We've tried to arrange these in the chronological order of the events shown in the film. The answers here are based upon provable facts culled from primary sources such as Bill Lancaster's script, Alan Dean Foster's novelization, the movie itself, and extra information available on the Collector's DVD. Otherwise we simply represent the general consensus of Thing fans or, if no such consensus exists, we summarize the range of possible opinions. If you have information that you think would be valuable to this FAQ, please post on our FB Group!
Why did the alien ship crash?
A: The erratic, wobbling motions of the saucer ship suggest that something was seriously wrong with the vessel. What exactly that was, we never get to see but mechanical or structural failure seems to be safely ruled out. There was, for instance, no indication of any external damage to the ship like you would expect to see from a collision or onboard explosion. Also, the craft’s engines seemed to be in fine working order.
Ruling out these sorts of possibilities leaves us with just one option: the problem was with those who operated the craft. One popular suggestion is that the crew was locked in a death struggle with the Thing and that this ultimately brought the ship down into the Antarctic ice. Perhaps the crew were even purposefully trying to destroy their own ship when it became clear they could not win against the Thing. Or perhaps the Thing had killed the crew without having assimilated the ship’s pilots so that it didn’t know how to adequately steer the vessel. Or maybe it was nothing more than simple pilot error.
These sorts of scenarios are plausible but are far from certain. What does seem certain is that, whatever the reason, the ship itself was not to blame for its demise.
What was the Thing doing on the ship in the first place?
A: Well, there seem to be only four possibilities:
(1) The Thing was a member of the ship’s crew, perhaps even the pilot.
(2) The Thing was a passenger.
(3) The Thing was a stowaway.
(4) The Thing was part of the cargo.
The first idea would imply that the ship belonged to the Thing’s own race. Things were the ones who built and piloted the vehicle. For whatever reason, not many fans seem drawn to this notion. They tend to gravitate towards the more sinister possibilities. However, it is interesting to note that Susan Turner, the one who originally built the saucer model, makes an off-the-cuff remark on the DVD’s Terror Takes Shape documentary. There, she refers to the saucer’s central dome as the place “where presumably the creature is steering the ship.”
The second notion of the Thing being one of the ship’s passengers is even less popular. For whatever reason, no one has seriously defended this option. Perhaps it’s because people find it difficult to imagine the Thing as just a harmless passenger sitting in an interstellar cruise liner of sorts, comfortably sharing its cabin area with other space-going races.
The third idea of a Thing stowaway seems to be more attractive among the film’s fans. Perhaps the ship visited other places before coming to our Solar System, and on one of these planets it inadvertently picked up a Thing or two. Or maybe the Thing had gained access to the ship by assimilating one of its crew or passengers.
Surprisingly enough, the fourth possibility of having the Thing as part of the ship’s cargo or equipment is not without its supporters. Maybe the ship was on a scientific expedition to gather specimens from other star systems, and the Thing was collected from its own home world. Or even more: what if the Thing was part of the ship’s armament? The idea here is that the Thing was a biological weapon created by the race that built and operated the ship. Perhaps the craft was a military vessel equipped with the Thing as part of its standard weaponry. Maybe Earth itself had become a target for planetary invasion. But, as with all biological weapons, the creation ultimately turned against the creators.
The film obviously never tells us why the Thing was even aboard the ship, and so we’ll never know the answer for sure -- but it certainly is fun trying to come up with, as Fuchs would say, “one or two ideas.”
How did the Norwegians find the wreck?
A: Well, it is very unlikely the members of the Norwegian camp came across the ship by accident. There are two important considerations here: (1) the Norwegian base was only “about 5 or 6 miles” away from the crash site, and (2) the Norwegians had set up camp “for only eight weeks.” That means they must’ve found the wreck very early into their expedition. Either the Norwegians got extremely lucky or they already knew something anomalous was in the area. The latter is probably the case. While they likely didn’t realize they had an alien shipwreck on their hands, the Norwegians did know from previous surveys that something unusual was in the general vicinity. And so they sent an expedition to check it out. This explains why their camp was such a small distance away from the ship and how they happened to find it so quickly.
The Thing (2011) sheds some further light on the issue. It is clear that the snow cat expedition to investigate what turned out to be the alien ship crash site was intentional. They were looking for something. It is pertinent that Olav was monitoring radio signals as they approached the source of a strange transmission or disturbance. The suggestion is then that, in some set of circumstances, the Norwegians detected a strange radio phenomenon and set out to find its source. See also the FAQ entry 'Why couldn't Windows reach anyone on the radio?'
Why were the Norwegians trying to shoot the Dog-Thing?
A: The two Norwegians obviously knew that bullets wouldn't kill the Thing, but taking shots at the Thing is not so far-fetched. Apparently the two Norwegians didn’t have flamethrowers or any other incendiary weapon that could be accurately targeted. All they had were incendiary grenades and the cans of kerosene. Very inaccurate stuff if you’re trying to chase down a running dog-Thing.
