Deep Analysis of Carpenter’s The Thing – Was Child’s Infected?

John Carpenter - The Thing

I enjoy watching The Thing every year, usually during the Summer. I am not sure why, but their is something satisfying about watching a movie set in the frigid cold, while it is 90 degrees out. I digress. I always enjoy the film and I have tried to figure out several times who and when people are actually infected in the film. I thought I had worked it out pretty well, but then I saw this video put together by Rob Ager that is a detailed study of hidden plot details and thematic use of costumes in The Thing. I can honestly say, I will never watch the movie the same way again.

Part 1

Part 2


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30 thoughts on “Deep Analysis of Carpenter’s The Thing – Was Child’s Infected?

  1. Doug says:

    SPOILER – In the comic books (yes, I’m such a fan I’ve even read the Dark Horse comics), Childs is infected.

  2. Doug says:

    As I’ve asked before, I’ll ask again: what if MacReady was infected all along? What if he laughs when Childs drinks the whiskey because he is at that moment infecting him? As these videos show, there is a depth to this movie that is really mindboggling. I prefer my own interpretations, of course, but it is interesting to see others.

  3. Kris Knives says:

    Well the film makes tried to make it surprising and leave people guessing. In fact according to the commentary they switch who was human and who was infected from the original short so people would be surprised and unsure. Personally I think MacReady’s actions though suggest he is human as he does nothing be hinder the alien menace.

    Does anyone have any love for the earlier 1951 THE THING (From another world). It is personally one of my favorite Scifi horror movies and while it can’t compair to the John Carpenter’s The Thing I think it is a good movie in its own right and a great example of 50’s style scifi.

  4. Doug says:

    But if the alien isn’t a hive mind as some have suggested and each infected is an independent being who might want control over the others as I think, it makes perfect sense that he could be infected and want to eliminate other infected for his own purposes. A classic example is Palmer, who was clearly infected, calling attention to the Norris head, another infected. He could have let Norris go, but he called attention to it, guaranteeing it would be killed, even though he was infected himself. MacReady could be doing the same thing.

    Just my thoughts. I actually don’t want MacReady to be infected, but it would be an awesome twist if he was.

    Flack, watch both immediately!

  5. Geez, I love the idea of them being both infected. Two of these creatures in some weird standoff as they slowly both freeze.

    Now I want Doug’s video overview of The Thing.

  6. Flack, Doug is right…watch them both immediately. :)

    I will say that after watching the vids…I’m leaning towards what Mr. Ager is pointing out. Especially the “SPOILERS” bit about their coats and positions on the wall, as well as the oddness of the camera panning, etc. “END SPOILERS”.

    I will second the Retroist’s request for a video overview from your perspective, Doug!

  7. CarlosTheDwarf says:

    Amazing find. The Thing is one of my top ten films of all time, and I love any excuse to talk about it.

  8. Atari Adventure Square says:

    The video does make a compelling argument for an infected Childs during that last stand.

    *SPOILERS galore from here*
    And I rewatched the scene with Palmer and the spider head and, while he does give it away (with a comment that brought the house down – tension relief, I guess – when this was originally screened) the Thing makes enough noise that Windows is already turning around. And Macready is on the alert as well.
    So maybe Palmer (who I agree was infected at that point, since the next scene would have to have occured immediately following the craziness) was protecting himself and it is indeed a race to the finish for the offspring of these Things.
    I also wondered, back then, if the human consciousness of the host remained intact enough to emulate the host’s character while oblivious to the fact that some of their actions might be informed from the alien inside.
    To be honest, it makes my head spin as much as it did back then.

    Add my vote for a personal video overview of your thoughts on the matter, Doug.

    I’m not as fervent about my belief in a hive mind having seen it yet again.
    Though I see a weird symbiotic thing with the host and The Thing(s), and I’m not convinced the hosts are always talking from a Thing’s point of view.
    I dunno.
    Again, head spinning merrily (as I contemplate an Nth viewing of this masterpiece of horror).
    *End of massive SPOILERS*

    And btw, Rob Ager’s other film analysis are just as amazing.
    My need to rewatch The Shining grew after his observations of why that hotel makes my skin crawl.
    Vic, I hope your workplace is not as creepy as the Overlook.

  9. Kris Knives says:

    I’ll third a request for some video over views.

    If the other analysis this guy has done are really just as good maybe I’ll have to order his DVD set.

    One point to consider. While the Thing is clearly intelligent and using a high level of deductive reasoning it doesn’t nessessarily think like a human. Consider early on in the movie where it tries to assimilate the dogs. Compaired to the slow careful acts the thing shows elsewhere in the film this seems like a very reckless act for little gain. Why suddenly and violently infect the dogs that way? Just how useful would the dogs really have been when the Thing already had at least one human sleeper? If it just had waited and infected the dogs food no one would have been the wiser. Obviously The Thing placed great value on infecting the dogs for reasons we don’t totally understand.

