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The paranoia and uncertainty in John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) is so well constructed that there is still no consensus on who gets infected, or even when some people do. The thing I really like about it is that the creators may not have actually had a definitive answer in mind themselves, but we should be able to interpret the most likely sequence of events using in-world and real-world logic. The FAQs at this fansite and IMDB do a great job of presenting some theories and explanations. The thing is, the question-answer format makes it a bit hard to follow the events as the movie unfolds.

Are there any timelines available (or could they be made) that chart the different theories of the infection spreading through the crew? For when I inevitably watch the film again.

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  • 1
    The infected timeline is an attempt to put answers where something can't and shouldn't be answered. This is what horrifies the viewer. Carpenter did a great job on playing with your paranoia. In some parts of the film, it appears that even the infected may not know they are infected until they are in close proximity with or alone with another to be infected, or are injured and must react (like in the blood tests). Perfect imitation and the camera not always on all members is what makes it impossible to answer, thus more fun.
    – BB Stacker
    Dec 13, 2012 at 12:48
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    @BBStacker - Actually, it is pretty clear that people who have been assimilated by the Thing know that they are Things. See this answer on the Science Fiction and Fantasy SE.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jul 6, 2015 at 1:27
  • Who ever is in the shadow when the dog goes into the room my guess is Palmer he would be first to get infected and last to actually show how long he could hide the infection plus he wanted Mac out of the way
    – user23344
    Jul 26, 2015 at 11:42

2 Answers 2

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Been searching and found this timeline from outpost31.com, picking up on a lot of timeline objects, but not specific to infections.

TIMELINE

The following timeline is based on actual times spotted in the film, mostly from the clock on the rec room wall. Other times can be reasonably inferred, and these are surrounded by parentheses. Other events are impossible to place except that they occur on a certain day, in which case they are listed without times. (NOTE: The 4:30 AM timing of Dogtown is taken directly from the script, showing the passage of time from when Clark kennels the Norwegian dog until we have the attack.)

Day 1

8:25 AM Men relaxing in the rec room; Mac playing chess in his shack
(8:30) AM Norwegian helicopter does flyby; Dog-Thing arrives at Outpost 31
9:36 AM Norwegian body lying on ping-pong table; discussion about what to do
9:55 AM Mac and Copper leave for Norwegian camp
(11:00) AM Mac and Copper arrive at Norwegian base and begin their inspection
12:30 PM Dog-Thing takes first victim at Outpost 31
(2:00) PM Mac and Copper return to Outpost 31
2:25PM Unwrapping and initial inspection of burned Norwegian-Thing
Autopsies of Norwegian pilot and Norwegian-Thing
7:00 PM Men relaxing/playing poker in the rec room; Palmer and Childs in their bunkroom
(7:05) PM Clark cages the Dog-Thing

Day 2

4:30 AM Dog-Thing attacks the sled dogs in the kennel
AM Autopsy of Dog-Thing and dead dogs in the lab; discussion amongst the men
AM Review of Norwegian video tapes
AM Mac, Norris, Palmer leave for crash site
AM Mac, Norris, Palmer arrive and inspect alien wreckage
PM Mac, Norris, Palmer arrive back at Outpost #31
PM Discussion/debate in the rec room about the derelict ship
5:36 PM Blair performs computer simulation and calculations
PM Transferring Norwegian-Thing carcasses into the store room
PM Bennings attacked by the Norwegian-Thing and killed; Bennings-Thing torched
PM Blair goes berserk

Day 3

AM Blair locked in the tool shed
AM Blood discovered to be sabotaged; Garry relinquishes power to MacReady
(9:20) PM Blood is burned and destroyed; Mac makes his speech: "I know I'm human..."
9:35 PM Doc, Garry, and Clark are drugged and tied down in the rec room

Day 4

There are no events seen in the film during this day. The blizzard starts hitting the camp at approx. 3:30 AM.

Day 5

(8:15) PM Mac makes his tape: "The storm's been hitting us hard now for 48 hours..."
(8:55) PM The lights in the lab go out
(9:00) PM Fuchs is killed
10:05 PM Mac organizes search parties to find Fuchs
(10:15) PM Mac speaks with Blair at the tool shed
(10:17) PM Fuchs body discovered; Mac and Nauls head up to the shack
(10:50) PM The men begin boarding up the outside doors
(11:20) PM Mac breaks inside through the supply room window and takes charge
(11:30) PM Norris-Thing bursts out and is killed; Spider-Head torched

Day 6

(12:26) AM Mac directs everyone to tie themselves down in the rec room
12:28 AM Clark is shot and killed by Mac
12:44 AM Palmer-Thing's blood jumps out of petri dish
12:47 AM Palmer-Thing hit with flamethrower
(1:15) AM Blair is discovered to be missing; ship found under the tool shed
(1:22) AM Nauls thinks he sees Childs; generator is blown
(1:25) AM Tool shed and Blair-Thing's escape ship destroyed
(1:30) AM Men start preparing to destroy the outpost
(1:55) AM Bulldozer crashes through rec room wall
(2:00) AM Mac, Garry, and Nauls begin destroying Outpost #31
(2:20) AM Garry attacked by the Blair-Thing in the old storage room
(2:22) AM Nauls wanders off into the old storage room
(2:23) AM Confrontation with the Blair-Monster
(2:45) AM MacReady and Childs have their final encounter . . .

Also, this two-part infection timeline analysis might be the closest thing you get to a timeline chart for this movie.

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  • Thanks for the links. I had found the first but I didn't realise Rob Ager had something on it. His work is always really good.
    – Verge
    Feb 3, 2012 at 11:26
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+100

On the same site you linked to (Outpost 31), there are interviews with John Carpenter and Stuart Cohen (the producer). In both of these interviews, both men are repeatedly asked to disclose when various characters were assimilated. The answer to every single one of these questions is the same: "We don't know."

There are any number of fan-created theoretical timelines of infection, but none of them are any better than the others, because there is no correct answer to this question. The director and producer deliberately avoided setting things (no pun intended) in stone, and Carpenter genuinely shows no interest whatsoever in the issue. He doesn't know, and he doesn't care.

Cohen says more than Carpenter, however: in his opinion, Blair was assimilated sometime between the autopsy on the two-headed Thing and his tantrum in the radio room. But, just like the fan-created timelines, this belief is no closer to the truth than any other, for the simple reason that there is no truth. People were assimilated whenever you think they were assimilated.

This is probably my favorite movie ever, and I've probably seen it 20 or 30 times. I've read the novella upon which it was based (Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell), I've read the short story inspired by the movie (The Things, by Peter Watts), I've read every interview I can find and watched every video of every Question and Answer panel Carpenter and the rest of the cast and crew have done, and I've even read all the draft scripts available online. I've also seen the mediocre prequel several times, although I don't particularly enjoy it, and read interviews and drafts of the script for that as well.

As much as I love The Thing, and as curious as I am about these kinds of questions, I don't try to figure out all the details, because - as you have already said yourself - the whole point of the movie is the crushing sense of uncertainty. I would assume that the reason Carpenter and Cohen never determined when each character was assimilated is because, if they did so, it would create an absolute certainty - precisely the thing they were trying to avoid. If the people who made the movie don't know when each character was assimilated, no one can ever know.

And that, quite simply, is what makes this film such a masterpiece.

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    Excellent answer. Attempting to chart out who got infected when would be like trying to understand how a magic trick works. Once you know that, it's no longer magic.
    – Omegacron
    Dec 8, 2015 at 18:27

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