So the first thing they had to do was to get the dog-Thing to slow down or even come to a halt. This is addressed in some detail later but we briefly mention here that bullets will certainly slow a Thing down, even though they can’t ultimately kill it. No creature can have high-powered rifle slugs ripping through its flesh without some sort of effect. Mac is even quoted in the novel as saying, “Bullets don’t kill these Things, they just inconvenience ‘em.” (Foster, The Thing, 168)
So we see the Norwegians shooting the dog-Thing not to try and kill it, but to slow it down that it might then be killed with their grenades and kerosene. The problem was, the Thing apparently requires a lot of rounds before it’ll slow down significantly. Either that or the guy in the chopper was having a hard time keeping his scope on the target (or was just a poor shot to begin with).
What did the Norwegian shout at the Americans?
A: Here is an updated translation from Daniel Andre Johansen, a Norwegian fan.
"Se til helvete å kom dere vekk
Det er ikke en bikkje
det er en slags ting
den imiterer en bikkje
den er ikke virkelig
kom dere vekk idioter!"
"Get the hell away
It's not a dog/mutt
It's a thing
It's imitating a dog/mutt
It's not real
Get away idiots!"
Why did Garry have to shoot the Norwegian dead, not just wound him?
A: Anne Billson, in her interesting commentary on The Thing, expresses the same sentiment: “Of course, if [Garry] only thought to train that unerring aim on the Norwegian’s leg, instead of on his head, he would have saved himself and his men a whole lot of trouble.” (BFI Modern Classics, The Thing, 31)
On the flipside of that argument, shooting to wound isn't always as simple as movies make it out to be as Jim Nanban points out:
"A shot to the leg is likely to one way or another impact the femoral artery. If the bullet it hits the femoral artery, the target is likely to bleed out in short order. If the simple shockwave of such a hit transitions through the femoral artery, it is quite possible to "blow out" a valve in the heart or otherwise disrupt cardiac functions. Even if the target does survive--which is only SLIGHTLY more likely than if they had been shot in centre-mass--there is still the short-term concern of providing care to them with limited medical supplies on hand, and the long-term concern that they are likely to have permanent nerve damage and/or paralysis. Is it more humane to kill, when evacuation to proper medical care is not guaranteed, or is it more humane to wound, permanently cripple, and possibly cause the target to die quite slowly waiting for proper medical care that never materializes?
Furthermore, speaking of limited supplies, Garry did not have an unlimited supply of ammunition nor backup shooters. He was facing a shooter with an HK93, a very accurate and reliable German assault rifle firing 5.56mm NATO rounds--ammunition created specifically to kill human beings offensively--from a magazine with a capacity of at least 20 rounds (the one in the film appears to be a 40-round magazine). Garry was attacking with a Colt Trooper Mk III, a .357 revolver (nowhere near the power of a rifle round, but still enough to kill) with a six round cylinder. The distance from the rear sight to the front sight on the Colt Trooper is going to be around six inches. This, compared to that of the Norwegian's rifle (something over 2 feet of distance), even if all else were the same means that Garry will be inherently less able to accurately aim his weapon (shorter distance means errors are less detectable).
Combine this with the fact that the leg is less than half the size of the torso: If Garry aims for the torso and kills the Norwegian, one man is dead. If Garry aims for the leg, he is almost as likely to kill the Norwegian if he hits as with a torso shot. But if Garry MISSES the leg, then the Norwegian now knows there are people trying to kill him--he, a simple Norwegian trying to stop a supernatural threat. The Norwegian now has motive to eliminate any threats trying to stop him from ending this threat to all mankind. You can guarantee there will be at least 2 dead people: The first person the Norwegian takes aim at and fires upon with his fast-firing HK93, and the Norwegian when Garry's cylinder cycles and he finally gets his sights back on target. Garry will certainly go for a torso shot in this case, since he now has only 5 rounds left with which to end the threat--and each miss is another one of his friends killed."
The answer here is simple from the director’s perspective: there would be no film to shoot if Garry had not killed the Swede, uh, Norwegian.
However, there is an "in-story" answer as well. It was entirely consistent with Garry’s character to flat out kill the gunman. Garry is an ex-Army officer (according to the script) who is also a crack shot. He constantly carries his gun around with him. That alone speaks volumes about Garry. Anyone threatening his men is going to be taken out in a hurry. Shoot first and ask questions later, that’s Garry’s motto. He wasn’t going to take any chances when all he had was a six-shooter while the Norwegian was packing a semi-automatic assault rifle. So, when the gunman raised his weapon up to his shoulder, Garry shot him dead.
Why couldn't Windows reach anyone on the radio?