    On the subject of the Hive Mind. I always assumed it as a drop vs the ocean type thing. The thing seemed to be able to absorb mass into itself and shed mass into smaller life forms just as easily. In short when the thing splits appart it becomes two or more being but when they are absorbed again they simply become a single being once more. After all it only becomes a huge monster after absorbing Garry and Nauls suggesting that it can’t just generate mass. As such it might have intended to try and quickly absorb all the dogs and become one massive creature capable of attacking the crew while they were still unaware and relatively defenseless.

    If so this suggest that creature is very willing to abandon stealth prefering the direct approach and relying on its physical superiority where possible which clashes with many of our assumptions about the monster. I’ve always wondered if the creature was more like virus and only simulating the intelligence of its victems the same way it grew claws, fur, legs or other adaptions. As such it might be intelligent but not sentient in the way we think of it. By this logic it is rather reckless as a dog because fo its limited intelligence but it becomes much more crafty and subtle when it becomes the presumably more intelligent Blair.

  10. CarlosTheDwarf says:


    My own theory about why the Thing behaves differently when assimilating the dogs as compared to humans is that the alien actually acquires the nature, not just the appearance of the organism it consumes.

    That is, when it assimilated the Norwegian dog, it was essentially an animal, acting out of primal instinct, not intelligent strategy. Once it jumps to a human, it gains human-like intelligence and self-awareness.

    Just my pet theory, anyway.

  11. Doug says:

    My thought was that the dogs could detect that The Thing was something different and were going to give it away so he was forced to try to assimilate them quickly (and failed). It was reluctant to go into the kennel and the dogs reacted when it did.

    There’s no way I can do an in-depth diagnosis like the video. My idea of MacReady being infected is just a Marvel “What If” idea. I don’t really think he was, but since his clothes were found ripped and he made it back to the camp through the storm and he was in control of the blood test, he could have been. Or, better, it would be a joke if he was. Not a funny joke. A cruel one. But he only could have infected like this is my theory about each of The Thing is correct. I believe The Thing is essentially one organism that seeks to gain mass (flesh). It usually fails in this because it is pretty destructive and gets found out by whatever society it is trying to overtake. Sometimes The Thing gets split into two organisms. If this happens, it is going to develop two personalities that have the same goal (gain mass) and that will inevitably come into conflict. Imagine if you could instantly create a perfect clone of yourself. Not have to grow it, just “pop” and a complete clone is there. For a little while, that clone would be you. But as you and it started to have individual experiences and thoughts, you would eventually become so different that you might clash. That’s what I see with The Thing. When tiny parts are ripped off it (like the blood), they react. That’s probably infantile intelligence, just reacting to stimulus. As it gets more mass and becomes more intelligent, it becomes a person that might not react well with another Thing. That’s what I contest that Thing Palmer turned in Thing Norris. They had become two at that point and were at odds.

    Again, just my theories that I was going to use in the prequel I wanted to write and now will never get to. (Sad face)

  12. Kris Knives says:

    @Doug: This is true about the dogs but it could have easily attacked Clark instead once it got him alone instead of waiting and attacking the dogs. As I recall the dogs did not go into totally freak out the moment the thing was put in there with it.

    Does anyone know what the Norwegians were actually saying at the start of the movie? I’ve always wondered what the heck they were trying to say though I just assumed it was something like “I have to kill that dog!!!!”

  13. Doug says:

    John Carpenter says that it is just gibberish that the producer (playing the Norwegian) made up.

  14. Atari Adventure Square says:

    I thought I had read (or heard) somewhere that they spoke actual Norvegian and native viewers would be in on the menace before anyone else.

    (I don’t mean to be contrarian, btw. Just saying what the voices in my head are telling me to say. As usual. Have you played Atari today?)

    Anyway, Carlos’ take on the dog-level intelligence of The Thing reminded me of how our gang basically agreed on this take on things. And it makes sense, watching the movie again.
    Can I just add, that the dog does some mighty fine acting as a more-sentient-than-usual being (maybe Carpenter had something to do with that, of course).

    And while I’m still chattering about the movie, I think MacReady was framed with the torn clothes (maybe he’s more of a threat than the others?) but I still can’t figure out who did it, after all these years and multiple viewings.

    Also, while I still don’t see the split Things as competing entities, Doug, I find your take on it quite fascinating and it would make a great sci-fi story on its own.
    Would love to read that.

  15. Kris Knives says:

    From what I understand the animal they used was half-wolf and half-dog which accounts for its unusual behavior compaired to the domestic dogs we’re familiar with. They said it was just naturally creepy in the way it would stay still and quietly observe things which made it perfect for the part.

  16. Rob says:

    My THING theory:

    I’ve always seen The Thing as a simple cellular organism with one primary function: procreate through absorption to survive to procreate. It grabs a cell and absorbs its DNA and then injects its own into the cell and the takeover occurs. Environmentally, it makes sense for adaptation. The terror comes from it copying increasingly specialized cellular systems and adding their DNA to its “cellular DNA bank”. As soon as it has absorbed it’s first organism with a highly developed brain, you get…SENTIENT CANCER. Such simple, brutal hardwiring combined with human (or even ABOVE-human level) intelligence/imagination to carry out it’s mission is scary. It has all the evolutionary strengths of any creature it has ever absorbed and no morality. The alien in the ship was probably an alien taken over by The THING or being taken over as it crashed. I suggest that the single, lone spaceship was the end of a cycle that started all over at the camp.

