They Live is a science fiction action horror film written and directed by John Carpenter in 1988. It stars Roddy Piper, Keith David and Meg Foster. Roddy Piper plays a drifter, called John Nada in the credits, who discovers a secret ruling class of aliens by wearing sunglasses. They Live is famous for having a great fight scene and great cheesy lines. Carpenter has called They Live a documentary because the world it depicts is so similar to the world of today.
I watched They Live because it was featured on an episode of The Canon podcast. This podcast is a great resource for film nerds. I could tell from Devin Faraci and Amy Nicholson’s thoughts on the film that it needed to be seen sooner rather than later. I don’t usually see every film that they talk about so this one was different. When this film came out, I had yet to be born so how would I have any knowledge of its existence?
One of my favorite things about this film is hard to describe. There’s a certain vibe or feel to some 80s movies that adds to the experience. I wasn’t alive in the 80s but I can feel what it was like to live there from movies. John Carpenter’s films feel particularly grounded in their historical time and place. I find myself wishing that I had lived during the 80s to experience the decade’s great films firsthand.
The premise and ideas of They Live are more relevant today than they were in 1988. The world of They Live is the world of today, except for the aliens. The United States is ruled by money and those with money do everything they can to maintain their power at the expense of those beneath them. The lower classes are kept in check by their need to obey and consume. The truth is painful in They Live. Wearing the sunglasses gives John Nada a headache because reality is physically painful to experience. It is so much easier to succumb to the wishes of those in power. But there is so much to gain from attacking the system. The part of They Live where John Nada and Frank Armitage infiltrate the aliens’ base, shooting them left and right, is such satisfying cinema. It’s the ultimate power fantasy for anyone who has ever suffered from being abused or exploited.
TV is the enemy in They Live. It is the most useful alien tool in keeping the lower classes at bay. Somehow destroying a broadcasting signal reveals all the aliens in their true form. The final scene of this film depicts a woman looking down as the man she is having sex with has been revealed as a ghoul.
I recommend seeing They Live as soon as possible.
If you have any recommendations for great films from the 80s, let me know.