Amongst the Americans in John Carpenter's The Thing, who was the first to get infected?
It is very difficult to say with certainty, which is precisely what Carpenter was going for. He didn't want us to know much about who was infected and when it happened.
Certainly, the first Thing we see is the Dog-Thing being chased by the Norwegians in the helicopter. The second Thing we see is the seemingly dead, two-headed monstrosity at the Norwegian camp.
After the Dog-Thing is taken into Outpost 31 by Clark, it would appear that its first victim is the man whose shadow we see on the wall of the room into which the Dog-Thing walks. This shadow wasn't actually from any of the cast members, because Carpenter wanted to leave the audience guessing who the shadow belonged to (the shadow was actually that of stuntman Dick Warlock). However, the producer, Stuart Cohen, explicitly states that it is supposed to be the shadow of Palmer.
THE SHADOW ON THE WALL was intended to be Palmer. At the time of filming David Clennon's silhouette was considered too distinct, a dead giveaway. Cinematographer Dean Cundey tried to soften the edges to diffuse the image, but in the end John used stunt coordinator Dick Warlock to throw everyone off the scent...
- Cohen's blog, "The Original Fan".
However, we don't actually see the Dog-Thing assimilating Palmer, so we really don't know if this is when Palmer is assimilated, but it does seem very likely.
Next, the as-yet undiscovered Dog-Thing is put into the kennel, where it soon attempts to assimilate the other dogs; it probably would have succeeded if it hadn't been discovered by MacReady and then destroyed by Childs' flamethrower. As far as we know, nothing of the Dog-Thing survived the attack with the flamethrower. The only Thing still alive in Outpost 31 at this point was Palmer-Thing.
The first human assimilation we see taking place on screen is Bennings'. He is apparently dead and in the process of being assimilated when Windows walks in and sees the whole thing (no pun intended). Windows runs to get the others, and when they return to the room, Bennings-Thing is gone and the window is broken. They all run outside and find Bennings-Thing, still only partially assimilated, and kill it.
All of this is based on the way events play out on screen. We don't have access to any other information about the timeline of infection, because Carpenter deliberately chose to avoid setting up such a timeline. When he is asked about these kinds of questions, he always says that he just doesn't know - and as far as I can tell, he is being completely honest and candid. He doesn't know, because if anyone knew, it would reduce the effectiveness of the movie's central theme: paranoia and uncertainty. If no one knows when each character was assimilated, the veil of uncertainty can never be lifted, and the movie will never lose its psychological impact.
The only other bit of information I am aware of is a brief and tentative suggestion from the producer, Stuart Cohen. Cohen says that, in his personal opinion, Blair was probably assimilated sometime between the autopsy on the two-headed Thing from the Norwegian camp, and Blair's freak out in the radio room. But we need to remember that even Cohen and Carpenter, who presumably know more about this than anyone else, insist that even they don't know when each character was assimilated.
We can say something with relative certainty: The following characters were not assimilated:
- Fuchs (this is made clear in a deleted scene in which Fuchs' body is found impaled with a shovel in the greenhouse).
- Copper (aka Doc)
And these characters were only partially assimilated before they were killed:
- Bennings (he was very close to being completely assimilated, but not quite done)
- Windows (he had just been attacked by Palmer-Thing when MacReady torched him, and although he certainly would have been completely assimilated if MacReady hadn't intervened, the process had just begun when he was killed)
The following characters were definitely assimilated:
The following characters might have been assimilated:
- MacReady (although this seems extremely unlikely, and in fact, almost impossible)
- Childs (the jury is out on this one, but my personal belief is that he, and MacReady, were both humans all the way through the film)
So, in short, the timeline I have just provided is probably the closest we can get to the truth, but we have to keep in mind that there really isn't an absolute "truth". I would imagine that Carpenter would probably agree with my assessment, more or less, but he wouldn't say so as the director, only as a member of the audience. This is just how events seem to play out in the story.
I agree to bits and pieces of everyone's assumptions. Here's my input
- the camera gives away a lot if you focus on each of the characters' faces. This is the first film I've seen this done so well and discreet that it's almost missed if you're not looking for it. The people who turn into the thing don't have a gleam in their eyes.
- Touching the blood isn't enough to infect. It has to be within a cut or saliva.
- Notice the dog when it is put into the kennel, it looks like a dog but doesn't really know how to "be" a dog. It just sits like the others because that's what they're doing. Look back at Palmer a couple of scenes after he passes the joint. He has his headphones on during the time they all rejoin each other yet the headset isn't plugged in. He's just going through the motions.
