A Review by Jason
Starring: Roddy Piper, Keith David
Directed by: John Carpenter
Movie Released: 1988
No one expects a master of horror to make a film that has any true cultural meaning to it. If you ask any zombie loving, blood lusting, thrill seeking horror geek what the true meaning behind any horror film is, I know for a fact that they can contrive some deep meaning out of even the likes of Saw 3-D. But the truth of the matter is, you can make anything seem worth while and meaningful (except Juwanna Mann). In 1988 director John Carpenter set out to make a B movie thriller filled full of social commentary that few saw, and aside from the cult status it has gained in some circles even fewer remember.
They Live is Carpenter’s delve into the “big brother is watching” syndrome that we all fear even to this day, and foreshadows society’s inability to see the big picture. Drawing deep into the well and scraping the near bottom of the surface, Carpenter reels in former pro wrestler, “Hot Rod” Rowdy Roddy Piper as the film’s star. Piper stars as a lone drifter who stumbles upon a pair of sunglasses that allow him to uncover an alien conspiracy. Using subliminal mind control devices and living and working amongst us, these intelligent beings have found a way to control the human race and convince them that they don’t exist. However, now armed with the truth, it is up to Piper to be one of mankind’s saviors.
On a surface level, we can find They Live to be just another sci-fi thriller of the ages. It’s got a straight forward plot, a low rent cast warning of alien enslavement and some cheap special effects. In other words, it has all the cheese of a B movie that you would normally skip right over. Aside from the cult status it has achieved, They Live is generally over looked as something to check out on the average movie goer’s must see list. I on the other hand, put it on any one’s list as a film to check out in your lifetime.
The film is a social commentary on how people like to live in blindness, and mocks the old saying, “what I don’t know doesn’t hurt me.” In perhaps it’s most mocking scene the film spends 6 minutes focusing on an alleyway fight scene between Roddy Piper and Kieth David. Replicated in episodes of South Park in the famous “Cripple Fight” episode, one can look at this scene as a pointless nothing fight to enhance the film’s action sequences. However the scene holds a deeper meaning. This 6 minute struggle, where Piper tries to beat David into submission until he puts on the glasses, is actually a commentary on the daily struggles people have with others. No matter what the cause, we find ourselves fighting one another to see things our way. While we may not be physically beating someone into submission, we do find ourselves going to battle daily for our causes. David’s character likes to live in the dark, he’d rather keep his head down and work hard. As he states, “I’ve walked a white line my entire life, I’m not about to screw that up.” Too many times, we don’t question what we don’t understand, and we don’t listen to the alternative point of view. We are like sheep, blindly following because we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves. And then there are people like Piper’s character who say “The white line is the middle of the road, and that’s the worst place to drive.” He’s not afraid to be inquisitive and to see the world for what it really is.
Carpenter’s film is first and foremost a tale of corporate greed and corporate culture and how we all become willingslaves to it without really even knowing. Sure the film has aliens that can only be seen with x-ray specs, but if you see only the surface level, you are missing the point. The “aliens” controlling the show, are corporate elitists, convincing you to “buy. consume, obey, and stay asleep.” As long as we do these things, they are still in power. It’s scary to think, but 22 years ago Carpenter was making a social commentary on some of the very challenges that we face today. Politicians hope we remain apathetic and disengaged, so they can stay in power and “fundamentally change” the United States. Corporations hope that we don’t see through the complete idiocy of advertising campaigns and the “I need that!” culture we live in. We don’t need that new car with a spoiler that doubles as a helicopter, but we think we do. Our shampoo doesn’t need extra proteins and vitamins (after all, hair doesn’t absorb proteins), but we think we do. The corporate culture has us enslaved in this must have environment. It’s our role to obey and not question it.
As the Dow continues to fall, and people are daily beginning to question our leaders actions the messages in film like They Live continue to become more and more relavant. If you haven’t had a chance to check out this Carpenter classic, check it out. If you’re one of those people who would rather not “put on the glasses” don’t watch it for social commentary, just watch it for some good old fashioned B movie fun. Engulf yourself in the cheese known as Roddy Piper one liners such as “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all out of gum.” (which was later stolen for the 90’s classic video game, Duke Nukem) and ” I’m giving you a choice: either put on these glasses or start eatin’ that trash can. “