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Episode 82: THEY LIVE

  

116 members have voted

  1. 1. Is THEY LIVE Canon?

    • OBEY
      75
    • Don't OBEY
      41


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It's John Carpenter's cult classic that inspired Shepherd Fairey's famous poster and a ton of political commentary. Is it still relevant today the way it was back at the end of the 80s? Or has it become hopelessly outdated?

 

It's up to you!

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A smart, entertaining, crazy flick. I'm all for it in The Canon.

 

Kind of surprised nobody stumbled upon (or at least mentioned) the fact that philosopher Slavoj Zizek kicked off his documentary "The Pervert's Guide to Ideology" with a fairly lengthy discussion of THEY LIVE.

 

Here's a Youtube clip:

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It's certainly not my favorite Carpenter, and it's not even a movie I even really love, but I still have to go with 'yes."

 

I hadn't seen this movie since college, when I really liked it in a "yeah man, we're all being oppressed!" type of way, and it's crazy how well this movie fits in now. The corporate control, the violence, it all just mashes together to be a movie that's getting shockingly more prescient as it ages. I would never have though to look at it through the mass-shooter lens until Devin and Amy mentioned it (because I'm dumb I guess) but it's ridiculously accurate and really makes the movie that much creepier. Like I said, it's not my favorite, but I think it still deserves an entry into the Canon.

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YES. Possibly even more relevant today than when it was made. A hell of a good time. I agree with Devin as opposed to Amy as to the intentionality of its flaws. This film deserves canonization.

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A pretty easy yes, even though its not my favorite Carpenter film. But over time, this one has reached a wider consciousness than just the normal genre lovers. It speaks more to how people and culture behave, giving it a relevance that has and will persist. Its the "b-movie" at its best, servicing big ideas in a pulpy (and charmingly cheap) package.

 

And of course, its got a great, clumsy fight in the middle of it. Favorite bit of the fight: when Roddy accidentally hits Keith's car and they both immediately forget about their larger struggle over seeing the truth, because you just don't do that to man's car. Roddy's aghast apology and Keith's "Mutha-" curse, its such a guy thing and a great touch.

 

Thing is though, do we ever see Keith actually using that car? They definitely walk to the hotel in the next scene. I can't remember right now (at work), I'll have to double check the bluray when I get home.

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Something I think Amy and Devin both miss in the casting of RRP and the bad dialogue is that it was done, I think, in part to play on the style of action movies at the time. Piper's Nada is spouting bad one liners and acting "movie hero" tough, but he's not that good at it. It plays into the working man concept and why you would get an 80s wrestler - Nada is playing tough without really understanding what he's doing.

 

This is a guy who surely watches wrestling and earnestly loves movies like Commando and Rambo II. As he goes about trying to be the hard ass he needs to be, Nada apes the styles of those silver screen action heroes. The difference is, he isn't that good at it, and (in the world of the movie) he is actually fighting.

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Something I think Amy and Devin both miss in the casting of RRP and the bad dialogue is that it was done, I think, in part to play on the style of action movies at the time. Piper's Nada is spouting bad one liners and acting "movie hero" tough, but he's not that good at it. It plays into the working man concept and why you would get an 80s wrestler - Nada is playing tough without really understanding what he's doing.

 

This is a guy who surely watches wrestling and earnestly loves movies like Commando and Rambo II. As he goes about trying to be the hard ass he needs to be, Nada apes the styles of those silver screen action heroes. The difference is, he isn't that good at it, and (in the world of the movie) he is actually fighting.

Love this

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If They Live is 'too paranoid' (it's not) it is only to compensate for how uncynical and placated most of the population really is. They Live gets a hard yes for me because it's not just a movie that tackles its subject well but is likely the best.

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They Live is an all-time favorite of mine. It's fun, smart, social, well-balanced, affecting, and, sadly, often dismissed for its goofiness. And that's a shame - when people see its tone as a weakness they're misunderstanding its greatest strength. They Live endures as a (liberal) politcal cinematic success on two key merits: it's deceptive depth and its energy.

 

When I say energy I ought to just say tone and emotion, but "energy" feels right for this film. It delivers a broad political message in a brilliant way. All of us have seen socially conscious movies, message movies, movies with political agendas or satire and so on. Pick any movie from your mind that shone a light on the bleakness of our political system or of the grim realities of the underclass. If you're like me you can, when recalling them, feel the emotion they all give off. Despair, or perhaps misery. And those movies deserve those emotions as do the realities they're based on. But the downside of misery is that it's a bad "energy" for a film that wants to make a lasting point. Misery and despair are the emotions that the human mind is best trained to bury. Many are the films that people finish and say "Holy shit our world is a sewer," only for it to roll off their backs later that night. And that often goes even for the ones that add the clause ", and something has to change!" to people's responses.

