When I was a child They Live was somewhere between amazing and the greatest movie of all time. This is John Carpenter at the top of his game and completely holds up all these years later. Yeah, it's totally flawless.
The movie serves as a good social commentary on class inequality (which I get into below) as well as contemporary media theory. In the vein of Neil Postman and Marshall McLuhan the film signals the declining ability of mass media to share serious ideas. These images confound the issues by demeaning and undermining political discourse. Real issues are turned into superficial images that are less about ideas than they are about distracting. This may be the best representation of those ideas on the big screen.
It is especially good considering today's political climate. It should be required viewing for Trump voters.
Rotten Tomato Consensus: A politicallysubversive blend of horror and sci fi, They Live is an underratedgenre film from John Carpenter.
Pros: Super fun. Works as a social commentary. Carpenter at his most subversive. Pretty funny.
Cons: Some of the fight scenes drag on a bit. Ending is somewhat cliché.
Disclaimer: My notes pretty much always contain some spoilers but I rarely give away the ending.
Notes: The movie is basically a political satire. Street preacher is talking about how we are enslaved and the masters are right there around them. We just have to wake up and see. Piper looks at him like, “huh, this guy is making some sense.” Piper is, of course, homeless. Meets Keith David after working a manual labor gig. He takes him to a homeless camp. Imparts some homeless person wisdom. Piper says he believes in America still. He is not what I would call a cynic.
Lot of class warfare stuff going on here early. Totally a metaphor for communism. Guy pirates his way into television broadcasts and spews all this revolution jargon. A lot of “one day we will rise up and smash the oppressors.” Typical commie stuff. Eventually, Piper makes his way to this church where that dude posts up. Also in there is the black dude from Repo Man, Sy Richardson. They making these glasses that let you see the lizard people and wouldn't you know it, the lizard people, with the help of LA's finest, a la bourgeoisie, attack the church. They more or less just relocate the church and homeless camp (which takes way too long) where Piper lives. This is represents the proletariat. This is the movie, the communist revolution, but with aliens.
With the church leaders presumably beaten to death, the homeless camp starts to reform. Piper goes back to the church. Kicks down a wall and finds a box of those fancy sunglasses the church elders were making. With these sunglasses, Piper now sees the way things really are. Billboards now read “Obey” and “Marry and Reproduce” and “Do Not Question Authority” and a bunch of other stuff. Some people are aliens or whatever and money reads “This is Your God.” He also hears stuff which doesn't make any sense but roll with it. It's a really good scene.
Eventually all this gets to be too much for him and he freaks out. Starts telling it as he sees it which is a mistake. Tells a chick she is “really fucking ugly.” The aliens get on their watch/phone/communicator things. Piper insults a few more people and gets kicked out of the store. Finest show up and then it's fucking on like Michelle Kwan. Piper is there to “chew bubblegum and kick ass” and he's “all out of bubblegum” and he starts mowing down aliens.
Several absurd one liners. There is the bubblegum line, this is where that came from. “Momma don't like tattle tales.”
Kidnaps this lady. Gives her the talk. As soon as she gets a chance she hits him with a bottle and throws him out the window. It is insane. He falls from the second story, face first, and rolls 40 feet down a rocky hill before planting in the middle of the street. One hell of tumble. She calls the police but see that she has Piper's crazy glasses.
Now everyone thinks Piper is an raving psychopath and his mug is all over the news. No where for him to go at this point. Gets himself some more glasses from a garbage truck. Keith David shows up and gives him a week pay before punching him in the face. They have an epic fight that includes multiple fucking suplexes. It goes on forever and they are both fucked in the end. All to get KD in the magic glasses. No one wants to try on your fucking glasses. But he eventually gets them on and now he has “woke up out of the dream.”
Eventually meet up with the resistance. The lady he kidnapped is there and some sort of expert now. She is shocked he is alive after that tumble. The police bust in out of nowhere in the middle of her apology and mow down everything. It's fucking crazy. Good old Sy is no more. Now it is fucking on.
Figure out how to use the watches to teleport and they end up in the alien headquarters. A bunch of idiots, both aliens and “the human elite,” are celebrating because they think they beat down the terrorist resistance. A homeless dude from earlier is among them, now in a tuxedo. He goes from a drunken crazyman to the most sophisticated person who ever lived. Shows them around. Turns out the aliens control the media. It then becomes Piper and David's mission to end the means of communication.
Great fucking flick. Great fucking ending with a little bit of humor thrown in. It's totally worth your time.