Tuesday, August 14, 2012

'They Live' Directed by John Carpenter

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

The release date of John Carpenter's film "They Live" is 1988 but seems more recent, more like a commentary on today's news than it is a commentary of 1980s paranoia. To be sure, there were many who warned of the dehumanizing effects of mass culture, political propaganda, political agendas --right or left!

The temptation to see allegory is not merely justified; it is, surely, the filmmakers intent. Like the much earlier "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" this message is political, a cautionary tale. While 'The Day the Earth Stood Still" deals with potential invasion, it is the alien's intent to warn us of ourselves. Klaato comes to earth with a warning, a warning about how we may destroy ourselves in a nuclear holocaust. But, he might just as well have had in mind our enslavement from without and, most ominously, from within. It the latter case, 'we' would have no one but ourselves to blame. Or as Shakespeare put it in 'Julius Caesar':
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
--Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)
'The Invasion of the Body Snatchers' seems obvious in retrospect: the 'seed pods' were the American right wing, Republicans, narrow-minded bigots, authoritarians. They would enslave us from within. John Carpenter's 'They Live' is both allegory and warning. Carpenter has created 'aliens' who have disguised their origins and their 'evil' intentions. They cannot be detected without the use of special eye glasses. The viewer accepts this as a convenient plot device. Wisely, Carpenter does not slow down the action for lectures about how this kind of thing may be feasible. Nor does he reveal an agenda but through a well-crafted story --not lectures or soliloquies. It's a device which successfully moves both plot and action to a riveting and inevitable conclusion/climax.

'They Live' is not merely Sci-Fi. It's a horror film in which a dreadful future is the monster. And, like Frankenstein, the 'monster' is one of our own creation, in this case, the complicity of 'earthlings' with evil aliens. Unlike many Sci-Fi movies and literature, the aliens of 'They Live' do not appear to have anything profound or awe-inspiring in mind. Like many earthlings the ugly aliens, resembling death heads when seen with special shades, have, it seems, only the U.S. right/GOP agenda in mind, that is, rigging Wall Street, acquiring great wealth and power, usurping the media for purpose of mass mind control. So far --they differ little from the Republican party.
Here's another review which, likewise, spotted the political implications:
John Carpenter wrote and directed this science fiction thriller about a group of aliens who try to take over the world by disguising themselves as Young Republicans. Wrestler Roddy Piper stars as John Nada, a drifted who makes his way into an immense encampment for the homeless. There he stumbles upon a conspiracy concerning aliens who have hypnotized the populace through subliminal messages transmitted through television, magazines, posters, and movies. When Nada looks through special Ray-Bans developed by the resistance leaders, the aliens lose their clean-cut "Dan Quayle" looks and resemble crusty-looking reptiles. Nada joins the underground, teaming up with rebel-leader Frank (Keith David) to eradicate the lizard-like aliens from the body politic. ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi
--They Live, Rotten Tomatoes
John Carpenter directed but, interestingly, wrote the screenplay under the pseudonym: Frank Armitage, the name of one of the characters in the movie. I have no idea why Carpenter chose to do this. In any case, the film (full movie below) is scary, challenging, and, if action is your cuppa tea, there is a memorable fight scene to end all fight scenes. Having failed to kill one another, the two characters are destined to be friends but we don't know that at the time. There is the possibility that one will kill the other. The audience is sure to find in each character traits with which he or she can identify.

Called part sci-fi, part horror, part dark comedy, it is, in fact, a cautionary tale. That it works on every level accounts for its enduring popularity.

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