Wednesday, August 12, 2015

They Live

The passing of wrestling legend "Rowdy" Roddy Piper prompted me to go back and watch a film that has stayed in the collective background noise of my childhood memories. They Live is an essential cult classic science fiction film that you have to watch at least once in your lifetime. It is a cheesy 80s action flick with a pro wrestler as the lead that is based on a short story by Ray Nelson called Eight O'Clock in the Morning. But watching it again it's hard not to see how Director John Carpenter's film is still relevant for modern times.

Roddy Piper is a drifter named Nada. He arrives in Los Angeles with the simple hope of finding some work while waiting for the world to give him his chance at a better life. He finds a job in construction and befriends Frank, a construction worker played by Keith David. While living in a shanty town, Nada's curiosity gets the best of him and he stumbles upon a group of freedom fighters who have discovered that Earth has been invaded by an alien race that maintains control of humanity through a subliminal signal. This signal masks the messages that humanity is fed every day without their knowledge. CONFORM, CONSUME, BUY, OBEY, etc.

If there was any doubt about the message that the rich and corporations prey on the poor and middle class, the hidden message on the money in the film says it pretty clearly.

The signal also works as a cloaking device for the aliens who are a part of the every day life on earth.

Now, I'm not a conspiracy theorist and I'm not going to go and say that there is an outright master plan by the elite to subdue the poor and middle class. But you have to admit that our appetite for buying things and worshiping the superficial has created opportunity to give away our freedom and future. Mass entertainment media does cloud our perception and knowledge of the very real problems going on in the world. It was the case when Carpenter made this film and sadly, it is still the case. But while there is a heavy message beneath this alien invasion sci-fi action thriller, it does not get preachy. Well, there is a street preacher yelling in this, but that's not the point. They live remains fun and entertaining. It is a unique concept in it's story and the way the invasion took place. The aliens did not come in guns blazing. They slipped right into society and essentially planned to let humanity dig it's own grave with a little help. "They're free-enterprisers. The earth is just another developing planet. Their third world." As noted in the film, a lot of humans went right along with it because when recruited to the alien cause, you got rich and enjoyed the good life. Why rebel if you are being treated well. Just don't rock the boat and leave the rest of the world to destroy itself. "They are dismantling the middle class. More and more people are becoming poor. We are their cattle. We are being bred for slavery." Did I mention that this is a fun cheesy movie? Anyway.... Lets not forget They Live has a fight scene that is regarded as one of the best in cinema. And it's all over getting a guy to put on sunglasses.

It also launched one of the most quoted lines of all times thanks to Piper's Nada. "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass... And I'm all out of bubblegum."

This film was always special to me because it's one of those that was always on TV from time to time way back when. It is also special because Roddy Piper was so perfect for the role and did a brilliant job. As the end of They Live is bitter sweet, so is watching it and remembering a great entertainer. RIP Piper. You are missed.