A: It is hard for us who are accustomed to cell phones, satellite communications and today’s Internet to understand what life can be like for a small, forward Antarctic outpost in the early 80s. Under such conditions, it is not at all unusual for a camp to go for days or even weeks without communications because of storms or other atmospheric conditions. There are times when cargo planes have had to make a special flyby just to see if a research group is still okay. Besides, according to the script, Windows hasn’t exactly earned himself a reputation for being a top-notch radioman. In fact, he can stink at his job even under the best possible circumstances. Combine already bad conditions with a not-so-reliable operator and what you see in the film is entirely plausible.
The events of The Thing (2011) seem to suggest an altogether more sinister reason why Windows was unable to contact anyone by radio. Here, the character Olav is seen to be detecting some form of radio disturbance (possibly interference, possibly a distress signal) as the snow cat approaches the alien ship at the beginning of the movie. It should be noted that interference from a signal emanating from the alien ship was responsible for similar communications problems in Campbell's novella 'Who Goes There?'
In Carpenter's The Thing, if a significant source of radio interference, enough to be causing problems for Outpost #31, had existed for 100,000 years, then they would have noticed it as soon as Outpost #31 was established and they switched on the radio rather only two weeks (or so) prior to the events depicted in the film. It must then be assumed that that if the alien ship was the ultimate source of the problem, then the Norwegians were responsible for bringing this problem to Outpost #31. A significant problem with this interpretation of events is the relevant timescales. The alien ship was discovered 48 hours before the events depicted in The Thing (2011) took place, which occurred over at most three days. We are told in The Thing (1982) that a planned helicopter trip between the two settlements would take an hour. Taking account of contingencies and a possible indirect route, it seems highly unlikely that the Dog-Thing pursuit from Thule Station to Outpost #31 would have taken at least 9 days, this being the minimal consistency requirement given the radio blackout at Outpost #31 for at least two weeks.
Whose shadow was on the wall?
A: This is the biggest and easily most contested issue in the entire film, and it’s been fascinating to observe how the debate has progressed over time. There can be only three candidates here: Norris, Palmer, and Blair -- with most people immediately ruling out Blair because of his baldness. This leaves it up for grabs between Norris and Palmer.
There was a day when virtually any Thing fan would’ve fingered the geophysicist Norris as the first American the Thing assimilates. This was primarily because of the hair style suggested in the shadow as well as the silhouette’s large size. Norris struck most people as the one who best matched these characteristics. It is remarkable to now see the two sides fairly evenly split. What was once an issue believed to be essentially resolved is now a hot topic for impassioned debate. Both sides have constructed elaborate and sophisticated arguments, and the discussion shows no sign of slowing down.
Interestingly enough, John Carpenter himself was asked this very question during a question and answer session at a Film Festival. His reply was that the shadow didn’t belong to any of the actors but was that of a stand-in just for the sake of getting the shot. Well, needless to say, virtually no Thing fan believes this. People point out that Carpenter has not had the best reputation for recalling events from 35+ years ago. Besides, would you reveal the secret to what is arguably the greatest mystery of your film career?
This story is far from over. It will be very interesting to see in the future if the opinions of Thing fans continue to change. The Palmer side has steadily gained adherents. Will it continue to do so? The Norris side has supporters that are just as enthusiastic and are just as convinced. Will it remain as strong it is? Stayed tuned. Only time will tell. (FYI: The actual shadow was not a cast member at all but stuntman Dick Warlock.)
Stuart Cohen, co-producer of John Carpenter's The Thing, seems, at the time of writing, to have settled this matter conclusively on his blog: it was supposed to be Palmer. The reason why David Clennon was substituted by Dick Warlock in this shot is that Clennon's silhouette was too recognizable for there to be any ambiguity.
What happened to the Norwegian camp?
A: We will perhaps never know the exact sequence of events at the Norwegian base, but we do have some rough ideas. After its escape from the ice block, the Thing had assimilated a number of dogs and humans. Exactly how many is unknown, but the number was at least one dog and one man along with probably a few others. Eventually the surviving Norwegians discovered what was happening but by that time the Thing perhaps had acquired enough numbers to achieve parity with the survivors. Consequently, it may not have felt the need to remain so covert and stealthy.
What apparently ensued was an all-out, no-holds-barred battle that raged throughout the Norwegian camp. The only details we have of this fight comes from the novel. The book has Mac and Copper bringing back some audio cassettes from the Norwegian camp, along with the videos and Norwegian-Thing shown in the movie. The cassettes are then played back for the other men to hear:
“MacReady and I were listening to some of these cassettes on the flight back from the Norwegian camp. I’d like the rest of you gentlemen to hear this particular one.” He gave the “play” switch a nudge.
A Scandinavian voice filled the room. It was flat, calm, methodical; the boredom apparent despite distance, time, and even a different language.
Norris let out a bored sigh. “Sounds like the verbal equivalent of the [video] tape we’ve been mooning over. Hours of notes and nonsense.”
