They Live, Released in 1988 and directed by John Carpenter, is a cult classic for many reasons, not including the fact that it was directed by John Carpenter (Ghosts of Mars).
We follow the story of ‘unnamed drifter’, or in the credits, ‘John Nada’, who comes to town, who discovers some sinister goings on, and is forced to dish out some justice ( see A Fistful of Dollars to continue your unnamed hero cinema binge).
Inspired by the short story ‘Eight O’Clock in the Morning’ by Ray Nelson, John Carpenter wanted this film to be protest at the state of the United States. Specifically the values of Ronald Reagan’s conservative revolution. Carpenter wanted to “scream out in the middle of the night” , about rampant consumerism and government control overtaking the values he was brought up with. They Live! is the 80’s left wing action film we needed.
The audience can see John Nada (played by the great Roddy Piper, RIP), goes on this, Platonic journey (see Allegory of the Cave for details), as he puts on some suspicious sunglasses, he see’s the world for what it truly is. No longer does John Nada have the luxury of mistaking appearance for reality, and he is forced to act as an agent of change (via ass-kicking).
The supporting cast is equally awesome, with Keith David returning to the Carpenter fold (Carpenter liked what he saw of him in The Thing!). K.David, supporting but never in the background, is a great choice of casting, and I encourage readers to see him in other things (Pitch Black, Platoon etc). Most recently he lent his voice to the President of the United States in Rick & Morty.
This is one of my favourite John Carpenter films (although I can’t think of one I dislike, even Ghosts of Mars).
Carpenter takes the time to explore the nature of consumerism, that everything around us, is designed to make us buy something. This important topic is pushed through the kaleidoscope of John Carpenters brain, into a wacky, over the top masterpiece.
Peeling back this thin veil (via trendy shades), we get to see this world through the eyes of working stiff Mr.Nada.
This film has everything.
Conspiracy. A WWF wrestler. Paranoia. Reality shattering sunglasses. Keith David.
They live. We sleep.
If you like They Live, you should also check out;
- Invasion of Body Snatchers (1956 and 1978).
- Pitch Black (for Keith David).
- Big Trouble in Little China (1986).
The film will be shown on Saturday night followed by a discussion of its themes and their relationship to situationism and other currents active in 1968. The discussion will be led by Simon Hewitt, who teaches philosophy at the University of Leeds.
Screening as part of Radical Film Network’s 1968 Festival, a programme of screenings and discussions in collaboration with Film Fringe, which celebrate and reflect on the radical uprisings and revolutionary fervour of the events of 1968.