Friday, October 14, 2011

What Happened After…John Carpenter’s The Thing?


The Thing is king. And its kingdom is suspenseful, creepy, and bloody horror. It’s more than a scary movie, though. It’s a mystery. It’s a thriller. It’s stuffed with social critiques (we as a society inherently fear and mistrust others; we destroy the environment; loss of identity). The Thing is related to the vast number of zombie films out there. The monster isn’t just the thing from another world – it’s us.

If you’re unfamiliar with the film, here goes: An American crew at a base in the Antarctic must battle an alien after it slaughters the inhabitants of a nearby camp and moves on to their own.  The alien isn’t your typical xenomorph, however – it can essentially “infect” any living organism so that it morphs into an evil and alien – yet otherwise physically identical – replica. In fact, the Thing that infiltrates the American base is a Thing-ified dog. Tensions rise and explode when the Americans can no longer tell if their fellow crewmembers are human or not.

The tone of the movie is really what makes it great. The film is claustrophobic – that tiny facility suffocates the characters and us, the viewers. The Thing or one of the assimilated crewmembers could be just around that corner. It's agoraphobic – the characters can't leave the camp – the open Antarctic is nothing but a massive expanse of snow and ice. The Thing could be out there.

One of the great…things…about the film is the beginning – it's so intriguing and confusing to see that helicopter chasing after a lone husky. When we find out that the men from the helicopter were the remaining Sweds Norwegians, the mystery just grows. Although the film makes it clear that the Norwegian crewmembers were either killed by The Thing or during an unfortunate skirmish with the American crew, we'll soon see exactly what happened thanks to this year’s prequel. 

But what happens after The Thing ends? It's nearly impossible to resist wondering. We all remember that MacReady – played by Kurt Russell – and Childs – played by Keith David – were the only two survivors of the ordeal, and when last we saw them, they were exhausted and sitting around their burning base after one final (?) confrontation with the Thing.  

What became of MacReady and Childs? Was one of them The (a) Thing? Are they both human and The Thing(s) survived the explosion? If The Thing(s) survived, are MacReady and Childs forced to continue the battle in the unforgiving Antarctic?

It might be kind of silly to speculate about all this. The whole point is that we have no idea what happens after the film ends. We're supposed to feel the same sort of tension and uncertainty that MacReady and Childs felt.

That hasn't stopped me from wondering, however. It's a great ending but it's also a shitty ending. What the hell happens? We spend the whole movie watching these characters elude Things and then the film just ends. I always really hoped that it wasn't MacReady, but then that might mean that Childs was an alien. If that was the case, MacReady would be alone and, quite simply, fucked.

So this was my initial theory – MacReady and Childs were both still human (and perhaps a Thing lived on). Here's why I thought this. At the end of the film, an infected Blair, a character that wore glasses throughout the whole movie, no longer needed his spectacles. This indicates that the thing does not replicate imperfections.

MacReady and Childs are visibly exhausted and beat up at the end of the film. They’ve seen better days. Therefore, they’re not Things, because they wouldn’t show any sign of weakness.

But I had to throw that idea out the window, for a number of reasons. First of all, if either MacReady or Childs were a Thing, they could have just faked being human. And even though Blair seems to have gotten better as a Thing and the creatures are all visibly much stronger than humans (think of the scene where the Palmer Thing raises Windows up over his head), there’s a problem. At one point in the film, Norris, a character who turns out to have been a Thing, has some sort of heart problem. He’s scrambling to do something and he grabs his chest, visibly in pain. Norris Thing’s heart problem would seem to indicate that the alien mimics organisms so completely, that it recreates their imperfections.

So, my theory about MacReady and Childs not being infected based on their tired states is bullshit, since it isn’t made clear if alien copies reproduce human weaknesses.
What I think isn’t really important, anyway. I’m like any other armchair filmmaker – I can speculate all I want. However, The Thing has been sequel-ized by everything from TV networks to comic books and video games.

For instance, I found out through Wikipedia that SyFy had plans for a miniseries sequel that never came to fruition. In a great script review by Patrick Sauriol at Corona Coming Attractions, we learn that the miniseries would have shown what happened after a Russian team found the frozen remains of MacReady, Childs, (so in this miniseries they died – or perhaps one of them was The Thing and it just allowed itself to freeze again) and The Thing and then used the alien to create a biological weapon. Years after the Russians discover The Thing, a plane with a sample of the alien's DNA crashes in the desert and The Thing begins to infect animals and the residents of a small town.

Dark Horse Comics published some sequels of their own. The comics explain that MacReady was the only survivor of The Thing’s rampage and that Childs became infected. Seems like whoever wrote the comics was a Kurt Russell fan as well.

So that covers my speculation and what others did and attempted to do with sequels, but what about something official, something that’s tied to Carpenter’s original film?

Some readers might be surprised that an alternate ending to The Thing was filmed. According to IMDb, the ending showed a rescued MacReady getting a blood test that proves that he was human. Apparently it was just filmed as a precaution in case audiences didn't like the original ending. So while this ending isn't official, it gives us some reason to think that MacReady wasn't an alien. After all, Carpenter could have filmed this alternate ending with Keith David, but he didn't.

But hold on – we can't really say Childs was a Thing either. IMDb also claims that Keith David told a horror convention audience that he was still a human at the end of the film. Said David, "Well, I don't know about (Kurt Russell), but it sure as hell wasn't me."