“What do you want from us?” Bennings wanted to know.
MacReady gestured for them to be patient. “Just listen. We thought the same way you do … at first.”
Copper played with the fast-forward control, eyeing the built-in tape counter as the machine squealed. At five-oh-one he stopped the racing cassette and depressed “play” a second time. The calm voice was heard again.
Then something sounded dull, loud, and ugly, as though a distant explosion had taken place. The little machine’s omnidirectional internal microphone wasn’t large, but there was no mistaking the sharp cruuumppp from the speaker.
A pounding noise followed the explosion. There were shouts, some near, some far away. Then echoes of confusion, of equipment being tipped over, of glass shattering. Running feet grew loud, fading as their owners moved away from the recorder.
Something went thunk and the volume intensified, as if the recorder had been hit or thrown against something hard. Feet sounded close by, banging wooden planks.
A violent gurgling rose above the general cacophony, then a loud hiss like a steam boiler shutting down. Men screamed and raged in Norwegian.
Then a piercing screech that made the hair on Norris’s neck stand erect. Several explosions next, like cannon firing in the distance. The execrable screeching again, louder now, mixed with the howls of distraught, panicky men.
Copper noted the grim expressions on the faces of those gathered around him. He derived no satisfaction from the effect the tape had on them. Soon all sound stopped. The tape had come to its end. He switched the machine off and regarded his companions in silence.
“That’s it?” Fuchs asked softly.
Copper shook his head. “No. It’s a split tape with automatic rewind. It goes on like that from the beginning of the second half for quite awhile.” He let that sink in before asking, “What do you gentlemen make of it? Neither MacReady nor I could make any sense of it.” (Foster, The Thing, 43-5)
The gutted and burned-down buildings seen in the film indicate the Norwegians’ liberal use of kerosene, incendiary grenades, and perhaps thermite charges. On the other hand, the gaping holes in the walls and ceilings of the surviving buildings suggest the Thing had transformed itself into a large, powerful beast able to tear through barriers with impunity.
What is amazing here is that, by the end of the battle, the Norwegians had somehow gained the upper hand over the Thing. As we know, they came extraordinarily close to vanquishing their enemy altogether. That is, until Garry finally stopped the last Norwegian from carrying out what had probably turned into a personal quest for vengeance.
At the time of writing, The Thing (2011) has just been released. This film focuses specifically on the events that took place at the Norwegian camp, realised as Thule Station. Expect significant updates on this site in relation to this development.
What about the suicide victim at the Norwegian camp?
A: The apparent suicide found by Mac and Copper brings up a couple of issues. First, was it a true suicide? In The Thing (2011), this character is English and his name is Colin. Although it seems to have taken place in response to the threat posed by the Edvard-Thing, the suicide act itself happens off-screen. Questions have been raised by some viewers over whether or not a person could inflict such a deep throat gash upon himself. To these fans, the throat cut is too suspicious. They tend to believe that, while he certainly did cut his own wrists, someone else came up from behind and cut his throat. In this view, it was a homicide more than a suicide.
A second, more important, issue is whether or not the Colin's body was a Thing. After he died, did a Thing come along and assimilate/duplicate the body? Does it merely look like a human body when it really is a Thing in disguise? This is part of the larger question of whether or not a Thing can assimilate and duplicate dead tissue. There is general agreement among fans that the Thing can use dead tissue for assimilation. That is, it can use a dead body as raw material in increasing its own biomass. A dead body would basically be like food for the Thing. But the script makes it quite clear at multiple points in the story that the Thing cannot use a dead body for duplication. The duplication part of the process requires living cells to infect. If someone is already dead, then the Thing can't just re-animate their body and then go on to duplicate them.
How did the Thing escape the ice block?
A: The script and book both describe the Thing's former prison as being like "a frozen bathtub" with the center "thawed and scooped out." The film faithfully portrays this on screen. So melting and scraping away of the ice are given as primary reasons why the Thing escaped.
But the problem is, a "bathtub" is not the usual shape of an ice block after it has steadily thawed over time. We wouldn't expect to see rims around it if the melting were due to natural room temperatures. This suggests we look for less than natural means for thawing the ice. So we are left with only two possibilities. Either the Thing had awakened and started melting the ice from the inside or the Norwegians themselves had begun the process of extricating their specimen.
The latter seems more likely. Being the curious scientists that they were, the Norwegians couldn't wait to get a good look at whatever was inside of the ice block. They began melting and scraping away the ice from the center outwards. In so doing, the Thing was revived by the increase in temperature and consequently escaped.
To be updated in view of The Thing (2011).
The Norwegian-Thing, was it one man or two?
