They Live

They Live. Alive Films 1988.

Before watching the movie:

I’ve heard this movie talked up a lot, but I’m not sure exactly how much of it I know. Sometimes it sounds like the most famous development doesn’t have much to do with it, sometimes it sounds like the whole movie.

The theme of glasses or other visual devices showing the true nature of things is a common one in literature, though I can’t think of any notable ones right now, except I think I remember something about a  Seeing Stone in The Spiderwick Chronicles, but I haven’t seen that.

I’m going to pretend I chose this movie this week in honor of Google’s announcement of Project Glass.

After watching the movie:

A drifting laborer who only goes by the name Nada arrives in a new town looking for work. The construction area he ends up in has a church with mysterious activity going on nearby, and occasionally some hackers break into the TV signals to rant about how “They” control us, and we need to wake up and take the world back. Nada pokes around the church, but then a police raid mows through the area and all the people from the church disappear. Looking around, Nada finds a case of sunglasses, and he soon finds they show a different world than the one he normally sees. Billboards and magazines simply read “CONSUME”, “MARRY AND REPRODUCE”, “STAY ASLEEP”, “NO THOUGHT”, and “OBEY”. Random people around him are revealed to actually be bug-eyed aliens, who quickly discover his odd behavior and realize he can “See”. Nada’s discovered a global Conspiracy, and the Conspiracy should be very afraid.

Sometimes simple allegories are the most profound. The allegory here is certainly simple: the people in power have engineered the world so they stay in power, through the media. But good allegory still has to tell an interesting story. This is billed as an action movie, and the first third is extreme inaction. The movie progresses as “drifter comes to town, poverty, poverty, weirdness, poverty, SUNGLASSES AND SHOTGUN”. Then after that fight, there’s another 20 minutes of boredom, to the point that even two men wrestling is dull.

People criticize the special effects, but I don’t mind them. I would have liked to see a shot showing the glasses coming into frame changing one image into the other, but the simple eye-match shots work well enough. When the aliens speak, they could do with better (any) lip-syncing, but otherwise they look okay. I was relatively impressed by the spy-drone Nada shoots out.

One way I feel the allegory breaks down is that the aliens walk among us at various social strata. If they’re in control, shouldn’t they be better off than “an upper middle class face in the crowd”? On the other hand, the human sellouts are all too on the mark. The upper middle class or better is where I’d expect them to be, and they’re too short-sighted to see past the business deal of it all. It’s unclear what the aliens’ goal is, and their interaction with us makes it difficult to determine it, but that’s the best part of the allegory. In reality, the current situation is the endgame. In the allegory, nobody knows what comes next, but it involves a lot of nothing changing.

Unfortunately, “a lot of nothing changing” describes the plot too.


Watch this movie: for gratuitous human-on-alien violence with a message.

Don’t watch this movie: for very much of either.

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