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File:They-live-alien 2737.jpg
THEY LIVE WE SLEEP
Resistance Graffiti

Nada is a drifting construction worker, played by wrestler "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. He arrives in a new town, and finds a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see that not only are aliens living among us, they have hidden subliminal messages urging humans to conform, consume and reproduce in all media. Nada sets out to make sense of what the sunglasses are showing him, leading to several action scenes, and an incredibly long fist-fight with Nada's construction worker friend, Frank (Keith David). Eventually, Frank and Nada find an underground movement set on exposing the aliens and freeing humanity, and join in their efforts.

They Live! is a 1988 action movie that was directed by John Carpenter. While in the U.S. it's mainly considered another cheesy actioner from The Eighties, the movie is an intriguing exercise in criticizing the Reaganomics and the deregulatory liberalism of the decade through one of its pet products: the (apparently) brainless action/scifi movie. In Europe, lots of critics have sung praises of this movie, often quoting the "put on the glasses" brawl between Rowdy and Keith as one of the best one-on-one physical duels ever committed to cinema and was parodied shot for shot in an episode of South Park. The movie also sports that one particularly awesome line, which has been borrowed, quoted and subverted many times over.


The movie provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: It's based on a short story. A "true" adaptation would have been about 15 minutes long.
  • Aliens Made Them Do It: One of the themes of the subliminal messages is encouraging humans to reproduce.
  • Ancient Conspiracy
  • Bittersweet Ending: Nada wins, but he and Frank both die. Though it gets sweeter when he flips them off before dying.
  • Black Dude Dies First: When the Resistance is raided. the Resistance's Black armorer gets gunned down as soon as they enter. Frank is killed by Holly to mark her Face Heel Turn.
  • Blind Seer: The blind priest, who is somehow able to relay the resistance's transmissions through speech.
  • Chew Bubblegum: The Ur Example, Trope Maker and Trope Codifier all in one. And it was an ad-lib.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: "Fuck it."
  • Designated Love Interest: Holly. She turns up halfway in the movie, has all of but one scene with Nada (in which she attempts to murder him) before they meet again at the Warehouse. For the rest of the film, Nada is desperately preoccupied with finding her... for some reason.
  • The Eighties: If Carpenter is right, we can blame the whole decade on the pernicious influence of an alien conspiracy and their human collaborators...
    • Also, according to Carpenter, the extra long fist fight was put in to deliberately avoid the invincible action hero that was so prevalent in the 80's.
  • Flipping the Bird: Nada gets one right before the ending.
  • Gadget Watches: The aliens' wristwatches, which work as a communication device and as an emergency teleporter.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Holly forces Nada out of her house by hitting him in the head with a bottle and making him crash through a window.
    • Averted later during the brawl between Nada and Frank; Frank tries to break a bottle for an improvised sharp weapon, but it shatters completely.
  • Groin Attack: Done few times during the back-alley fight between Frank and Nada.
  • Invisible Aliens: The aliens broadcast a signal that makes them look human, and their messages look like ordinary billboards or pieces of paper.
  • Les Collaborateurs: The wealthy elite of society are secretly cooperating with the aliens, including a former friend of Nada and Frank from the camp.
  • Mass Hypnosis: Note the above.
  • The Mole: Holly.
  • No Name Given: "Nada" is just Roddy's placeholder in the credits, which is also the name of the character in the short story. His character's name is never revealed, as John Carpenter thought of him as an entirely-anonymous manual labourer. It also doubles as Meaningful Name in some languages, since "Nada" is the Spanish word for "Nothing", and the Croatian-Serb word for "Hope".
  • Non Actor Vehicle: Roddy Piper.
  • Overly Long Gag: The fight scene.
  • Properly Paranoid: well, it plays straight the whole pot of conspiracy theories at once...
  • See-Thru Specs: The sunglasses allow anyone wearing them to see the aliens and subliminal messages.

 "Put the glasses on! PUT 'EM ON!"

  • Take That, Critics!: The second-to-last shot; after the aliens' satellite is destroyed and reveals their true faces, the shot shows alien proxies for Siskel & Ebert who are criticizing violence in films by directors like George Romero and John Carpenter. Given Carpenter's inclusion of himself (not to mention that he quite obviously has a sense of humour), this scene may just be an Affectionate Parody of Siskel and Ebert.
  • Took a Level In Badass: Nada learns to use all kinds of firearms, evolving from a normal placeholder into a gunslinger.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Many examples, but the main character in particular points a big fat arrow at himself by pointing out hidden aliens. It's handwaved later when he says that wearing the shades for too long is like being on drugs, which would explain his lack of subtlety.
  • Unfriendly Fire: The scene where Holly shoots Frank, marking her Face Heel Turn.
  • Use Your Head: When Nada tries to hit Frank on the groin he dodges and he has to headbutt him instead.
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