Has John Carpenter Explained The Thing's Ambiguous Ending?

John Carpenter's The Thing is both a horror and science-fiction classic. Now more than 30 years old, this R-rated remake of The Thing from Another World unveiled a shape-shifting alien invader that spurred fear and dangerous paranoia amongst a remote American research station in the Antarctic. Fresh off playing one-eyed badass Snake Plissken in Carpenter's Escape from New York, Kurt Russell reteamed with the visionary genre director for The Thing, where he created the character of R.J. MacReady, a charismatic but doomed roughneck.

After all the body horror, brutal gore, and nightmare-inspiring creature effects, The Thing winds down to a chilling finish. MacReady and his colleague Childs (Keith David) are all that remains of their crew. Having blown up the base in hopes of killing this heinous killer beast, the two — already caked in ice and snow—shiver and essentially await death. But the question lingers—is one of them The Thing? It's a topic that has long intrigued the film's fans, and someone on Reddit (via Giant Freakin Robot) claims to have the answer.

Going by the handle kleinbl00, the user claims he has a friend who was once had the chance to discuss The Thing with Carpenter. Speaking of the film's ending, he offered:

"[Carpenter] said he never understood where all the confusion came from. The last frame of The Thing is Kurt Russel (sic) and Keith David staring each other down, harshly backlit. It's completely, glaringly obvious that Kurt Russel is breathing and Keith David is not." {Emphasis his}

The implication here is that Childs is in fact The Thing. But even kleinbl00 found this explanation flimsy, saying this seems strangely subtle cue in a film where a severed head sprouts spider legs and scurries away. It's certainly an interesting theory, but for one thing it suggests that the alien doesn't breathe, which -- while possible -- seems like a stretch. Though admittedly, I can't remember if we are shown prior evidence either way. Secondly, if Childs lack of breathing is meant to be a clue, then Carpenter failed. While MacReady's breath is obvious because of the lighting and the fog barreling out of his mouth, Childs is far subtler. But if you look closely, he does in fact exhale. You can both see it and hear it in this clip at the 1:50 mark.

This doesn't confirm that Carpenter didn't intend for the audience to suspect Childs is a killer creature from outer space, but it does poke holes in this line of proof.

Kristy Puchko

Staff writer at CinemaBlend.