Wednesday, November 3, 2010

They Live (1988)

I had AMC's Fear Fest on television in the background over Halloween weekend, and I stumbled upon this little gem of a movie. The first thing I saw was a scene of a guy in a city, who put on a pair of dark sunglasses that allowed him to see the truth behind the oppressive capitalist domination of the American public. With the glasses on, billboards transformed from flashy advertisements to their true messages: OBEY, or MARRY AND REPRODUCE. Shops in store fronts urged NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT, and CONSUME. Flipping the magazines on the racks revealed messages of DO NOT QUESTION AUTHORITY, HONOR APATHY, STAY ASLEEP, and the like. And a wad of money displayed the phrase THIS IS YOUR GOD. I was entranced. A movie that reveals the totalitarianism of modern consumer society? Fantastic!

The film - by John Carpenter - is part political commentary, part science fiction, and part action flick, as it turns out. The planet has actually been taken over by aliens disguised as humans, and the protagonist has discovered the resistance movement, consisting of the few humans that are conscious of the aliens' presence and plan for keeping the humans as unknowing slaves. It's a pretty neatly contained little tale, that does have a bit of a b movie flavor, like when the protagonist walks into a bank with the weapons he just stole off a couple of cops, and proclaims, "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass...and I'm all out of bubblegum" - a line that Duke Nukem copped to excellent effect.

I don't think the political premise is followed deeply enough to satisfy me, and the alien invasion twist renders it more symbolic than literal (though we may not be at the mercy of an alien invasion, the points still apply). However, it's a great theme to see in a movie, and it's an entertaining film to watch.

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