John Carpenter’s 1988 classic They Live was very much a product of its time. With media like Stranger Things, The Goldbergs and every single slasher requel, it’s easy to look back on the 1980’s with nostalgia.
But for every rose-tinted viewpoint, there’s a darker side underneath, and John Carpenter’s sci-fi/horror/action film touched upon that perfectly. But what’s even more fascinating is that They Live has only continued to resonate and remain relevant over 30 years later.
The Darker Side to Commerce
John Carpenter has always been a champion of the underdog. His main characters have always been working class, as he believed they truly represented most people. Even when filming They Live, Carpenter used actual homeless people as extras, ensuring to feed them and pay them the standard daily rate for extras.
All of this feeds into a larger theme that worship of money is the root of all evil. The film itself not so subtly points this out when the glasses reveal the dollar bills actually read “This is Your God”. The 1980’s was certainly a time of economic growth and success, but only if you were one of the people in the upper middle class and above.
Carpenter himself admitted that these policies didn’t particularly protect the people at the bottom, and those were the ones that his movie was meant to highlight. And sadly, that’s something that hasn’t really changed, especially in the United States, where things like inflation and stagnant wages have led to a wider gap between those at the top and those at the bottom.
Uniting Both Sides
One of the most fascinating attributes of They Live is that it’s a movie often championed and celebrated by both the politically left and right, both of them seeing it as speaking to their ideals. It’s interesting because it reveals that people from both sides generally want the same thing (except for the insane extremists on either side).
Both liberals and conservatives are generally against corruption and want what’s best for them and their families. And while they may disagree on who or what is the source or cause of that corruption, They Live presents a fictional stand in for the source of the corruption that both sides can agree is happening.
Whether you believe in a literal race of aliens controlling society, or see it as a metaphor for how the billionaires and/or politicians on the top want to keep us docile, the movie feels like it’s on to something. We witnessed firsthand in the early days of the global pandemic that those at the top panic when people at the bottom stop doing their busywork, even for just a few weeks.
There’s also a great metaphor with the humans who aid the aliens in their conquest, in exchange for a taste of privilege. There are a lot of parallels between that and in real life when people struggle at the bottom and then if they manage to rise up the ranks, they become part of the very system that oppresses others.
History Repeats Itself
As previously mentioned, the issues laid out in They Live are just as if not more relevant now than they were in 1988. For the first time in centuries, the current generation of people in their 20s and 30s are expected to fare worse financially than their parents, student loan debt is out of control, inflation is higher than ever, and young people are literally eager for a housing crisis just to be able to afford a house.
If there ever was a secret plot of aliens trying to subdue humans, it’s now. We’re not advocating for sci-fi conspiracy theories. Rather, we’re trying to say that John Carpenter’s classic film was both a product of and ahead of its time. There may not be aliens plotting against us, but there are greedy people who have a vested interest in keeping the poor working to their own graves so it makes them richer.
Of course, the film ends with the aliens being exposed and we can assume that society is about to rise up against them. And in our real world, if things continue to get worse and worse, we may not be that far off from similar revolutionary activity…
What do you think of They Live? What are some of your favorite John Carpenter movies? Let us know in the comments!