By: Jenna Zine (A Toast) –
Hapless drifter John Nada (Roddy Piper) is caught up in a conspiracy theory of epic proportions when he gets a hold of some sunglasses that allow him to see society clearly, including the mind-controlling aliens that live among us!
Not long ago, we had a heated discussion about John Carpenter on our private MovieBoozer Facebook page. (Yes, kids – we party without you. But none of this would be possible without you either, so think about that next time you’re put to bed early.) While there were staunch opinions in both pro and con camps, there was also the general consensus that Carpenter deserves a lifetime pass. Though he’s had a substantial amount of flops (recently including 2010’s The Ward), he’s also produced numerous gems. They Live falls in the gem category.
The great thing about this film is how deeply the plotline still reverberates today. Poverty-stricken masses suffer as the divide between rich and poor grows wider. The economy, livable wages, the job market, healthcare, a class/caste system and homelessness are all prominent themes. Corporations lay off employees and then give themselves raises. The rich increase their substantial fiscal portfolios by screwing over the commoners. Sound familiar?
“The Golden Rule: He who has the gold, makes the rules.” The same might be said for guns!
When Nada finally slips on the glasses (discovered after following the fishy goings-on at the church across the street from the shantytown that is briefly his home) a whole new world is revealed. Life is actually dominated by streaming messages to consume, stay asleep, watch more TV and, most ominously, OBEY. (Yes, Shepard Fairey does acknowledge They Live as inspiration for his famous multimedia campaign.) The sunglasses also let Nada see that the rich are actually aliens who use their influence to keep the general population under control. He joins the rebel movement to knock out the alien’s signal, hoping in vain that it will help wake up his fellow Americans…
Nothing to see here. Just another day at the office.
John Carpenter not only directed – he also penned the script under the alias Frank Armitage (which doubles as the name of Nada’s buddy, played by Keith David – as well as an homage to H.P. Lovecraft). Yes, the film feels dated. The special effects are cheesy. The violence is incredibly tame – no doubt, in part, to the reign Tipper Gore held over all things deemed “offensive” – but the message remains strong and it’s a helluva lot of fun to watch. Carpenter’s They Live stands the test of time – as does the best line ever: “I’m here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.” Fucking brilliant.
Cult classic alert! A delight in multiple genres – spanning Sci-Fi, horror and parody – that also sports the chilling reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: (or several) during the five-minute carefully choreographed fight between Nada and Frank. Gotta show off Rowdy Roddy Piper’s skills!
Take a Drink: every time Nada slips on the sunglasses and goes a little nuts.
Take a Drink: if you swear Holly Thompson (played by Meg Foster) must be an alien as well, given the color of her creepy near-clear eyes. You may also substitute a feeling of déjà vu regarding the Kirstie Alley doppelganger angle.
Take a Drink: every time you feel affected by a subliminal message. You might not know it, so your best defense is to “consume” throughout the entire film – just to be safe.
Do a Shot: for this fun fact – Keith David also makes a memorable appearance in Something About Mary as Mary’s (Cameron Diaz) hilariously gruff stepfather.