    It’s evolution gone wrong on it’s most basic and advanced levels. Only size would limit using the intelligences of anything it has ever absorbed as it would need enough cells to create the specialized systems hidden within it’s DNA make-up.

  17. Rob says:

    The THING’S behavior as a group of cells (a person) still mimics the behavior of it’s single-cell predecessor…it isolates a Target and attacks in one-on-one situations to minimize exposure to attack while vulnerable during absorption. I actually see this as a behavioral weakness when using more advanced life forms as a more aggressive approach would probably be more effective.

  18. Doug says:

    Exactly. So what do you have when you have two group of cells/people? That’s where I think there would be conflict, not cooperation. The cell Rob describes with the one primary function would naturally conflict with an entity with that exact same function.

  19. Rob says:

    I don’t see conflict between THING organisms…it acts like the computer opponent and sacrifices pieces of itself to win…The only way it inefficiently “fights” itself is if the human DNA influences it with the inherent weakness for species in-fighting and war…which I doubt.

  20. Kris Knives says:

    @Rob That is more the way I see it, however I agree with Atari when he said an interesting scifi story could be the last two survivors of a similar situation both being turned.

    It could also be written as something really funny if it is like two borg drones both trying to act normal and determine if the other is human or not.

  21. DDDDDDan says:

    Looking at a totally different aspect: MacReady was the thing. His clothes were first found by Nauls, who was human. Nauls and the others figured it was legitimate: he was a thing. He was human at that point though. After Palmer-Thing was discovered, MacReady went out to torch him and Windows. However, he never took his blood test again.
    Also, I believe that some people know whether they are infected or not. Blair knew because he built a spaceship. Judging by the expression on Palmer’s face before the test, he knew as well. But when Windows and Nauls were tested, they looked scared to death, stating that nobody knows if they’re the thing or not.

  22. I wish I could take credit for noticing this on my own, but it’s pretty apparent that Childs is the Thing and McCready is still human. As they are sitting at the end, back lit by the fire, you can see that McCready is breathing and Childs is not.

  23. Nick Soule says:

    i read some where ,cant remember where, but McReady can bee seen holding the bottle in a position where it looks like hes trying to collect something not like he is about to drink from the bottle himself, McReady gives Childs the bottle before we ever see him drink from it in this scene, and after hearing in the video that McReady was suppose to have a fire thrower in this scene then this makes more sense imo but any ways McReady was collecting gasoline for his thrower when childs shows up , giving childs the bottle after they talk, McReady knows the thing wont be able ot tell its gas and not wine in the bottle, so as childs drinks and doesnt react, McReady knows the thing still lives

  24. Nick Soule says:

    and to support that he was collecting gas with the wine bottle, if McReady had a working weapon on him thne he woulda toasted Childs on sight since Childs went missing but McReady couldn’t because he was in the process of gettin gas for his flame thrower

  25. Grizzly Adams says:

    First, great videos, many thanks.

    Second, the necromancy/rambling!
    Our/my little take has always been that the thing is an amalgam of it’s parts, and it recognizes other Things around it.
    They try not to hurt each other, but the core of their being is survival. This is why the head crawls away- it’s escaping, independent of the body. This is why the blood in the Petri dish freaks out, even though that would doom the other Things in the room (also, intelligence is tied somewhat to size). This is why the thing hasn’t incorporated a flame-retardant shell- the shell would try to flee.
    We reckon the biggest weakness of the Thing is it’s inability to sacrifice itself for the greater ‘good’, unlike humans who blow up their base, strand themselves, & pour liquor into their computers when they realize the gig’s up. Such self-destruction is inconceivable to the thing.
    The thing is an amalgam of all these different parts, and whatever bit of hive mind it has must be relegated in great part to just trying to keep itself together. That’s also why we don’t see it adopt a single, uniform design in its transformations– it’s always bits & pieces taped together, and it’s capabilities suffer for this.

    Some other thoughts: the thing tries to avoid hurting its brethren- we see it actively try to cast blame elsewhere & never once spot one fighting another, even to pre-emptively get on the human’s good side. I’d say Palmer ‘called attention’ to the head because everyone else had already noticed- at that point it was akin to ‘helping’ them pile up & burn the corpses; it had to be done, for survival. Meanwhile he switches off his flamethrower.
    As for the dogs, we/I don’t think the thing knows how to pbehave like a dog, (not so long as it’s operating at a human+ intelligence), so it’s doubly certain they’ll give it away. Heh, it’s kinda funny how it just walks in, plops down & stares straight ahead; if the thing could sweat it’ve been sweating bullets.

  26. If you accept the 2011 prequel as canon (and I understand if you don’t), you do see one Thing hurt another in the finale. Joel had to have been a Thing before he killed the Dr./Whatever, and there was no reason to do that for survival since they outnumbered Elizabeth.

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