The Thing is definitely a fun movie, but it’s also incredibly confusing. In fact, it was so confusing, even the film’s own stars like Kurt Russell couldn’t quite wrap their head around it.
Released in 1982, The Thing wasn’t popular with critics when it first came out but has since become regarded as one of the best movies of all time. The premise itself is a bit confusing — a research group in Antarctica being hunted by an extra-terrestrial being that can shapeshift to look like their victims — but with one of best directors (John Carpenter) and one of best actors (Kurt Russell) on board, The Thing still somehow worked. Even if it took some time for audiences to appreciate it.
But Russell especially struggled to understand the metaphysics of The Thing, which led to a lot of questions being asked behind the scenes. But who said Carpenter’s best science fiction movie had to make sense?
“We wasted hours and hours of rehearsal time discussing fucking metaphysics!” David Clennon, who played Palmer in the film, told LA Weekly.
“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.”
But Carpenter told the outlet that there was one question — and one actor in particular — that he couldn’t get away from. “The big question that kept coming to me was: If you were a Thing, would you know?” the director recalled. “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.”
If it was a case of a person turning into The Thing, it’s possible that someone could be The Thing but still have human memories. On the other hand, in the movie, The Thing tends to shapeshift into the likeness of a person. This isn’t the same as being the person, so someone can’t be The Thing and not realize, no matter how you look at it.
For more terrifying moments, check out our guides to the best horror movies, best monster movies, and best alien movies. Or, if you’re more into straight sci-fi, here’s what you need to know about the new movie Avatar 3.