My Favourite Movies: They Live
I think this was one of those movies that we picked up from our local video store because it looked kind of funky. Well, it was. In many ways it was a typical low budget 80’s sci-fi movie with questionable SFX, poor acting and a cast of people you’ve never heard of before or since. But it did have a few things going for it. Firstly it was a John Carpenter film and second it had a pretty interesting plot line.
The story starts with out of work, but hard working, John Nada (nothing, right?) played by ex-WWF fighter Roddy Piper arriving at a nameless town looking for work. Joining a crew on a building site he’s offered somewhere to sleep for the night by fellow construction worker Frank played by Keith David. It’s not long before Nada notices some strange goings-on at the local church and decides to investigate only to find that he’s stumbled on to a group smuggling sunglasses. Very confused by this he leaves the building and before he can pursue things further the police arrive in very heavy handed fashion and trash the place. Discovering a box of sunglasses the police missed he puts a pair on and his life changes forever. With the glasses on he can see the world as it really is – where every billboard, every newspaper, every sign and every television is being used to manipulate people into sleepwalking their way through life, working hard, spending their money and reproducing for the sole benefit of our alien masters. Seeing for the first time the aliens amongst us Nada decides to take things into his own hands and fights back with any weapon to hand – and some rather biting sarcasm! Joining a group of would-be liberators he targets the main alien broadcast station but can he trust those around him – even if they are human?
This is a film that cannot call itself a work of art (on any level) nor is it exactly subtle. There are no deep metaphors here. It simply hits you over the head – repeatedly – with the theme of exploitation by the rich and powerful (characterised by plug-ugly aliens from another galaxy here to suck the world dry before moving on to another “3rd World” planet). It pits the honest working man, and woman to be fair though in the role of helper, love interest and traitor, against the rich, heartless capitalists who are ruining the planet for their own personal gain. As I said, not exactly subtle. Fortunately there’s bucket loads of dark humour here. The alleyway fight scene is a scream as Nada tries to get Frank to put on the glasses and see what he sees. Another of my favourite scenes is where Nada walks into a bank exclaiming that he’s there to chew bubble-gum and kick ass… and he’s all out of bubble-gum. They certainly don’t write lines like that anymore!
This is not a film to be taken seriously. It’s pretty poor quality stuff but holds the attention with its heavy handed criticism of the American way of life and its dark humour. There are some great moments amongst the kitsch and more than a few laugh out loud moments too. Definitely one to watch with the brain in neutral – though you may never watch TV or read a paper in quite the same way ever again.