John Carpenter's The Thing culminates with one hell of a chilling and enigmatic climax. After a ruthless battle with the alien and the deaths of the entire research team, MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Childs (Keith David) find themselves the sole survivors — unsure who is human or alien — doomed to freeze in the bitter arctic night. In a moment of resignation, the two men sit down in the snow and await their impending deaths. Credits roll.
With such an ambiguous ending, many theories have been put forth dissecting these final few minutes of the movie. Reddit user probablynotokyea claims that the entire movie is a chess match, with MacReady as the main player and the creature as his opponent. Remember MacReady's introduction? He's playing chess.
He's gruff, likes his scotch, and he's a sore loser:
While the movie as a whole can be fitted within the "chess match" framework, with MacReady and the creature constantly making moves to gain the upper hand, it's the movie's final moment that offer the most shocking revelation.
With no "pieces" left on the board, we're down to the two "kings": MacReady and Childs. Neither player can make a move, and the game is over.
The question remains: Who is human?
One thought-provoking argument suggests that in the final scene between Childs and MacReady, the creature still lives: Childs is the monster.
Why Don't We Wait Here, See What Happens
Keeping our analysis to ONLY the 1982 film, let's unpack this theory a bit:
Though half-frozen and exhausted, MacReady's frosty breath still pours out of his mouth in heavy billows; yet we hardly see any visible breath from his companion, Childs. Producer Larry Turman points out that this scene was "harshly backlit" — perhaps an intentional effect to draw attention to this discrepancy.
Care For a Stiff Drink?
In a previous scene we see MacReady preparing Molotov cocktails to burn the creature. While some alcohols can be used to make a Molotov cocktail, it's more likely that MacReady is using gasoline.
Immediately after the TNT explosion, MacReady stumbles away with a bottle in hand. When confronted by Childs, MacReady skeptically interrogates his partner before offering him a drink. Childs accepts and gulps it down. We never see MacReady take a drink himself — is the bottle actually one of MacReady's remaining Molotov cocktails? If so, then he just witnessed Childs take a big swig of premium unleaded gasoline with barely a wince — a feat no human could stomach.
Maestro, The Music
As if on cue, Ennio Morricone's ominous theme for The Thing lurches forward as soon as Childs brings the bottle to his lips. Coincidental timing, or a signal that the creature still lives?
After watching Childs take a drink, MacReady lets out a small chuckle. If we believe that Childs unknowingly drank gasoline, MacReady's suspicions might have just been confirmed.
In any case, neither MacReady nor Childs possess the strength to fight, so they simply lay down and wait to die. Utterly bleak.
I applaud Carpenter for leaving the ending ambiguous enough to allow such creative interpretations to emerge, especially 30 plus years after the film's release! There's more exploration to be done with the chess motif, so pick it apart in a comment below.