They Live


For the Nov 7 Mole, Joe Clement and I will be discussing They Live, the 1988 cult classic directed by John Carpenter. The movie has been the subject of a full monograph by Jonathan Lethem, commentary by Slavoj Zizek, and a source of inspiration for Shepherd Fairey and other artists. 

As one blogger notes, it no longer looks like science fiction.

The film's main character is an economic migrant played by wrestler Roddy Piper, listed in the credits as Nada. He discovers, and later compels his itinerant coworker Frank, played by Keith David, to also see, that many of the wealthy and powerful people around them are actually ghoulish extraterrestrials, who can only be recognized through special sunglasses, which also reveal that advertisements, magazines, and store signs actually say things like "Obey" and "Consume" and "Marry and Reproduce"; dollar bills bear the message "This is your God."

Most of the population is either blinded by TV signals or else consciously collaborating with the alien free-enterprisers who view the earth as "just another developing planet. The small opposition movement have produced the demystifying sunglasses, and have been trying to hack into the television signal that blinds people to the black-and-white reality of their world . They operate initially out of a church across from the shantytown where Nada and Frank stay. In a scene reminiscent of recent events, police in riot gear use bulldozers to clear the shantytown. When the ghouls realize the protagonist can see them as they are, they send police and alien technology in pursuit, and he flees, shooting aliens and sparing humans, blasts his way through a bank, carjacks the affluent Holly, played by Meg Foster, and makes his way to the source of the brainwashing TV transmitter to destroy it.



Mike Davis on They Live

No More Bubblegum:

Who could have envisioned Occupy Wall Street and its sudden wildflower-like profusion in cities large and small?

John Carpenter could have, and did. Almost a quarter of a century ago (1988), the master of date-night terror (Halloween, The Thing), wrote and directed They Live, depicting the Age of Reagan as a catastrophic alien invasion. In one of the film’s brilliant early scenes, a huge third-world shantytown is reflected across the Hollywood Freeway in the sinister mirror-glass of Bunker Hill’s corporate skyscrapers.

They Live remains Carpenter’s subversive tour de force. Few who’ve seen it could forget his portrayal of billionaire bankers and evil mediacrats and their zombie-distant rule over a pulverized American working class living in tents on a rubble-strewn hillside and begging for jobs. From this negative equality of homelessness and despair, and thanks to the magic dark glasses found by the enigmatic Nada (played by “Rowdy” Roddy Piper), the proletariat finally achieves interracial unity, sees through the subliminal deceptions of capitalism, and gets angry.


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