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They Live

They Live

By Patrick Samuel • May 29th, 2012
Universal Studios

Original release: November 4th, 1988
Running time: 93 minutes

Director: John Carpenter
Writers: John Carpenter, Ray Nelson (short story)
Composer: John Carpenter

Cast: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster

Sunglasses: 00:32:04 to 00:39:05

Deconstructing Cinema: One Scene At A Time, the complete series so far

We know there’s something wrong with the world, but what? We can’t put our finger on it, but we feel it like a splinter piercing our minds.

Each day after work we return to our homes. We sit in front of a television to be sold products. What’s this endless cycle of misery? How did we fall into it, and more importantly, how do we break it?

These aren’t easy questions to answer. It all depends on how much you really want to know. Once you start scratching at the surface, you’ll see the fabric of everything you thought was real, start to fall away. You might start to feel it was better not knowing, that it was easier to live in an artificially induced state of consciousness that resembles sleep, where all you had to do was follow the rules – but now you have to face the truth…

They Live

John Carpenter’s 1988 film, The Live, was one I knew very little about until a few months ago. I’ve long admired his work on Halloween (1978) and The Thing (1982) and I’ve even interviewed him in depth about his most recent film, The Ward (2011). Yet, They Live is a film that very few people seem to talk about and therefore one that wasn’t high on my list of things to see before I die.

As I settled down to finally watch it one night, my jaw was left hanging open. In the years since events like the Waco siege, the Okalahoma bombing and the September 11th attacks, I’ve been slowly but surely waking up to the idea that world around me is nothing but a lie. Realising those in power have an agenda which involves dumbing down the population and keeping us distracted with meaningless pursuits while something else goes on behind the scenes, They Live struck a chord with me in its first few minutes.

They have blinded us to the truth. Our human spirit is corrupted. Why do we worship greed? Outside the limit of our sight they’re feeding off us. Perched on top of us from birth to death, are our owners. They have us. They control us. They are our masters. Wake up. They’re all around you.

They Live

In the film, we meet Nada (Roddy Piper), a drifter who starts work at a construction site in Los Angeles. With no place to stay, his fellow workmate, Frank (Keith David), takes him to a local shantytown where he’s given food and shelter. Unlike Frank, Nada has an optimistic view of America, despite his personal situation and seeing others gorging themselves on a life material wealth.

So how are you going to make it?

I deliver a hard day’s work for my money, I just want a chance – it’ll come. I believe in America. I follow the rules. Everybody’s got their own hard times these days.

Nada notices a small church across the street, which at first seems normal, but on further inspection he discovers it’s all a front. It’s some kind of headquarters for a civilian operation that has something to do with the interrupted television broadcasts urging people to wake up and turn off the signal.

They Live

No sooner than he discovers this, armed police in riot gear and with bulldozers descend on the church and raze the settlement during the night. They destroy everything in the process, beating people to the ground as they go. Nada manages to escape with a few others and the next morning they return to have a look at what’s left. In the empty church he finds a cardboard box, but sees a police car nearby and leaves quietly with it.

In a nearby alley, he opens the box and is disappointed to see it only contains sunglasses, but takes a pair for himself. Walking down the street, he puts it on – and what he sees is something he can’t believe.

The truth is suddenly in black and white. Nada is able to see what advertisements are really telling people. He looks at a billboard with an advertisement for a computer, but with the glasses what he sees is a sign that reads “Obey”. Another billboard shows a woman in a red bathing suit reclining on a beach with the words above her “Come to the…Caribbean”. He puts the glasses back on and it reads “Marry and Reproduce”. Nada takes them off and blinks his eyes, this can’t be.

He looks at a sign for a men’s clothing store. With the glasses on it reads “No Independent Thought”, another says “Consume”. It’s when he looks further down the street it really starts to sink in. Every piece of advertising contains subliminal messaging of the most subversive order.

They Live

As he continues walking down the street he looks at the news stands. Everything on the shelves contains a similar disturbing piece of messaging, “Submit”, “Stay Asleep”, “Buy”, “No Imagination” and “Do Not Question Authority”. Even money says something else, “This Is Your God”.

The worst is yet to come. A businessman in a suit stands nearby and ends up in Nada’s eyesight with the glasses. His face…it’s no longer human. His yes, his flesh – he looks somewhere in between a zombie and an alien, whatever he is, it’s not human. The man who sells him the newspaper looks normal though.

Nada begins to look around more. Above a traffic light is a device pumping out another subliminal command, this one is audible and it drones to the masses “Sleep, Sleep, Sleep, Sleep”. The women in the salon being fussed over, some of them are not human. The woman who has her servants holding her shopping bags, she’s definitely not human.