A: The confusion comes from the split head on the Norwegian-Thing. The two facial halves give the appearance of having been two heads that are now melted together. However, we don't in turn see two sets of arms, two sets of legs, two torsos, etc, that are likewise fused together. There's just nothing else to indicate that it's actually two people who are, as Doc would say, "in there." So, it's probably the case that the Norwegian-Thing's head was in the process of splitting apart, similar to what see with Palmer-Thing. This would mean the Norwegian-Thing is just one man, not two men who were fused together in the assimilation process.
Who was in Palmer's room smoking dope with him?
A: It was Childs. You can readily tell from watching the film that it is a black man, but Nauls is ruled out since he is playing pool with Clark in the very next shot. Also, the script and book indicate strongly that Palmer and Childs are pot buddies.
Why did the Dog-Thing attack the kennel when it did?
A: The way the final film was cut, you can't help but get the impression that the Dog-Thing attacked very shortly after Clark left the kennel. This would be somewhere close to 7 PM on the first day, since that's the time seen on the Rec Room wall clock as Bennings complains about the "mutt." But this opens up the issue of why did the kennel attack happen when it did. Didn't the dog-Thing run a great risk of getting detected if many of the men, especially Clark, were still up and about?
Careful analysis of the film demonstrates that the kennel attack was originally planned to occur early in the morning after Clark had caged the dog-Thing, when all the men had gone to sleep. Here are a few considerations:
(1) The script clearly places the kennel attack many hours after the dog-Thing was caged. It even gives a precise time: 4:30 AM. In the script everyone but Mac is asleep. Mac happens to be in the Rec Room with his inflatable "friend" watching the Norwegian video tapes. And, according to the script, the only reason why the dog-Thing's attack gets foiled is because Mac happened to be awake to hear it. Everyone else was sound asleep and were not awakened by the noise. Instead, it was Mac who awoke them.
(2) The scene with Mac & his inflatable "friend" was indeed shot for the film. The Deleted Scenes pictures prove it. Since this scene was supposed to occur prior to the kennel attack, this is good proof the attack wasn't originally meant to happen until later on.
(3) Clark wears different clothing when he cages the dog-Thing than when we see him coming back to find out what the noise is all about. In the script, Mac comes and wakes up Clark and tells him to quiet down the dogs. Clark then has to get dressed. This easily accounts for the difference in Clark's attire.
So, why did the dog-Thing attack the kennel when it did? The answer is really quite simple. The film's shooting of that scene had originally meant to put the attack in the early morning. In other words, the dog-Thing had waited until it thought all the men were sound asleep. It was only afterwards, during the editing process, that the intervening time was cut out and "left on the editing room floor." In spite of how the film was cut, it's best to interpret the timing of the kennel attack as taking place very early in the morning when all the men, except Mac, were sound asleep.
Did the dog-Thing escape through the roof?
A: The answer is an unequivocal, "No." Because of fullscreen versions of The Thing from the 80s and early 90s, it was a common misconception that at least one Thing had escaped from the kennel. But there are multiple reasons that conclusively disprove this notion.
We see the clawed hands break through the rafters and pull the dog-Thing up off the floor. The creature subsequently lodges itself into the upper right-hand corner of the cage. (You can even see the cage's corner when the "flesh flower" attacks Childs.) When he enters the cage, Childs casts his eyes upwards at the Thing above. Likewise, judging from the first-person perspective used, the "flesh flower" that attacks Childs does so from above. When Childs activates the flamethrower, he aims it upwards. Finally, the flaming mass is seen falling to the floor. (One really needs a widescreen version of the film to see this.)
All this points to the conclusion that the Thing which Childs hit with the flamethrower was located at the ceiling of the cage. In other words, the Thing which broke into the ceiling had not left the cage but was instead fried by Childs. This goes a long way towards explaining why the men aren't the least bit concerned about a Thing being on the loose.
Who was with Mac and Norris when they went to the spaceship crater?
A: It was Palmer. The script and book both verify this. Why Palmer? He was the back-up helicopter pilot (this is implied when he offered to give Doc the lift to the Norwegian camp), and Mac is quoted as saying, "I'll take Palmer as a backup, just in case we run into any trouble" (Alan Dean Foster, The Thing, 67). The only giveaway as to who it is in the movie is that, upon returning to the camp, Palmer appears completely accepting of the fact that they have seen a spaceship buried in the ice, whereas all the rest of the men are skeptical.
What happened to the burned Norwegian corpse in the store room?
A: When Windows returns to the storeroom with the others, the camera gives the audience a shot of the Norwegian-Thing still covered over by a blanket. This brings up the issue of why didn't the Norwegian-Thing get away while the camp was preoccupied with the Bennings-Thing.
The leading theory is that the Norwegian-Thing wasn't in as good shape as one might think, that most of its carcass was indeed killed by the fires back at the Norwegian station. Those parts that did survive attacked Bennings and transferred themselves to him. Thus, once Bennings was assimilated (or, technically speaking, mostly assimilated), there was not much left to the Norwegian-Thing besides dead tissue. Either that or if it was still alive then at least it was so weak that it couldn't do much more than a weak attempt at moving into another organism.
