They Live is a b-list movie released in 1988 was written, directed, and produced by John Carpenter. They live follows the story of a non-middle class, blue collar guy, who is a working poor names John Nada who moves to a new city and finds out the truth about the world he lives in. John discovers these glasses which reveals to him the truth and how a race of inter-dimensional aliens have taken over the world. The movie follows John’s difficulties and adventures with his friend Frank Armitage as they try to expose these aliens to the world. They Live explores a variety of interesting concepts, such as, effectiveness of Reaganomics, political stories, and ideology, making some viewers calling the movie a documentary.
In John Carpenter’s own words, They Live is mainly inspired by Ronald Reagan’s “conservative revolution”. During Ronald Reagan’s electoral term of presidency, the state of the economy of America was in a state of “stagflation”, which is when inflation is rising while unemployment was high. Because of this Ronald Reagan implemented his economic plans now known referred to as Reagonomics, which is based on the trickle-down theory, which means the government cuts cooperate taxes so that companies could save money and would mean more jobs which would stimulate the economy. This economic plan was what John Carpenter was criticising in They Live and how there was a great deal of greed and obsession with making money. John Carpenter was criticising unrestricted capitalism.
This critique of unrestricted capitalism is shown in They Live through the aliens that take over the world. The aliens have shown to be greedy and obsessive about money as shown in one of the final scenes of the movie in which the leader of the aliens says, “The per capita income of each of you here tonight has grown, in this year alone, by an average 39%”. The aliens in the movie are the upper class, as well as a select few humans. The aliens are representative of the actual upper class in the real world, this affirmed by the fact John Carpenter has purposely made the aliens look more like zombies than alien. What I mean by this is that John Carpenter didn’t want the aliens to look like high tech advanced alien race but more like a decaying corrupted version of humans, this is to emphasise that the aliens are not meant to represent the corruption of an advances species but rather the corruption of us.
George Monbiot’s Out of the Wreckage has a direct correlation to They Live. In the book George Monbiot explains how the two most successful political stories of the 20th century that have both survived into the 21st century follow the same narrative pattern. The story that has a direct correlation to They Live is the social democratic story depicted in Out of the Wreckage. The story explains “that the world fell into disorder… because of the self-seeking behaviour of [the] unrestrained elite” this story is identical to the story in They Live. The “unrestrained elite” in They Live are the aliens and the world of They Live fell into disorder because the aliens want Earth as their “third world planet”, which is the self-seeking behaviour of the unrestricted elite.
Further correlations to They Live comes as Monbiot continues with “The elite’s capture of both the world’s wealth and the political system”. This is mentioned in one of the final scenes of the movie as John Nada and his friend Frank Armitage corner a human collaborator working alongside the aliens. The collaborator says “There aint no countries anymore. No more good guys. [The aliens are] running the whole show. They own everything — the whole goddamn planet.” This shows the extent of the alien’s power and how they have captured the world’s wealth and political system. Monbiot progresses with “[This] resulted in the impoverishment and insecurity of working people. [And] by uniting to defend their common interest[.] The world’s people could throw down the power of the elite”. This is directly visualised in the movie as the homeless shelter filled with homeless people, among these people there are a group trying to expose the truths of the aliens, this group tries to overthrow the elite by making glasses and interrupting tv shows to inform people about the aliens. These glasses show the truths of the aliens, exposing the true meaning of advertisement as well as everything around them, the glasses also expose the aliens’ true form.
They Live also explores the concept of ideology and Žižek has an excellent analysis of ideology expressed in the movie. Žižek compares ideology as the “trash can” in which each and everyone one of us eats out of. He argues that the reason humans are uncapable of seeing the subliminal messaging as well as the true forms of the aliens is because of ideology. He says the glasses represents a different critical lens which can be looked through. In They Live there is a nine-minute fight scene in which John Nada is trying to convince Frank to put on the glasses, to the normal viewer this fight scene would seem irrelevant and drawn out as they are having an epic fight over some glasses. However, Žižek explains that to step out of ideology is a “painful experience… [and] you have to force yourself to do it” and They Live represented that in the nine-minute fight scene.
Overall, They Live is a b-listed movie with sub-par acting, which was inevitable as the main protagonist of the movie is a wrestler and the reason he got the job was because John Carpenter liked wrestling. This being said, the unique ideas expressed in this movie reveals new perspectives on society. So overall, I recommend this movie to anyone looking for a fun action movie as well as those who want to have unique insights on society in the 1980s which is still quite relevant to today.