Walking into a supermarket, he sees them going about their shopping the same way humans are. He spots two guys discussing a job promotion, one of them lost out to the other, only one of them is human. On the television another guy is talking about optimism and there being no limits, he’s also not human.

Eventually Nada can’t take it anymore and as one these beings charges past him and sarcastically says “excuse me”, he turns and gives it to her.

They Live

You know, you look like your head fell in the cheese dip back in 1957.

She gasps but says nothing.

I take these glasses off, she looks like a regular person, doesn’t she? I put ‘em back on and – formaldehyde face! That’s what we’ve got.

It’s staggering to find a scene like this in a film. Here we have Carpenter telling us what the world is really like. It can have several meanings though. On the one hand it could be Marxist film using science-fiction themes to tell us how capitalists are controlling the proletariat, and for many I’d assume that’s as far as it goes.

“The film offers an Althusserian critique of the mass media as Ideological State Apparatus (Althusser 1971) (‘they live; we sleep), and the aliens are monstrous only insofar as we recognise them as smart capitalists – they are, as one human collaborator explains, free enterprises for whom the Earth is ‘just another developing planet. We’re their Third World.’ That the aliens pass for human and live among us, as our wives and husbands, is a particularly trenchant comment about the thorough inhumanity of American capitalism.” ¹

Yet there’s another interpretation available. Carpenter could be using this scene to tell us there really is an agenda by the elite to make sure “they live, we sleep”. We only have to look around to see there are so many things that keep us busy and free from independent thought, as well as impeding on our personal and spiritual development.

They Live

How often do you upgrade your mobile phone? How much time do you spend on social networks and computer games? How many of the latest gadgets do you own? What’s the latest Hollywood blockbuster you’ve seen? Who’s the hottest celebrity right now? Do you often forget what show you’re watching while the commercial breaks are on? Now ask yourself, do any of these things fulfil you and make you happy?

The answers to these questions don’t prove a global conspiracy, what they prove is that our impulses are being misdirected. We’re living in an artificially induced state of consciousness that resembles sleep. There’s no individuality anymore. We no longer have education in our schools. It’s simply a system of indoctrination preparing each new generation to be a mindless slave in the workforce. This can’t be a good thing, but who’s controlling it all? David Icke says it’s the Illuminati.

“The elite families, no more than 13 at the peak of their pyramid, created and manipulate this system of control through a network of secret societies. This network and the bloodlines it serves have become known as the llluminati, the “Illuminated Ones”. In other words they are illuminated into knowledge that everyone else is denied. The llluminati is an organisation within all significant organisations. It’s like a cancer. All the major secret societies feed carefully chosen recruits into the llluminati and these are the ones you find in positions of power throughout the world. They infest all colours, creeds, and countries.” ²

In Icke’s view, we’re being controlled by an ancient race of reptilian-like creatures, not unlike what we see in They Live. He’s not alone in this, researchers like Chris Everard also think there’s something going on behind the scenes.

They Live

His research has uncovered clues that would shake the foundations of what many of us perceive as reality. Details about the Anunnaki, bloodlines and ancient technology the US military have been keen to get their hands on in the Middle East, together with the true origins of our species and what NASA is hiding all make for great campfire stories and DVD sales, but what if they’re true?

“Of all the government agencies who have been deliberately silent regarding the possibility of aliens visiting planet Earth, it is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration – NASA – which has steadfastly refused to admit that they are actively involved in UFO research. However, we now know that NASA are actively involved in UFO research. More than 20 space shuttle missions have returned from space with video footage of unidentified flying objects. On every occasion, NASA have claimed that UFO’s filmed by NASA astronauts are nothing more than ice particles and debris floating in space. However, since the 1950?s more than 15 NASA astronauts have reported UFO’s to mission control. ” ³

There’s a lot going on we don’t know about – this much I’m certain of. Our planet and everything beyond it is so much more than we’re told. At times I feel it’s impossible to see the good things anymore with all the evil that’s going on. That’s when I remember I still have some control over my life. There’s still beauty and joy to be found in simple things like the first green of spring, a clear blue sky, a gentle breeze, the sound of children’s laughter and the stars at night.

It’s still possible to enjoy these things with the idea that we live in a world similar to what Ray Nelson, John Carpenter, David Icke, Chris Everard and countless others have described – and that we’re not alone.


  • Conrich, I., Woods, D. (2005) The Cinema Of John Carpenter: The Technique Of Terror, Columbia University Press ¹
  • Icke, D. (2001) Children of the Matrix, Bridge of Love ²
  • Secret Space Vol. 1 – The Illuminati and Their conquest of Space (2005), The Enigma Channel ³

The elite have managed to manipulate the media, government and the military to keep these secrets from us but they can’t keep it up forever and maybe they know it, which is why it feels like we’re approaching the end game right now. Take your life back before it’s too late. Turn off the signal.

They Live

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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