In the icy silence of Antarctica, the open-ended conclusion of John Carpenter’s The Thing left audiences teetering on the edge of an unresolved mystery, one that has haunted and intrigued fans for decades.
In a conversation with GQ, Kurt Russell offered his own insights into one of cinema’s most enduring enigmas: the ambiguous finale of John Carpenter’s The Thing. This topic has intrigued fans for decades, especially regarding the true identity of the alien impostor in the film’s concluding moments. Was it Russell’s character, MacReady, or Childs, played by Keith David? Both?Neither?
Even John Carpenter himself has been coy about the true nature of the film’s conclusion, claiming to hold the sole knowledge of The Thing’s identity in those closing moments, (a sentiment somewhat contested by the film’s director of photography, Dean Cundey, who hinted at a visual clue that might answer the question; how light reflects in the characters’ eyes).
In the interview, Russell reminisced about the film’s production, noting Carpenter’s dissatisfaction with the final scene. The director was intent on not leaving the audience back where they started after a two-hour journey into body-consuming horror. “When you’re doing a movie, you don’t know what you got. You kind of in general know what you got, but you don’t know exactly how this is gonna go together and what’s gonna come out of it. And of course, John did almost all the time because you understand—you know, he’s unlike most guys,”
The discussions between Russell and Carpenter, who have collaborated on multiple projects throughout the years, centered around the ending’s tone and its implications. “But the last scene, what we talked about a lot, we tried out little different versions of it: ‘What do you think of that?’ …you go back and forth.” Russell recalled telling the director, “’I know you don’t want to come back to square one—it’s kind of what it is. We don’t even know if we’re real. We don’t even know,”
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Russell particularly appreciates the open-ended nature of the story, believing it elevates The Thing to greatness; but admits, “I think the audience can figure it out. I think that’s what makes The Thinggreat, is you don’t know. What if it’s already happened? Are you you? How would you know?”. Macready’s final line in the film, suggesting they “just sit here for a while, see what happens,” encapsulates the uncertainty and tension that define the movie’s climax. And that ultimately, the characters themselves aren’t sure. He theorizes, “If [Macready and Childs] could figure out a way to kill each other in exactly the same time, I think maybe that’s the next step there,” adding, “That, to me was John at maybe his absolute peak as a director. That’s really good filmmaking.”
Russell’s insights into the making of The Thing and the philosophical depths of its ending continue to stir the imaginations of fans and critics. The lingering question of who, if anyone, is human, cements the film’s legacy as an unparalleled exploration of suspense, identity, and the unknown.