They Live Analysis: The most Relevant Film of the 1980s

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.

 

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Scanners (1981) Review

Do you ever start watching a movie only to abandon it half-way through?

Such was my experience watching Scanners. Don’t get me wrong, Scanners has some very interesting things going on. The special effects are pretty awesome. A dude’s head explodes and people make the strangest looking facial expressions that I have ever seen. What would it feel like if someone were reading your thoughts? According to the facial expressions in this Scanners, it would feel like you were getting shocked with a taser

Scanners is directed and written by David Cronenberg. That name implies particular qualities, so it makes sense to start a discussion of Scanners with a discussion of David Cronenberg and all that is associated with him.

Here’s what I associate with David Cronenberg:

  • Body Horror
  • Canada
  • The 1980s

Scanners is missing something. While watching Scanners, I realized that the movie was not doing enough to keep me interested. Perhaps that says more about me that it says about the film. Regardless, I knew at the halfway point that if I continued watching Scanners, I would not have a good time. For what its worth, this is a sign that the film failed to keep me engaged.

Films usually keep me engaged in one of several ways. Usually this is a combination of compelling characters, interesting ideas, and visual style. Scanners is a lacking in the compelling characters category. I simply didn’t care what happened one way or another. The main character didn’t have a particular reason why he was tracking down the villain. As a result, the film doesn’t feel human. None of the characters are relatable or convincingly human. What this film needed was more meaningful character interaction, so the audience would actually care about what’s going on. Without that, we are left with a tiresome story held up by a sci-fi premise that doesn’t do enough. Scanners feels like merely a vehicle for Cronenberg to experiment with telepathic characters.

Unless you are especially interested in body horror special effects or telepathy, don’t waste your time watching Scanners. Watch something else that actually care about whether viewers are interested or not. As my first experience with Cronenberg’s early films, I have to say that I am unimpressed. Eastern Promises and A History of Violence were both better films. Perhaps Cronenberg gets better with age. I will probably watch a few more of his early films such as The Fly. Even if its a bad movie, I will still learn something. Sometimes a bad film can teach you more than a good film.