My order of infection:
Palmer from dog
(Part of assimilated dog escapes)
Bennings from store room thing
When Fuchs was attacked when the power went out, he realized he was being consumed but didn't have time to find anyone to tell them what was happening so he killed himself.
Windows from Palmer thing.
Blair from touching his lip to the eraser. (Note: Blair knew he was infected while in solitude, which is why there is a noose in the frame when MacReady opens the window.)
Some side notes: we don't see Nauls being taken, he just disappears. The last part of the dog-thing was injured when it was torched so it hid away in the basement where it comes into final contact with MacReady. Notice that it's a combo of dog, Blair, and a handful of others.
At the end of the film, MacReady was tossing Molotov cocktails in each room. He saved the dynamite for the boss fight. But notice when he leaves the burning wreckage that he is holding one of the bottles with gasoline in it. He looks like he's about to take a drink but realized that it wasn't alcohol. This is when Childs shows up from nowhere. Mac offers him a "drink" after saying "let's just wait a while and see what happens." This is him testing Childs to see if he's a thing or not, and sure enough, Childs takes the "drink" like any normal human would which makes MacReady laugh knowing what he knows now.
Childs at this point has had more than enough time to be turned into a thing from sharing Palmer's stogie.
Back to the glimmer of humanity that the camera gives away, at this last scene between Childs and MacReady, notice that MacReady's eyes still have that glimmer and Childs' doesn't. Also pay attention to the breathing throughout the film. Those whose breath you can see tend to be still human. At the end, you can't see Childs' breath.
So the THING is not duplicating the humans, it is slowly changing all of its cells to be "thing" cells.
Loved this film when I first saw it back in 1999, and although I think it is still good (first time is always the best with a film like this), John Carpenter should have had an idea who was infected an by what means for continuity purposes. Once upon a time I would have agreed that it was supposed to be Palmer's shadow we see when the dog walks into the room.
However, in a subsequent scene we Palmer light up a huge spliff in his mouth, then pass it onto Childs. Sometime later on Fuchs explains that it only takes one molecule of The Thing/Creature/Alien to assimilate an entire organism and therefore recommends that each person prepares theirs own meals/drinks and only eat from sealed cans. If this is true, and Palmer was indeed the first to be assimilated by the dog, then that means that Childs was also infected, except the subsequent blood test proved that he was human.
So, this means that it must've been Norris' shadow we saw and he was (presumably) the first to be infected by the dog (a possibility as the shadow looks like it could be Norris or Palmer), either that or it was Palmer's shadow and he wasn't assimilated until sometime later on (which I highly doubt) or the third possibility is that is was Palmer's shadow but the filmmakers made a continuity error because even they didn't think about who, and when, and how each character was assimilated, or they simply forgot about the information what Fuchs would later reveal from Blair notes.
As for Blair, I think he was assimilated sometime after he is 'Quarantined'/isolated in that hut, as The Thing had ample opportunity to attack and assimilated someone who had been segregated and isolated from the rest of the group.
Another possibility is that they were all infected to a degree. The statement was made in the film that only a particle is needed to take over an entire organism.
Nauls handles the first shredded clothing
Blair's surgical gloves stop at the wrist and show blood from the split head corpse brought back from the Norwegian camp on his skin
MacReady uses a stick of dynamite to blow up flaming Palmer-thing and the wind blows fragments back towards him
And so on.
If it can simulate you cells at a time, what's to say you would be aware of the moment you were either infected or completely taken over? If it can simulate your brain a cell at a time, why wouldn't your memories be available? You aren't born knowing English, knowing coordination, knowing that we walking on our feet vs our hands.
I believe Norris was the first to assimilate. The shadow almost certainly is a match before Palmer. The confusion lies with the next two assured attacks. So I believe Norris was first....and then Palmer after macready makes the recorded tape explaining how Windows found a pair of shredded long johns...now I think we can believe it's Palmer who is second because right before Fuchs gets burned a shadow passed him in the hallway. The thing to remember is that the shadow was TALL...Palmer was taller than Norris! And as for Blair. Let's not forget that a piece of the "thing" escaped before the first dog pen burning. So obviously Blair was consumed most likely right before or after Fuchs was murdered. I say that because with what was built by the Blair "thing"...that would take days to make for sure! Anyone disagree with me?
