“The Thing” is undoubtedly an entertaining movie, but it’s also remarkably perplexing. In fact, the film’s complexity was so confounding that even its own stars, including Kurt Russell, found it challenging to fully grasp.
Upon its release in 1982, “The Thing” didn’t receive much critical acclaim, but over time, it has come to be regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. The premise itself is inherently puzzling – a research team in Antarctica hunted by an extraterrestrial entity capable of assuming the appearance of its victims. Yet, with the combination of a masterful director like John Carpenter and an accomplished actor like Kurt Russell, “The Thing” somehow managed to work its magic, even if it took some time for audiences to fully appreciate it.
However, Russell, in particular, struggled to come to terms with the metaphysical aspects of “The Thing,” leading to numerous discussions and questions behind the scenes. But who said that Carpenter’s finest work in science fiction had to be entirely comprehensible?
“We wasted hours and hours of rehearsal time discussing [expletive] metaphysics!” lamented David Clennon, who portrayed Palmer in the film.
“Some of the actors were obsessed with this question: When you become the Thing – when the alien takes over your mind and body – do you know that you’ve become the Thing? Or do you just go on thinking that you are your old self? I couldn’t see the point of solving that silly riddle. What difference was it going to make in anybody’s performance? The story’s point was that every creature looked, sounded, and smelled exactly the way it did before the alien took it over.”
Carpenter acknowledged that there was one particular question – and one actor in particular – that seemed to persistently surface. “The big question that kept coming to me was: If you were a Thing, would you know?” recounted the director. “I think Kurt Russell started that one. I said, ‘I think you would.’ But he kept asking that question, so I don’t think that answer was sufficient.”
In the context of a person transforming into the Thing, it’s conceivable that an individual could be assimilated by the Thing while retaining human memories. Conversely, in the film, the Thing tends to mimic the appearance of a person. This isn’t equivalent to being the person, so someone couldn’t be the Thing without realizing it, regardless of how you approach the scenario.