Thursday, November 29, 2012

They Live, We Sleep

On November 6, 2012--the same day that millions of American citizens hit the voting polls to "choose" who was going to run the country-- John Carpenter's 1988 classic cult film, "They Live," was released on DVD (Collector's Edition) and Blu-ray.

In this film, Carpenter gives us a world where poverty is abundant and groups of people have to live in homeless camps; where only the rich prosper; where police are brutal enforcers; and despite all this--people are still stuck to the television!

What we soon learn is that, aliens from a far away planet control everything.  With their technology, they have hidden themselves among regular people and send out signals through advertising in magazines, billboards, and (mostly) television, that are designed to numb the regular masses and keep them submissive as happy consumers.

Soon though, we are introduced to John Nada (played by Roddy Piper, a famous wrestler), who by pure accident, discovers this astonishing truth when he stumbles upon a pair of sunglasses that reveal to him who is really human and who is alien; and also let him see the subliminal messages that are being forced on the masses. Messages like, "Obey," "Reproduce and Marry," "No Independent Thought," "Consume," "Watch TV," "Stay Asleep, "Buy," and many others.

John also discovers a small underground resistance group and enlists himself, and his new buddy Frank (Keith David), to reveal the truth to the American public, and encounter lots of blood and betrayal along the way.  Without giving away too much about the ending, it is not a typical Hollywood-ending. I would describe it as more of a love-letter to those who spit in the face of authority, and also a personal statement on the sacrifice of the individual.

What really makes this film work is the changes the characters go through.  In the beginning, John is a very pull-yourself-by-your-own-bootstraps kind of guy.  He doesn't like handouts and believes he's just going through a rough time.  "I believe in America," he says during an early scene.  Frank, however, has seen factory owners give themselves raises while he was taking pay-cuts.  He tells John that he believes in the Golden Rule, "He who has the gold, makes the rules."  But, despite his feelings toward a system that he knows is rigged, he strongly refuses to accept the truth that John has discovered.  In fact, he wants nothing to do with him, and it is only through a lengthy street-fight among the two friends that Frank finally puts on the sun glasses and sees what is really going on.

This, of course, is why I hold this film close to my heart.  Anyone who's read Lenin's "What Is To Be Done?" can see that this is an allegory for one of the main points in that polemic: that class-consciousness is not spontaneous; in fact, it can only come from without.  I love this movie and I recommend everybody get a copy and share it with others.