I know what you’re thinking – “Screw all this other stuff – what does Carpenter think happens after the film ends?” Well, in March 2004, Carpenter reportedly told Empire Magazine that he had an idea for a sequel that would feature MacReady and Childs, both having survived the ordeal.

I’d like to get my hands on this Empire issue, because the source of this information (Wikipedia, of course) mentions some odd details about frost bite obscuring MacReady and Childs’ faces to hide the obvious fact that they’ve aged since 1982. That’s a lot of frost bite. I’m sure the CGI de-aging effects that we’ve seen in recent films (X-Men: The Last Stand and Tron: Legacy) could do a much better job than frost bite makeup at this point.

So that’s all I’ve got. A lot of research down the drain and it’s still a mystery. It’s a good kind of mystery, though. Was MacReady a Thing? Was Childs? Were they both still just scared humans, holding on to what little sanity and warmth they had left, hoping that their alien nightmare was finally over? Whatever your theory is, you may never find out if it’s correct. But consider this: given enough running time, prequels can become sequels…


  1. Great topic. I've wondered about this ending as well and love the fact that it hasn't ever been truly explained. I have also speculated that the creature was just messing with them and that neither one was the alien. Such a great discussion topic and food for thought that a true resolution would take something away from what this movie is.

  2. Thanks for the read, CT. I agree with you about a resolution taking something away from the ending (despite this post). Although I probably wouldn't mind if MacReady turned out to be human.

    Are you interested in the prequel (*cough*remake*cough*)?

  3. My fear was that the new movie would turn out to be about as good (ie bad) as the Alien v Predator movies and just dilute the story. But the buzz that I'm hearing on it is that it's not bad. Not gonna rush out to see it, but if I keep hearing that it's good, I'll check it out eventually.

  4. For years I stuck with the theory that both guys were human and both died out there, as well as the Thing, just because it's a messed-up way to have a positive ending; sure, the alien is destroyed and humanity survives -- but everyone from the base is dead, and now both our hero and an awesome character actor will end up freezing to death.

    But ever since finding out about The Thing being the first in Carpenter's Apocalypse trilogy, well, the word Apocalypse denotes that stuff is gonna go bad for Everyone, not just the characters. Going by that logic, The Thing lives and the fates of MacReady and Childs ultimately don't matter because everyone is gonna get it one way or the other.

    I'll stick with my first theory, though, because it's the one I dig the most and like you said, that's what's so awesome about this film's ending -- all the mystery it left behind.

  5. Hmm, never really thought about it from the Apocalypse trilogy angle, that's interesting.

    Just looked that up and Prince of Darkness is supposed to be an apocalyptic film? I thought we won at the end of that one. Damn tricky demons.

  6. Honestly I think that both MacReady and Childs were both human. The thing didn't like heat and childs was obviously sweating if you look closely at the end. Also he mentioned the temp was up at the camp. Now to throw a wrench in the plan...hehe...I believe the thing survived that explosion. We never did find out what happened to Nauls. I think that he may have survived underground somehow as the thing. I'm only speculating but this is what I believe. I'm not trying to negate what anyone else has said or rain on your parade.

    1. Yeah the Blair Thing and/or Nauls Thing could definitely have survived. That's the great thing, it's really open-ended.

      Now as for your theory about MacReady and Childs, not being Things, I did finally check out the prequel and there's some trivia on IMDb that actually may have cleared it up. Check it out, but it definitely could be considered a spoiler:

      Thanks for reading/commenting!

    2. According to an apocryphal story first reported on in Feburary 2013, when asked about the ambiguous ending of the film, John Carpenter responded that he never understood how could there be any confusion about whether Childs or Macready are human or not because the last scene shows "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."

  7. You say "At the end of the film, an infected Blair, a character that wore glasses throughout the whole movie, no longer needed his spectacles. This indicates that the thing does not replicate imperfections." I have to disagree - Norris still has his bad heart when the Thing replicated him exactly as he was.

    1. Minty Snipes - I actually agree with you. I also said "At one point in the film, Norris, a character who turns out to have been a Thing, has some sort of heart problem. He’s scrambling to do something and he grabs his chest, visibly in pain. Norris Thing’s heart problem would seem to indicate that the alien mimics organisms so completely, that it recreates their imperfections."

      So it's really not clear if Things always reproduce imperfections or not.

      Maybe Blair just wore glasses because he likes them. Or The Blair thing couldn't see worth a shit... :)

      Thanks for reading/commenting!

    2. Maybe they're both things and that's why there's no rush to do anything but wait and see what happens?

  8. Please make a sequel, John Carpenter. The prequel was awesome (even though yiu didn't make it), but I'd like you to make a sequel to the 1982 movie. I know you've got it in you to make one!

  9. My most ardent wish is for a John Carpenter sequel. I loved his apocolypse trilogy movies.

    We know for fact that Macready was still human. The only time he was off screen after the blood test was during the explosion. Not enough time to absorb / replicate.
    That just left Childs and Nauls. And I don't weigh in there because of that god awful Playstation game.

    Have to say, was a bit disappointed with the se/prequel, but it joined the movies perfectly, so I won't complain too much.
    However, with the fates of disappeared bird from the pre/sequel AND nauls from original both being left undisclosed, (ignoring (for now) Macready and Childs), someone could, hypothetically, have a story for a proper, John carpenter, sequel.

  10. I would like to see a sequel made too with the premise that the last three human survivors (Nauls, Childs and Macready) are still alive and meet up. They would need to be rescued though or there won't be enough action potential. Imagine if the Thing got to civilisation!

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