I generally agree with Greyweather--it fits the evidence. Just a few additional points:
If each particle is its own organism, maybe each particle can choose who it infects. If we assume that, it would explain why Copper (who was massively exposed, but not infected) remained human--because the Thing(s) knew he would be dead soon and any change would have been right in front of everyone.
I also think the process must be gradual when just a few particles are involved. That would explain Norris's chest and stomach pains (as his internal organs were being transformed). It would also explain why an infected Palmer could pass a joint to Childs without the latter being immediately transformed.
However, I wonder why it took so long to infect Childs--either Childs had some special resistance or it chose not to infect him at that time. Neither seems likely. I would, therefore, suggest that Palmer was human at that time, and that Norris got infected first. I don't regard the producer's comment as meaning that Palmer was definitely first--only that they initially intended that. I think Carpenter is a better source, and he kept it open.
I think it's pretty clear that infection requires more than casual contact on the skin--the cells need to be in contact with mucus membranes. If touch were enough, everyone who petted the dog would be infected at that point, and the person who spent the most time with the dogs (Clark) would surely have been infected. That also makes sense with respect to Blair--if he was infected by touching the blood, why did he destroy the means by which the Thing(s) could most easily get to civilization? Why would he warn everyone? If we assume that skin contact does not infect, then that removes the difficulty, and Blair was transformed in isolation--probably before he told MacReady "I'm much better now."
About the eraser-lip contact: yeah, that actually seems stupid for Blair to do (though in the original story it is argued--incorrectly--that something so alien could not be harmful to any life on earth). However, maybe the Thing's cells won't adhere to something non-living (like rubber) and so there was no infection. Or maybe Blair washed his face afterward. But that gesture is the biggest problem in arguing that Blair is infected late (per the argument in 4).
Just my $0.02...
Here's my timeline on the assimilatations of the characters.
Dog infects Palmer- I believe that was his shadow and not Norris's. I think it would take time for his cells to be replaced by the Thing's so it was safe to share a joint so soon afterwards. He probably didn't even know he was infected. His assimilation was overtime.
Bennings Strangled- Watch it
Norris- Sometime after the expedition to the Ufo. I don't think the Thing can assimilate memories and experience, and Norris was talking in science talk during that trip. I think the thing can only mimic people. It needs to learn names and distinctive personality traits. Additionally, I think his was assimilation over time like Palmer and he wasn't fully assimilated until after his first chest pain.
Blair- Although it's possible that he was already assimiliated by the time Mac was asking him questions, I think it's highly unlikely because of the simple fact he was eating when Mac came by and he didn't know he was coming. I'm not entirely sure on the Thing's needs, but I think it gains sustanence from the cells it absorbs and doesn't need food. And it wouldn't have wasted a valuable "oh I'm normal" moment like eating on the off chance someone would come by and see it.
Childs- Sometime after everyone goes out to administer the test to Blair. Although I personally believe he was human at the end.
Gary Shushed- Watch it
Nauls- If there's a sequel, his Thing should be the catalyst of the movie as we never see his body afterwards.
Personally I do not buy the whole particle infection theory. It is never shown in the movie. All the time when an assimilation takes place it happens with a direct contact (e.g. Windows, Garry, Bennings, probably the first one assimilated by the dog-thing, the shredded clothes suggest a violent takeover). The whole film wouldn't make sense with the theory as the first infected human could contaminate the food right before MacReady talks with Fuchs about the issue of particle infection. The whole team could be infected with this move.
In my opinion they do not fully understand the organism (neither does the viewer) and their lack of knowledge adds further to the paranoia. They even think sharing their food could infect them. But this is never confirmed.
Therefore also Palmer could be the first infected human as stated by the co-producer Stuart Cohen and sharing a joint with Childs would not be sufficient for an assimilation. See: https://theoriginalfan.blogspot.com/2011/09/shadow-on-wall.html
Additionally Blair could not have been infected by raising the pencil to his mouth. Carpenter stated sometime that it was a mistake and not planned for the scene. So this cannot be regarded as evidence. Unfortunately I did not find the original source for his statement. It is also mentioned on IMDB. See: https://thething.fandom.com/wiki/Blair
To sum it up: Assimilations are always shown with direct contact. The particle infection theory would prove the Things behaviour as highly unlogical. Why risk nightly violent takeovers and assimilating the dogs in the kennel when it could also "put some cells" in the dog food and human meals? We would not have such a masterpiece with that theory.