Sunday, September 27, 2009

Nietzsche in John Carpenter's They Live


In the cult classic They Live (88), John Carpenter tells the story of one man, Nada, who accidentally stumbles across the product of a secret cult of mysterious sunglass makers: sunglasses. Upon wearing them, Nada sees the truth of the world: blank billboards that read "eat, sleep, reproduce" and magazines that order everyday citizens to "spend, spend" and that "money is your God." Apparently, the world has been taken over by aliens that code their messages so that what we see as normal billboards and magazines are really propaganda convincing us all to become, as Nietzsche would say, part of a herd.

Nada, in a sense, becomes Nietzsche's "Übermensch." He is the one man, aided by his special sunglasses, that starts the movement against these intruders. During one of the movie's finest moments, the 7-8 minute fight scene (which can be found here; if you have the time, I highly recommend watching it), Nada fights Frank, a man symbolizing the herd altogether.

During our discussions about Nietzsche, my mind kept coming back to this movie. Nada's fight against the aliens, and in addition, the herd itself, sort of related to a second slave revolt in morality. Nada's "will to power" underlines the existentialist undertones throughout the entire movie, culminating in one of the finest lines in the movie: "I came here to chew bubble gum and kick ass... and I'm all out of bubble gum."


  1. First of all, I've never seen that movie, but that fight scene was pretty epic, I have to say. I think this is a really interesting connection, especially since it portrays how easy it is to simply go along with the "herd." It is far more difficult to go against the herd, obviously, than go along with the crowd, to follow. In this case, it takes an "Übermensch" to have the power to "fight" back against the herd; and as far as it being another form of slave revolt, I’m kind of confused because if I can see that "the herd" (also aliens?)became evil and Nada, "good," but in the slave revolt, the "evil" that the slaves were revolting against was the elite. In this sense however, the evil is the herd, the masses, which is not necessarily the elite...or maybe that's how the movie portrays "them," I'll just have to see for myself.

  2. Just as an afterthought, this connection also ties in very nicely with Heidegger's concept of "theyself" in almost every way. Literally, the "they" in They Live command us to do what we see as ordinary life. "They say we should grow up, get married, have kids, and spend money." Who are they? Well, in Carpenter's case, they are aliens taking over the earth. They have gone to extreme measures to keep their identity secret and do everything to keep it that way, because, after all, "momma don't like tattle tales."


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