Is Blair's computer program accurate?
A: Well, it certainly isn't accurate in the sense that a biologist would not be working on computer animations as part of his investigations, especially under the pressing circumstances like we see in the film. This scene is obviously meant to be an aid to the audience to understand the Thing's life-cycle, not a realistic portrayal of a biologist's studies.
And how well does the simulation work? Unfortunately, it leads to more questions than answers. We see dog cells being devoured, one by one, by a single Thing cell and this seems to contradict what we've already seen of the Thing's behavior. Never does the simulation show that the Thing cells divide to replace canine cells, which is what would make more sense. So, the animation should be taken with a grain of salt.
On the DVD commentary track, Carpenter comments that they "didn't get it quite right" regarding the Thing's life cycle but that "it doesn't matter." From this it may be concluded that the goal with the computer sequence was not truly accomplished, so it must therefore be regarded with skepticism.
It's clear that the Blair computer simulation was meant to replace a similar scene in the script and novel. Alan Dean Foster's description of the Thing's cells seems to be better:
Fuchs was preparing new slides, which Blair studied under the microscope. Two cells were visible through the eyepiece. They were active, neither quiescent nor dead. One looked quite normal. Its companion looked anything but.
At the moment the two were joined together by a thin stream of protoplasm. Material from the larger cell, which was long and thin, flowed into the smaller, spherical cell. As it did so the smaller cell swelled visibly, until the cell wall fractured in three places. Immediately the smaller cell assumed a flattened shape like the other and three new streams of material began to flow outward from its interior. Neither cell appeared to have lost any mass.
Blair pulled away from the eyepiece and frowned as he checked his watch. It was running in stopwatch mode. He turned it off. The resulting readout was very puzzling.
(Alan Dean Foster, The Thing, 69-70)
Was Blair a Thing before he was locked up or not?
A: A hotly debated topic. There is evidence for both sides of the issue, and it conflicts too much to be conclusive.
Carpenter's commentary on the DVD is inconclusive. This is not surprising since all of his references to the characters known to be Things are ambiguous. The original Campbell short story corroborates the notion that Blair was a Thing early in the story, and that the other Things were merely decoys so Blair-thing could go about its business in the privacy of the tool shed. The single biggest stumbling block to this idea is the aforementioned computer sequence. If Blair is a Thing early in the story, then he would likely have also been a Thing while he executed the computer simulation. In which case, there would clearly be no reason for him to do so.
As for how this relates to the radio room scene, as a human his intention is clear: wreck the radio room so that help cannot be called, which in turn will prevent the spread of the organism. As a Thing, the intention would be to get himself separated from the men so he can go about the business of his escape. A risky maneuver, to be sure. He risked getting shot in the process and must have banked on the men's desire to not harm one of their own, choosing instead to imprison him. Had he been shot and "killed," the game would not have been over for Blair-thing. The burned Norwegian corpse is a good example of how tenaciously a Thing will cling to life, though it is debatable as to whether or not they'd have chosen to burn his corpse as a precautionary measure. (They clearly regarded him as harmless enough to leave alive but locked up).
There is never any indication of how Blair might have been taken over at any point in the movie before he is locked up, unless it was a microscopic infection resulting from his autopsies of the various burned Things. It is also possible that the Norwegian dog or Norris-thing paid him a visit in the time span that Mac and Copper were absent.
After he is locked up, everyone appears to be accountable at all times which would make it hard for someone to get out and assimilate him. It would appear that the only possible time would be during the "lights out" sequence featured in the script and book, but deleted (though filmed) in the movie. In fact, it is after that sequence that Childs and Palmer find their storage room "greenhouse" broken into from the outside, which seems to lead to the conclusion that Blair was already up to no good at that point. (Fuchs' body being nailed to the door with a shovel is another clue). Again, the ways in which the movie and script differ makes it nearly impossible to come to anything resembling a firm conclusion.
It seems fairly certain that by the time Mac and the others look for Fuchs and visit Blair, he is not himself. Perhaps he acted strangely to ensure his continued privacy. It seems evident that he could get out when he felt like it, given his ability to gather parts for his ship and the events near the end of the movie. (Perhaps it was he that Fuchs ran into outside the lab.)
No solid conclusions can be drawn on this subject at this time. It is probably going to remain a matter of personal preference.
Who got to the blood and how?
A: This is a question that has no definite answers, but there is a trail of actual events and logic that brings about some strong speculations.
The keys, which play a crucial role to the sabotaged blood scene, disappear from the action when Windows discovers the Bennings-Thing in mid-assimilation. He had gone to get the keys from Garry, came back, dropped them and ran out of the room. We don't see the keys show up again until right before the scene with the sabotaged blood. Someone obviously found them, used them, and somehow got them inconspicuously back into the action. (A good guess would be by placing them in or near Garry's quarters.) Watch Windows' face as they argue about who had access to the blood. His guilt from dropping the keys and not speaking up about it is a nice touch.