 

Enter They Live. Its message is as bleak as they come, but Carpenter transmits that signal on different frequencies. For instance, let's take the sunglasses discovery sequence. The narrative confronts Nada with direct class warfare in the shantytown, and he is finally prepared to put on his glasses and see the world in a new way. When Nada takes in the true world through his lenses he doesn't speak a word; the movie depicts his stunned revelation entirely through Piper's face and the soundtrack. They Live sets itself up for the typical cinematic depiction of a protagonist losing his ignorance: the tension builds into a dramatic outburst, often a speech, where the viewer learns about the gravity of social reality through him. But what happens? Nada stumbles into a grocery store, the ghoul cutaways get more and more comical, the tense soundtrack drops out, and Nada just sort of gets used to it. This leads to the greatest line in the movie, and a teriffic anticlimax. Nada sees a ghoul politician giving a canned optimistic speech, laughs, and says "It figures it'd be something like this."

 

I LOVE IT! That's our dramatic payoff for his big transformation into the political rebel. And that's why They Live resonates. Carpenter sells, quietly, the severity of the political content, but keeps it just on the right side of farce before it gets too grim. It's irreverent so as to keep it from being preachy or pretentious. And he keeps the irreverence from spiraling out by maintaining the simmering anger and resentful powerlessness of the low-class Frank and Nada consistent. The movie shows our heroes both as the wounded masculine figures of a disenfranchised underclass, but also gives them a testosterone-reclaiming victory where Piper flips off the helicopter as he dies. In fact, it lets the audience finish on a win without selling out the hopelessness of the struggle.

 

This tonal alchemy is why the movie succeeds as a work of political art: it uses a bleak political critique for its energy, where, by all rights, depicting that message should be sad and enervating to the audience. When I watch it it leaves me uncomfortable with the world, but pumped. Its silliness is no drawback, its part of a delicate and unique energy with which Carpenter gives his movie true power. It's exceptional, and it's Canon-worthy.

 

I spent too many words on that, so I'll just say very briefly that the other side to the films genius is in its detail. This movie is not subtle in message, but it is subtle in the depth of its message. They Live doesn't try to replace political texts on late-stage capitalism, but it try to squeeze in the breadth of socialist issues into a short runtime. The movie touches on race, class, TV, gender, cultural imperialism, advertisement, ideology, and more. In fact, the story it tells just as a metaphor for the difficulty of adopting a new political perspective and in trying to communicate it to to others is strong enough. Carpenter, again, keeps it from feeling too heady, and he does it by putting much of the dialogue in the mouths of random cutaway ghoul vignettes, or in the mouths of the shantytown residents and resistance members. Many of those shantytown residents initially look like throwaway extras, and then Carpenter brings them back during the shantytown demolition for specific emotional beats. The movie is just filled with great detail, all while staying a pretty simple and breezy film.

 

Anyways, sorry again for the ramble. Stretching a lunch break to write this. But They Live is an incredible movie. That doesn't mean its meant to be read as some solemn, serious text, but it deserves respect for its legit depth and unreal execution.

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Seeing as this touches everything from The Matrix, to The Wrestler, to the world of street art, yeah. This is canon. Does it reach Carpenter's dizzying highs? No, but it's campy and fun and frighteningly prescient. This movie has come to kick ass and chew bubblegum, but runs plum out of bubblegum.

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Like many are saying here, it's not Carpenter's best, but it is so great. This one resonates more than ever. Hell, an American Civ professor I had at a fancy-schmansy school even showed clips from this to teach all the yougins about Reaganism.

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Soft yes. I guess there are more deserving films, especially in terms of craft. But I guess it works for what it is, and I'd say this one has a spot in the canon on impact terms alone.

 

On a side note: I was really, REALLY annoyed by that overly-repetive score. I'm not sure if they live, but they surely play these five base notes to death. (oh yes, I did!)

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I'm a very soft yes and I think if I wasn't as emotionally attached to this film I might be a no. I can see Amy's points but I was raised on John Carpenter and I can't deny him another opportunity for the canon. I do think its ironic that the influence that this movie has in the mainstream is a vehicle to sell OBEY merchandise. I kind of wished the episode had played as a vs with The Stuff (1985) since the two hit on similar themes and are using similar vehicles to relay their message.

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There's no doubt in my mind this is Canon worthy. It was an immensely entertaining movie back in the day for those who saw it, and it has only grown over time like all of Carpenters movies. Despite some people's feelings that a director as masterful and in control as Carpenter was in the 80s, every choice here feels very deliberate and works to create something iconic and cutting.

