John Carpenter’s The Thing has become one of the all-time cult classics, often revered by fans as a perfect film – and rightfully so, as it pretty much is. The 1982 film was initially killed at the box office by E. T., as moviegoers preferred a friendlier alien that summer, but in the decades since, it has rightfully found its audience through home video. In debates about remakes, The Thing is usually cited at the top of the list, due to its skillful expansion on the original source material of John W. Campbell, Jr.'s Who Goes There?
The success of The Thing can be attributed to many different factors; its brilliant script by Bill Lancaster, the jaw-shattering practical special effects by Rob Bottin, its claustrophobic Antarctica setting and, most importantly, its top-notch cast of characters. Each actor, from Wilford Brimley to Keith David to Kurt Russell brings their A-Game and ups the ante of suspense, making the audience constantly second-guess “who is The Thing?”
Even today, fans still debate the ambiguous ending where Russell’s MacReady and Keith David’s Childs sit across from one another in the burnt out remains of US Outpost 31, their guard still up as to which one of them may be The Thing. Of course, the general consensus is that Childs is The Thing as he shows no breath coming from his mouth. This theory is only further cemented by the fact that Russell is the star of the film and there’s absolutely NO way the hero could actually be the villain right? There have even been fan theories that MacReady is aware that Childs is The Thing as he offers him a drink – which may or may not be gasoline and not truly liquor (as The Thing wouldn’t be able to tell the difference).
But…what if R.J. MacReady was actually The Thing all along?
Think about it; The Thing’s ultimate goal is to survive by any means possible. As any great horror/sci-fi protagonist would, MacReady surely goes to great extremes to ensure his survival by the films’ final reel. Throughout the film, MacReady desperately tries to convince his companions that he is truly human and that one of them is actually The Thing; I’m not saying that one of them ISN’T…but that they’re also The Thing. If MacReady was The Thing as well, wouldn’t the ultimate sign of self-preservation be to expose and eliminate a lesser version of itself – in a basic sacrificial lamb fashion? In this particular case, the blood test sequence and, especially the scene where Bennings Thing has its freak out in front of everyone out in the snow.
Each time the group believes to have exposed and killed The Thing after it has copied one of their own, the extermination is not in vain as it’s for the Greater Good of The Thing’s survival. This also adds a win for MacReady Thing, as its number of antagonists dwindles with each reveal and destruction.
If The Thing is all about adapting and learning, why couldn’t MacReady Thing assimilate quicker and learn the blame game that is being played out amongst the characters? After all, the computer game of chess that MacReady is playing when we first meet him is shown for a reason. He’s either under the radar or making himself stand out as the “leader” by organizing the tests and finger-pointing those who are The (lesser advanced) Things. If MacReady was The Thing, hiding in plain sight and orchestrating the events of the film would be a flawless cover.
Ultimately, the greatest ruse that The Thing could do would be to fool not only all the men at US Outpost 31, but also the film's audience for the past 30+ years!