“They Live” — An Update

Even though I men­tioned it in the orig­i­nal post­ing, I want­ed to add that the web­site Io9 has a new review of the book, “They Live” by Jonathan Lethem, here, a crit­i­cal exam­i­na­tion of the 1988 John Car­pen­ter movie of the same name that I wrote about here. I did­n’t exam­ine the book in that post­ing, but I’ve learned some things about it that I want to bring to my read­ers’ attention.

The book has received a num­ber of very good reviews:

“Appar­ent­ly, author Lethem was the only oth­er per­son than me to take They Live as bril­liant, sting­ing social com­men­tary. He explains why in this great book.” — Sam Stowe, Cal­i­for­nia Lit­er­ary Review

“Who would have thought that one of the clever­est, most acces­si­bly in-depth film books released this year would be a smart-ass nov­el­ist explor­ing a cheesy-cheeky ‘80s sci-fi flick where­in a for­mer wrestler com­bats an alien occu­pa­tion via mag­ic sun­glass­es? … [Jonathan Lethem] is able to seri­ous­ly dis­sect the movie’s mes­sage and often high­brow ref­er­ences, while also ful­ly acknowl­edg­ing its silli­ness.” —Hart­ford Advocate

“Nov­el­ist and occa­sion­al crit­ic Jonathan Lethem pulls apart the threads of John Car­pen­ter’s 1988 sci­ence fic­tion film of the same title, to enter­tain­ing and illu­mi­nat­ing effect … Carpenter’s film emerges from Lethem’s inspec­tion a more human and mys­te­ri­ous work, less coher­ent per­haps but ful­ly immersed in the noisy, cease­less traf­fic of cul­tur­al exchange.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A fun read, packed with ref­er­ences to oth­er films, lit­er­a­ture and artists … one of the few books one would enjoy read­ing while watch­ing a movie.” —USA Today’s Pop Candy

I’ve added it to my Ama­zon wish­list, which I should have done back when I first posted.

The fol­low­ing is a sam­ple of the writing:

They’re appalling, that’s what they are. Walk­ing dis­as­ters. Flayed, scald­ed, piebald, gri­mac­ing, cor­rupt­ed, robot­ic, evok­ing syphilis-vic­tim scare-pho­tos from teenage health-ed night­mares, yet some­how accusato­ry, defi­ant inside their dis­guis­es, the ghouls present no lim­it of affront to a healthy con­struc­tion-work­er’s eye. They looked burnt, yet gooey. They’re also – how to say this? – affronting­ly cheapo (even­tu­al­ly we’ll even notice in their ghoul-hands what looks like the wrin­kling of rub­ber dish­wash­ing gloves, and so this may be anoth­er rea­son for the black-and-white, bet­ter to mask low-bud­get inad­e­qua­cies). This fact frees a cer­tain reliev­ing hilar­i­ty yet also syn­the­sizes with our revul­sion: Some­thing this skeezy is rul­ing my world? Some­thing this ludi­crous is freak­ing me out? (The vir­tu­os­i­ty of Car­pen­ter’s mise-en-scène ensures it is.) The first to turn to the cam­era and say, more or less, ‘Fuck you lookin’ at? is this sil­ver-haired, foxy old­er gen­tle­man of obvi­ous priv­i­lege referred to in the cred­its as “Well-Dressed Cus­tomer”; his sus­tained, with­er­ing ghoul-glare as he pur­chas­es his mag­a­zine (with dol­lars that con­fess THIS IS YOUR GOD) is one of They Live’s icons, an instant that punch­es a spooky hole in time. Nada has­n’t locat­ed his voice yet, so we’re left undis­tract­ed, or uncon­soled, by any cheese-dip-Brazil­ian-plas­tic-surgery-per­fume-on-a-pig one-lin­ers. What’s bril­liant­ly guar­an­teed is how total­ly we’d loathe this guy any­way; you may not be going home in your BMW and Rolex to soak in your Jacuzzi, but he cer­tain­ly is. So, already brew­ing with­in our ter­ror is a lav­ish con­tempt, one that finds sat­is­fac­tion at the rot­ten-corpse vis­age before us. Any rich guy who’s every glow­ered at us like we did­n’t belong some­where – an out­door mag­a­zine rack, for chris­sakes! – real­ly ought to look as sick on the out­side as we’re cer­tain he is in his soul. I’m fuck­ing look­ing at you, man! Nada’s not quite there, but he’s just a step away.

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