This is Your God: THEY LIVE, We Sleep


Cinapse Selects
The Cinapse Selects column is written up by our team on rotation, focusing on films that are past their marketing cycle. Maybe we’ll select a silent film, cult classic, or forgotten gem. Cinapse is all about thoughtfully advocating film, new and old, and celebrating what we love no matter how marketable that may be. So join us as we share about what we’re discovering, and hopefully you’ll find some new films for your watch list, or some validation that others love what you love too!

“They Live” Trump artwork by Mitch O’Connell

This week, the broken American electoral system once again elected a candidate other than the one that the majority of American voters selected. Truth be told, the electoral system’s failure, however, is far less egregious than the failure of the American people. The American people, notably the white American people, failed to vote against a campaign that was built on a cornerstone of hateful rhetoric. The new President-elect ran a campaign based on Populist ideals and good ole American xenophobia.

John Carpenter’s 1988 Sci-Fi thriller, They Live, is as strong a commentary on modern America on this day in 2016 as ever before. Made in the throes of the Ronald Regan era, They Live is an entertaining ride with biting satire on American consumerism and the somnambulism of the populace. Little has changed since 1988 when it comes to the motivations of the American people. Money talks, bullshit walks… as it were.

A powerful money mogul whose entire resume is based on using money to make more (or less) money is now our President-elect, so it’s hard to deny that money remains our God in the US. This mogul’s success is tied very closely to unethical practices and exploiting the holes in the US tax code, but money is money. Thus, returning to this film now seems like a better idea than ever.

The film chronicles the story of John Nada (“Rowdy” Roddy Piper, who passed away in 2015), a drifter looking for work in LA. He finds a construction job where he makes a friend in new coworker Frank Armitage (Keith David). Frank takes Nada to a local soup kitchen and a small shantytown; en route they encounter some colorful folks, including a manic street preacher warning everyone that they must wake up to the truth. Stumbling into a church, Nada finds it’s a front and begins to snoop around before hearing folks coming in, causing him to sneak away. He returns to the church in the morning after the shanytown is bulldozed by the police. They he discovers a box of sunglasses and takes a pair. Of course, when he throws those shades on, he finally sees the truth.

The truth he discovers is that the world is controlled by an alien race (an ugly one at that) and that they control through subliminal messaging. Paper money is subliminally telling people that it’s their God. Billboards are telling people to sleep and obey. Of course, most of the people are doing just that, sleeping and obeying, as well as putting money in total control of their lives. The questions then become “How will Nada combat these aliens?” and “Who will help him?”

The film’s obvious applicability to today is significant, but even more significant is this film’s entertainment value. They are numerous scenes that rank among Carpenter’s best… which is saying a hell of a lot. The classic “Bubblegum/Kick Ass” scene is fantastic for so many reasons, for example. The line itself is sheer brilliance and it was improvised by Roddy Piper, who Carpenter hired due to his mic skills demonstrated while working in the World Wrestling Federation. The delivery and its reception take that scene the next level. Yet, it’s still not the best scene in the film.

There is a fight between Nada and Frank when Nada first tries to get Frank to put on the sunglasses… and the fight is epic. Piper and David legitimately throw down. The fight choreography is rugged and real, with some of Piper’s wrestling acumen being front and center. This scene, alone, makes the film a must watch.

I can’t recommend this film enough to folks who’ve never seen it before. Even if the satire doesn’t do anything for you, the action sequences, humor, and suspense should hook you. And for those who haven’t seen it in years, now is the time. Or, if you are like me and watch this film yearly, then you know what I’m talking about.

The poor and the underclass are growing. Racial justice and human rights are nonexistent. They have created a repressive society and we are their unwitting accomplices. Their intention to rule rests with the annihilation of consciousness. We have been lulled into a trance. They have made us indifferent to ourselves, to others. We are focused only on our own gain.

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the author

Justin Harlan mostly watches kids movies because he has two toddlers who hog the Roku remote. When they go to sleep he occasionally has time to watch films that he wants to. His taste is often questionable according to Liam, but he's still good people.