Title: They Live
Release Date: November 4, 1988
Director: John Carpenter
Production Company:Alive Films | Larry Franco Productions
A decade after Halloween, John Carpenter made this even movie that feels even more low-budget. But I guess he wasn’t going to get a lot of money to make this odd satire of Reagan’s America (that somehow feels even more relevant in 2022).
The movie starts off at a comfortable slow pace with no real science fiction or horror elements. Drifter Nada (Roddy Piper doing a half-decent Kurt Russell impersonation) arrives in Los Angeles and finds work at a construction site and a place to stay at a shanty town adjacent to a church. Nada begins to suspect that the people in the church aren’t really running a church but before he can learn any more, the church and the homeless encampment are destroyed by the police. And honestly this scene is more scary than anything else in the movie because it so real.
Before fleeing the church, Nada takes a box of sunglasses and discovers that they help him see the world as it really is. Subliminal messages are everywhere telling people to consume, conform, and not question authority. Furthermore, there are skull-faced aliens living amongst humanity, and getting people to collaborate with them by giving them wealth and power. Nada instantly becomes a revolutionary.
Now, this movie has a leftist bent that coincides with my own political leanings, but I am uncomfortable with the idea that everything bad in the world is due to aliens. After all, conservatives have a lot of conspiracy theories blaming socialists, Jewish people, Muslims, LGBTQ people, you name for all that they see wrong in the world. Meanwhile some Democrats choose to believe that everything the Trump/MAGA types do is personally coordinated by Vladimir Putin. The truth is that there are a lot of assholes in humanity and a lot of assholishness within every human.
The thing that this movie really gets right is that through ignorance, indifference, or manipulation the assholes can get otherwise good people to fight each other. This is exemplified by the back alley fist fight between Nada and his only friend in L.A. Frank (Keith David) when he tries to get Frank to wear the glasses. The fight purportedly last six minutes, although it feels longer and gets at the futility of human nature.
Unfortunately, the final act of the movie isn’t as strong as everything that set it up. Perhaps because it’s more reliant on special effects the cheapness really shows. But the pacing also picks up and rushes too swiftly toward a resolution that doesn’t make much sense. I feel like the first hour would’ve made a great pilot for an ongoing TV show. Nevertheless, the legacy of this movie cannot be denied. The “OBEY” logos were adopted into Shepard Fairey’s street art, right down to the font, and the oft-quoted line “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum,” has it’s origin here.