the Blair Thing had assimilated 3 men already (Blair, Nauls, and Gary), making it a monstrous beast rather than a man. Macready wanted to burn all evidence of what had happened at that facility, so he burned the damn thing to the ground. And he used the last of his remaining pawns protect himself. Every time a piece of The Thing was killed, it was by Macready’s hand, aside from the initial dog Thing, which Childs torched at Macready’s demand. Because Macready wielded the flamethrower indiscriminately, his humanity stopped being questioned altogether.
We’re told that all pieces of The Thing maintain the same consciousness, meaning Macready was able and willing at any point to sacrifice a piece of himself at any moment in order to conceal his own nature. Every creature killed was simply one of his pawns, and when the last man is infected, he laughs to himself knowing he’s won.