The Best Movie Critic + TIME

Watch THIS Instantly: They Live

Justin here with a look at my favorite John Carpenter movie, They Live, which is currently streaming on Netflix.

They Live is a movie that has aged extremely well. The first time I watched it was about a year before the big economic downturn, before we elected a black president, and before the Tea Party. In a lot of ways, I think that They Live is the perfect satire for our times. At the beginning, a nameless man played by “Rowdy” Rody Piper drifts into a city. He’s been recently laid off and is just looking for an honest day’s work for honest pay. He meets up with a friend played by Keith David, who is in about the same situation. David takes Piper to a tent city until they can get back on their feet. The two of them bond about how big business and their elected officials screwed them over. You’d almost think you were watching Grapes of Wrath ‘88, that is until Piper puts on the sunglasses…

With the glasses on, Rowdy Roddy soon comes to the horrible realization that the rich and famous are disgusting ghoul-like aliens. Billboards and magazines around the city change from having bright pictures and happy people to simply stating words like, “obey,” in imposing Helvetica type. The aliens are using commerce to keep humans poor and ignorant. This obvious critique of consumer culture has become more and more relevant since ’88.

OK – I don’t want to get too political here, but here’s my point. Right now, as in June 1, 2011, the US government needs to raise the debt ceiling so that the US can pay debts and stay afloat. If that ceiling isn’t raised, then the US defaults, the dollar flops, gas costs $10/gallon, and in all likelihood we go from recession to depression. Any rational person would say, “Raise the fucking debt ceiling already! Are you out of your fucking mind!” Yet yesterday in the House of Representatives, the bill to do this didn’t pass because the republicans are being ridiculous and playing Russian roulette so they might get elected again. I don’t know about you, but when I see shit like this happening, it makes MORE sense for me to think that the world is being run by weird skull ghoul aliens than rational people. Why else would they be trying to fuck us so hard?!?

In a nutshell, that’s the premise behind They Live. That is so unimaginable that government, business, etc. would screw over so many people, that they must literally not be human. Oh, there are humans helping out for sure, but they’re just pawns and sell outs.

Enter: a hero for our times – Rowdy Roddy Piper. He’s a regular working class guy with a little forbidden knowledge. As soon as he finds out about the ghouls, he grabs a shotgun and starts hunting season. The level of violence is kind of shocking. Even with the ghouls as bad as they are, when Rowdy Roddy walks into a bank and starts blowing people away, it’s a little off-putting. The bad guys get the boom stick, but the most epic fight is with his pal, Keith David. The halfway point of the movie is marked by a 5 and a half minute wrestling exhibition in an alley as Piper tries to get David to put on the sunglasses. It’s a hilariously amazing fight scene, and one that if you aren’t expecting, is my favorite WTF moment of 80’s cinema.

They Live is one of the smartest dumb movies ever made. It sits at the three-way intersection of sci-fi, action, and working class. It’s totally absurdist but unflinchingly frank. They Live succeeds due to a winning combination of sorrowful social commentary and gun-blazing, power fantasy catharsis.
It’s time to kick ass and chew bubblegum.

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