As for who did the deed, when Copper discovers the sabotaged blood it is still pouring out of the fridge, suggesting a very recent incident. (Contrast this to the script and novel where the blood is already fully dried.) Both Palmer and Norris are not present after locking up Blair when the men come up with the idea for a blood serum test. Perfect time to hit the blood supply. The other remaining men, Windows, Nauls, and Clark were most likely at their respective areas. (Clark distracted with his dead dogs and Windows probably recovering from his recent beating.) These two, Palmer and Norris, most likely Things now working together, were up to no good.
If Norris was really a Thing, then why did he decline leadership of the team?
A: It probably passes up the opportunity because it knows full well that the leader will fall under close scrutiny by the other men, scrutiny that it would not be able to hold up to. (Just look what happened to Garry and Mac.) Norris-Thing had very quietly gained a level of trust with the men and used this position to keep the attention focused on others. It worked.
It also works well as a believable excuse to the other men because, as an imitation, it knows that Norris has a weak heart and the stress might not be a good thing. "Sorry fellas, I'm not up to it."
What happened to Fuchs?
A: This is a matter of debate. Did Fuchs, upon learning that MacReady could be a Thing, burn himself in despair? Did he burn himself to prevent the imminent assimilation by a Thing? Or was he set upon by a Thing who preferred to simply kill him before he could devise a way to expose it? Evidence is conflicting, and there are points to support all views.
To begin with, though the manner of death differs from the script and book than that of the movie, it seems likely that the culprit is Blair-Thing. In the script and novel, Fuchs is impaled to a door with a shovel - a move that cannot be construed as suicide. In that scene, the complex had been broken into from the outside. Given that Blair was able to get out and gather parts for his ship, it would appear that Blair was also the culprit in the movie as the form that frightens Fuchs outside the lab and lures him outside the building.
Suicide 1. Did Fuchs kill himself because of his discovery about MacReady? Possibly. It might have been intended that Fuchs be the vessel by which the evidence is brought against Mac, and perhaps he was too afraid and paranoid to do anything but set himself afire to spare himself the dilemma. The Thing that was attempting the frame-up would have to re-plant the evidence somewhere else where it could be found, explaining why shredded underwear wound up being found in Mac's shack.
Suicide 2. Did a Thing come after him once he was sufficiently far away from the entrance to the building? Like the Norwegian man who cut his own throat with a straight razor, did Fuchs prefer to die rather than be taken over? This, too, would make it necessary to plant the evidence in Mac's shack, since the intended messenger was now dead.
Murder. Fuchs was lured outside, and Blair-Thing could've confronted him then. Dousing Fuchs with kerosene would have been fairly easy to do at that point (Fuchs was holding a lit flare) and would ensure that the last reliable scientific mind perished. Blair's statement to MacReady that, "It ain't Fuchs... It ain't Fuchs," may have been implying intimate knowledge of that fact. Why not assimilate him? His prolonged absence would make the men very suspicious, and he would likely have been tied down with the others to await another solution. In fact, in the script and book, Mac instructs whoever finds Fuchs to kill him, as he had been gone long enough to be assimilated.
No solid conclusions can be drawn on this subject at this time. It is probably going to remain a matter of personal preference.
What's up with Norris clutching at his chest?
A: According to the script and book, Norris has an incipient heart condition that everyone knows about. This is backed up by Carpenter's statement on the audio commentary on the Collector's DVD, wherein he states in the first moments of Norris's discomfort that they are "establishing Norris's heart condition." To further this point, it is a fact that those who are stationed in the Antarctic undergo considerable physical examination, and it is highly unlikely that someone with a heart condition would be allowed the assignment without all his comrades knowing about it.
Another theory that has gone around is that the chest-clutching was the result of Norris being in the final stages of assimilation. This seems to be based on the idea that Norris was not the first assimilated, that there is no heart condition, and that a Norris-thing would have no reason to "fake" a heart condition when nobody is around to see. This simply doesn't hold up to the available facts, especially when considering that the Thing, when imitating an organism, imitates it perfectly - including its defects. Were it to "repair" such a heart condition, it would risk drawing attention to itself.
There is little visual accountability for what an organism, being taken over from the inside, appears as. We see this most clearly with Windows, after he is mauled by Palmer-Thing, who appears as a bloody "glurping" mess as he is reconstituted by Thing cells. It is doubtful that a Thing nearing completion in this way would have been appearing for a great deal of time as an otherwise normal human, but suddenly wracked by chest pain from the completion of the assimilation process.
Why did Palmer-Thing point out the escaping Norris Spider-Head?
