Note: This post is filled with spoilers. Continue reading only if you've seen The Thing.
What if "Norwegian Passenger with Gun" had been a better shot? The "wolf" may have been killed, but then we wouldn't have this amazing film.
My brother, Ben, tells me that he loves The Thing because you can't trust what the movie shows. I have to disagree. What I love about The Thing is that it's relentlessly honest. The filmmakers have great faith in the to-this-day-still-horrifying models and special effects, and they don't hesitate to show them in all their gory glory.
The Thing has a sizable budget, which allows John Carpenter and cinematographer Dean Cundey to shoot the Antarctic camp in wide shots. This is important because it creates the illusion that we know how everything in that camp is laid out. But what happens just off-screen, right outside our hero, MacReady's (played by Kurt Russell), field of view? It's that mystery, and the characters' paranoia which arises from the Big Unknown, that drives the narrative.
What is the Thing? It's many self-replicating Things. Once the team kills one generation, it devours another team member, because it was with them all along. Despite all the theories the characters toss out, they remain just that: unproven hypotheticals. Who has time to figure out how the Thing actually works while it's on a rampage?
Also, this might sound strange, but the Thing is kind of adorable: especially when it's a walking head with spider legs, trying to flee from MacReady's flamethrower.
Speaking of MacReady, Kurt Russell is perfectly cast. He's so effortlessly assured that the audience immediately accepts him as a natural leader. Which works brilliantly when the filmmakers sow seeds of doubt about his true nature. Maybe he is too perfect, so he's got to be the Thing. Right?
And what does all that paranoia lead to, in the end? A station that's been blown to smithereens by the survivors. Only MacReady and one other teammate remain, eyeing one another with suspicion in the burnt remains of their former home, as they wait to freeze to death.