Dir.: John Carpenter
Starring: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, Peter Jason and George ‘Buck’ Flower
This is what happens when try to push your staunch political ideologies down Carpenter’s throat; you get a cinematic knuckle sandwich.
After the terrible reception of Big Trouble In Little China, Carpenter was rather down on his luck and more than little perturbed that the knuckleheads and 20th Century Fox for ruining his passion project. As a result, he returned to lower budget films, first Prince Of Darkness followed by his second installment of his ‘America’ trilogy, They Live.
Although They Live is somewhat polarizing among the film community in terms of its’ none-too-subtle condemnation of the far-flung Right Wing Republican stance of the 1980s, there is no doubt this film brings to light the fallacy of human nature- indifference, complacency and lack of compassion for your fellow humans. While Carpenter doesn’t take a modest middle ground, the tenants are clear that when it comes to a consumer-driven and highly capitalistic society, people are either sheep or preying wolves in sheeps’ clothing. Piper and David work off each other beautifully and have a natural chemistry with each other than you can believe that these two personalities would join together in order to fight a threat greater than unemployment. Another interesting though hardly subtle point Carpenter makes are in the names of our leads- ‘Nada’ and ‘Frank’- ‘nada’ means nothing, zero, absent which reflects the characters’ transient nature while ‘frank’ means to be blunt, tactless and honest which is what Frank is to an enormous degree. Yeah, maybe I am reading a little too much into those points, but it has always occurred to me due to the allegorical nature to the rest of the movie. Consume, watch TV, obey, buy, reward indifference, breed, stay asleep, work, all of these things are what the aliens preach to their unwitting human slaves and without proper guidance and forward-thinking, that is what humanity continues to do with the elite taking advantage of this unfair status quo rather than applying common decency.
While seeing the world simply in black and white may not be the ideal way to live ones’ life there is no doubt the statement rings clear in the audiences’ consciousness. They Live continues to endure, educate and encourage all the while chewing bubblegum and kicking ass.