A: It would certainly give the impression of being human, wouldn't it? :-)
Things probably watch out for each other as much as possible, but the Norris-Thing's survival was compromised. Palmer-Thing had nothing to lose (and the men's confidence to gain) at that point by pointing it out.
In the same way, it could be asked why MacReady shot Clark. The logic probably applies both ways, though in a more twisted sense to the Things.
Why kill poor Windows?
A: It is likely that Windows was no longer human at that point. He had been viciously mauled by Palmer-Thing, in what appears to be the organism's favorite method for assimilation: violent flesh rendering and fluid injection. By the time MacReady returns from destroying Palmer-thing, Windows is sitting in the corner, recomposing, and making unusual "glurping" sounds. The tied down men scream that "It's coming back!" Windows was beyond saving, and was becoming a Thing. MacReady had to torch him. This also lends power to the argument that the "parent" Thing need not be present to finish the job once it is started.
How smart is the Thing?
A: The Thing's level of intelligence is a function of its size. The larger the Thing, the more intelligent it is likely to be. The smaller the Thing, the less intelligent it will be. MacReady's blood test is directly dependent on this idea. The novel has Mac explaining his theory in greater detail than the film:
"When attacked, it looks like even a fragment of one of these things will try to survive as best it's able. Even a sample of its blood. Of course, there's no higher nervous system, no brain to suppress a natural instinct like that if it's in the best interests of the larger whole to do so. The cells have to act instinctively instead of intelligently. Protect themselves from freezing, say. Or from incineration. The kind that might be caused by a hot needle, for instance." (Alan Dean Foster, The Thing, 169)
This perhaps also accounts for why the Norris spiderhead scurried from its hiding spot when it did. Maybe its body mass was not sufficiently large enough to form an intelligent brain center. Consequently, it didn't know enough not to blow its cover when the men still presented a danger.
On the other hand, a full-sized Thing is extremely intelligent. It is theorized that it has the combined intelligences of all the organisms it has ever assimilated. This is borne out by the fact that Blair-thing, having likely been a product of either the Norwegian dog directly or one of its descendants (Norris or Palmer), has the intelligence to build a non-terrestrial ship out of helicopter and tractor parts. Blair-thing "inherited" the intelligences of its previous organisms, the knowledge being passed into the newest assimilant.
How is a Thing able to imitate the behavior of a person so perfectly?
A: This obviously has to do with how the Thing can retain the memories and brain patterns of its victims. The most detailed description of this is found in the novel as Blair explains to the other men how a Thing could take over a dog while maintaining its canine behavior:
Blair's voice remained even, tutorial. "As you say, the body is only designed to keep so much organic material alive and functioning. Portion's of this dog's brain, for example, have been blocked off by new structures. The flow of oxygenated blood has been redirected."
"In other words," Copper said quietly, "part of its brain has been turned off."
Blair nodded. "Certain cerebral regions were dead before this animal died, having been supplanted in importance by new activity elsewhere."
"What regions were kill ... were turned off?"
"Difficult to say. There was massive parasitic invasion. Some of those which control portions of the memory, intelligence, and in particular individuality. Hard to tell with a dog, of course, be it dead or alive." He turned his gaze back to the interlocked bodies.
"One cell is enough. The DNA pattern of the new host is irrevocably altered. And so on and so on, each animal it takes over becoming a duplicate of the original thing."
"You been into Childs's weed, Blair?" Norris muttered.
Blair's fist slammed onto the table. "Look, I know it's hard to accept! I know it's difficult to picture an enemy you can't see. But if that stuff gets into you system, in about an hour --"
"It takes you over," Fuchs finished for him.
"It's more than that, more than you becoming a part of it. The 'you' is gone, wiped out, shunted aside permanently by a new set of cellular instructions. It retains only what it needs of the original, the way it used the memory patterns of the Norwegian dog to make certain it acted in a recognizably doglike manner."
"It licked my hand," Norris murmured, "as it was being chased by those guys in the helicopter. It came right up to me and licked my hand and whined for help."
Blair nodded. "Sure it did. It keeps anything useful. This organism is highly efficient, not wasteful. And it's clever. Much too clever for my liking."
(Alan Dean Foster, The Thing, 81, 82-83)
Does a Thing know that they are a Thing?
A: Yes. A Thing is no longer the person that was being imitated. That person is dead, and an alien imposter is in its place. So, there is no longer awareness coming from the human that once was for it to know or not know. Therefore, if you are sitting there wondering if you are a Thing, you certainly aren't.
In the blood test scene, the men themselves appear to doubt their humanity, but they probably weren't operating at peak logical power (several days of no sleep), still didn't know 100% how the alien operated, and were unaware that a Thing had been out consciously scavenging parts and framing people (except for Mac, the victim of a framing, who seemed very confident in who he is). It was also an important dramatic device to keep the tension up in that scene.