Fundamental to the film’s success, however, is Bill Lancaster’s script, a meditation on division and distrust as relevant today as it was back in ‘82, carrying with it a terrifyingly simple conceit: who is The Thing?
A nightmarish riff on the whodunnit formula, in place of a murderer the film instead centered on a shape-shifting alien capable of assimilating and imitating its human hosts—more than several at a time. The Thing invited viewers to share in the fear and suspicion of its characters while also trying to ascertain whether everyone is who they say they are. A setup ripe for repeat viewings and multiple, overlapping and often contradictory fan theories, Carpenter, to his credit, has kept his own counsel on the truth behind the many claims that have surfaced down the years, and that’s only helped enhance the lore of the film itself. The question remains, who is assimilated first? And who, if anyone, is human by the end?
The Background and Cast of Suspects
At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to the 12-strong American team based at Outpost 31 in Antarctica. Thus our list of potential Thing victims is as follows:
Helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell), senior biologist Dr. Blair (A. Wilford Brimley), assistant biologist Fuchs (Joel Polis), resident cook Nauls (T.K. Carter), assistant mechanic Palmer (David Clennon), chief mechanic Childs (Keith David), physician Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart), geologist Norris (Charles Hallahan), meteorologist George Bennings (Peter Maloney), dog handler Clark (Richard Masur) , station commander Garry (Donald Moffat), and radio operator Windows (Thomas G. Waites).
Having weighed up the theories and evidence on screen, here’s a timeline detailing when and who is assimilated.
Debate has long raged over the identity of the first of The Thing’s victims, whose fate is earmarked during a subtly terrifying scene in which the alien skulks the corridors of the compound, fresh from having evaded the two crazed Norwegians who pursued it from their own camp.