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I had always seen the "bubble gum" clip and assumed that that scene was the climax of the movie where he stormed into the ghoul's base of operation prepared to annihilate them. I was surprised when I finally watched the full movie for the first time yesterday that it came when he first discovers the ghouls and takes place in a bank that he just happened to randomly stumble into. Still an awesome line, but it felt more silly and random than the badass moment that I was expecting. I really enjoyed the movie and will surely watch it again, but I can't justify voting it into the Canon. It's just a little too silly and I do not agree that all of that was intentional. There are better movies that tackle the same theme. I'll save my yes vote for Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

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It's kind of "baby's first step toward class consciousness" but it's a great first step so whatever. Easy yes.

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great piece of cult cinema with its ghoul world both an elegant use of film language and an iconic and culturally significant metaphor.

 

Amy raised an interesting point with the mass shooting angle though, and I wish they'd gone further into discussion with that. how effective is They Live's political commentary when 'the answer' equates to shooting a bunch of people who don't look like you because you and you alone have the insider knowledge THEY ARE AGAINST YOU? in today's landscape a film about a guy 'taking matters into his own hands' with a campaign of selective genocide - well it looks a little uglier

 

anyways, They Live still gets my hell yes vote for the canon

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I've loved They Live since I first saw it back in my early teens. So much so that I wrote a paper on it in my freshman year at college. It's great (or probably more frightening really) that the movie seems to be so timeless with it's message. Easy pick for the Canon.

 

I guess I'll attach the paper for anyone who's dedicated enough, since it's not doing much just sitting on my hard drive.

 

FMA 102 Final Paper.pdf

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I ultimately came down on the no side. It's a kind of enjoyable dumb movie, but it's not that great (someone compared it to Commando, and I don't think that belongs in the Canon), so what makes it canonical? Piercing the veil of our overlords? The Matrix has displaced it on that front. A story of David Icke's hidden aliens? There's V, which was a more successful franchise. The drawn out unglamorous fight scene? I'd have to put Liam Neeson's Crossing the Line aka The Big Man in the canon for that, and that movie is not canonical.

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I was reminded of a problem I have occasionally with documentaries about serious ongoing issues in the world. The documentary takes the time to detail why its a serious threat, but ends relatively hopeful, as to not antagonise the audience.

I believe the B-movie aesthetic of this film was at serious odds with the themes that I believe are important.

The elements of B-movies weren't enhanced by the themes- the themes were dragged down into the B-movie pit. Dealing with this non-physical worldwide epidemic with moronically portrayed violence and catchphrases- I dunno...

The ending in particular- the fact it was a literal joke- I know Devin/Amy defended this as a connection between the simplicity of the 'sheeple' but I think it just speaks as to how simply the movie views this topic; aliens are a fun sci-fi B-movie tool first, allegory second.

 

No from me, sorry guys- luckily for the film's chances- I think i'm in the minority.

 

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I vote no.

 

I was excited to see this, because I had listened to the "I Was There Too" episode with Peter Jason in which he talked, among other things, about some of the great lines in the movie. Seeing the lines in context and seeing how ridiculously poorly they were delivered was disappointing. I expected the movie to be funnier, and some of the lines would be much funnier if they were delivered by someone other than Roddy Piper. I think it's a solid tongue-in-cheek screenplay, but Piper's performance to me is not one of an "everyman" in this situation, but rather one of an "everyman" reading a screenplay for the first time. (Maybe the next LACMA table-read can be They Live with the role of Nada played by some 35 year old pulled off a Wilshire construction site. The performance could only be better.)

 

The fight scene really bored me, and was nonsensical in the context of the plot. And just because something boring and nonsensical symbolizes something else doesn't make it less boring or more crucial to the plot.

 

I had no problem with the cheap look of it, and I did actually like the look of the aliens. (And I'm 100% with Amy in that I was also completely unaware of the alien faces being redone in pop culture. When I saw the faces in this movie, it was, to the best of my knowledge, the first time I'd ever seen them.) To me, the only design piece of the movie that has remained are the OBEY signs, due in large part to the work of Shepard Fairey, as Devin pointed out.

 

A versus episode of this against Snowpiercer would be interesting, because both are incredibly cheesy movies with the same theme, but I find the latter more watchable. However, I'd probably say that neither really belongs in the Canon anyway, so perhaps it's better that it wasn't a versus episode.

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Soft "no" - I appreciate the weirdness and that Carpenter went for broke. The visual design of the aliens goes a long way. And when Roddy Piper's scenes work, they really work, but for the rest of the film (ie. most of it) he's clunky and uninteresting. And yes, the movie makes a point but so do documentaries - that doesn't automatically make it Canon-worthy.

 

I get why it's a cult favorite and agree it's worth seeing, but it's minor Carpenter for me. Won't be sad if it gets voted in though.

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