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John Carpenter’s The Thing is a certified genre classic, and at least some of the credit for that comes down to its bleak, ambiguous ending. It leaves audiences — and its two surviving characters — without any answers or resolution, a brave choice given that Hollywood likes a lot of things, but complexity and ambiguity aren’t generally on that list. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, to learn that Universal, the studio behind The Thing, tried to talk Carpenter into leaving audiences with a more traditional — and much less interesting — final scene.
Speaking at the CapeTown Film Festival a few weeks back, Carpenter revealed that Universal put up “big time” resistance to the director’s vision of The Thing’s ending, and instead wanted to basically just chop off the last part of what we saw in the finished film. Here’s how Carpenter recalls it:
The studio asked me to cut the movie, drop out the final scene, have Kurt Russell do what he does with the dynamite, blow it up and then walk out, and the movie ends. It didn’t test any differently. I said, ‘We’re not gonna do that. We’re gonna do my ending.’
And the history of science fiction filmdom breathes a collective and retroactive sigh of relief. After all, we’ve seen what The Thing looks like when filtered through people who aren’t John Carpenter. Kudos to the director for sticking to his guns. Without the infamous ending The Thing still would have been an excellent movie, but you can’t underestimate how much that cinematic gut-punch counts toward fans’ fondness for it.
As for the ambiguous ending in question, Carpenter had a few more words to share:
Really, this is a movie about the end of the world.It does not have a real happy ending. And it has what a lot of audiences cannot stand, which is an ending that has no real conclusion. It’s ambiguous. Now, I do know, in the end, who the Thing is, but I cannot tell you.
And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Come to think of it, I think I’ll go rewatch The Thing right now — classic ending and all.