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They Live

A drifter discovers a pair of sunglasses that allow him to wake up to the fact that aliens have taken over the Earth.

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They Live

Directed by John Carpenter

At the Charles Theater July 18 at 9 p.m.

While watching They Live, it’s best to be forgiving. Forgive it for the fight scene that—while impressive in its thoroughness—slows down the pace of the film. Forgive the characters for making insane choices not based in reality. And forgive it for its pacing, which zips forward from its inciting incident with precision and speed, only to slow down in the final third of the story. Forgive it because, despite the aforementioned flaws, They Live fucking rules and, in this time of political uncertainty, its story seems so relevant to this day.

Written and directed by John Carpenter, the 1988 film follows a nameless drifter known only as Nada (Roddy Piper, aka “Rowdy Roddy Piper), who arrives in Los Angeles in search of work. When he lands a job on a construction site, he strikes up a friendship with another worker, Frank (Keith David). After discovering a pair of sunglasses that allows him to see the world as it truly is, Nada is startled to find billboards that read “OBEY” and “MARRY AND REPRODUCE.” Even worse, he sees the true identity of social elites: skull-faced aliens that covertly control the Earth. He soon loses his shit, causing the entire city to hunt him down. He pummels an unwilling Frank into seeing the world through the specs (“Just put ’em on, man,” he says between brutal uppercuts in The Longest Fight Scene in the History of Film), and soon after, the pair joins a group of revolutionaries who aim to destroy the television signal that blinds the world to the alien influence.

It’s likely the film will remind you of current events. The shantytown where Nada takes up residence might call to mind the Occupy movement, and you might have heard someone utter a phrase similar to the one Nada states early on: “I believe in America. I follow the rules. Everybody has got their own hard times, these days.” When the aliens are referred to as “free enterprisers,” you might think of recent debates raging in Washington. One of the wonderful (and also tragic) things about They Live is that its message rings true today, that we’re still coping with an unfair system. Plus, it’s got Rowdy Roddy Piper at the helm, so it makes that bitter pill a bit easier to swallow. Don’t miss your chance to see this classic at the Charles in stunning 35 mm, thanks to the Gunky’s Basement film series, part of the Maryland Film Festival.

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