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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that They Live is a 1988 John Carpenter movie in which an unemployed drifter (played by "Rowdy" Roddy Piper) comes across a special pair of sunglasses in which he sees that yuppies and many police officers are actually aliens trying to colonize the earth through subliminal messages in advertising. Though this is a campy, satirical, and wildly entertaining classic of a B-movie, there's also quite a bit of violence, including an exaggerated fistfight between two of the lead characters. Police move in on a homeless encampment, striking people with billy clubs. Police fire machine guns on a meeting of humans resisting the alien colonization; many are shot and killed. A woman is naked from the waist up while having sex. Frequent profanity, including "f--k" and its variations.
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What's the story?
In THEY LIVE, an unemployed man (Roddy Piper) arrives in Los Angeles looking for work. He stays at an encampment for homeless people, where he begins to notice strange goings-on. On the television, programming is frequently interrupted by a man who has jammed the signal, imploring everyone to "Wake up." At the church across the street, he witnesses furtive middle-of-the-night activity. After police destroy the encampment and the church, the man returns to find a box filled with sunglasses. He puts the sunglasses on and immediately sees skull-faced aliens where before he saw people and messages such as "Consume," "Obey," and "Stay Asleep" where he once saw advertisements. He immediately goes on a rampage, trying to stop the aliens, informing everyone that "I'm here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I'm all out of bubble gum." He finds those who ran the homeless encampment -- who are also the leaders of the resistance -- and they tell him that the aliens see Earth as a "developing planet," one they can exploit for their own foul ends. It's up to this man -- known only as "Nada" in the film credits -- to find a way to jam the signal that's lulling everyone into false complacency and thus show everyone what he sees through his special sunglasses.
Is it any good?
As campy as it is satirical, this movie stands the test of time -- it's wildly entertaining and worthy of being called a B-movie classic. The fun of They Live is that it manages to work both as a clever sci-fi lampooning of consumer culture and materialistic yuppies and as a hilarious "so bad it's great" movie with ridiculous one-liners, overlong fight scenes, and absurd plot twists. It's the kind of movie best enjoyed for its own sake; though those with more highbrow tastes will scoff at the acting, action, and dialogue, those looking to have fun through the magic of cinema could do much worse than They Live.
The lead character, played by the late, great wrestler "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and known only as "Nada" in the film credits, is a one-man one-liner machine, tossing out now-iconic quotes such as "I'm here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I"m all out of bubble gum" and "Life's a bitch, and she's back in heat." Ludicrous? Cheesy? Sure, but They Live shows that a movie can be hugely enjoyable and stand the test of time without being a cinematic masterpiece.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about satire. What are the ways in which They Live satirizes consumer culture? What are some other satirical movies?
What are some of the ways in which this movie might be classified as a B-movie? Can B-movies be as enjoyable and entertaining as big-budget blockbuster movies? What is the appeal?
How was violence used throughout the movie? Did it seem necessary to the overall story, or was it gratuitous?
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