Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Precis on They Live

This is not a common film people expect to see, because it is to some extent ridiculous as a film, but still attractive to the audience. It tells the story of human overthrowing the mental control of the aliens.
There are some amusing scenes in the film, most of which are related to Nada. Nada is a character with distinct personality. He is idealistic, with a strong body and a strong sense of justice. Nada is more of imagination than of truth, and that might be the reason why some lines of him turns out silly. At first, he is very hopeful. “You need to have a little more patience with life.” He said to Frank. And when he realize the truth, he then began to fight without hesitation, even without thinking. He held the gun and started to shoot. His behavior is out of the scruples of society rules, and even the law. Why does Carpenter choose such a reckless guy to express the wake up and resistance of proletariat? Let us think in another way. Nada is such a small potato that if he were just a normal person, he does not have a voice strong enough to gain attention in society, not even strong enough to be heard in the film. From my point, the times that Nada surprises us sometimes by his behavior are just where Carpenter tries to call attention. Deeper things reveal themselves just when we imagine what will happen if Nada is only a normal person.
Different from Nada, Holly is someone we believe that is truly existing. This woman changed her mind and attitude so quickly that it is hard to read her mind and guess what she is doing next. But one thing for sure is that in any situation, she will choose a way that best protects herself. When Nada threatened her at first, she promised to do whatever Nada says, but then she threw Nada out of the window to regain her safety. Then she showed up in the secret meeting but her intention is not clearly showed in the film. From my point, her showing up does not express her sense of justice, but her belief that with more and more people knowing the truth, human will win the war. She must be on the more promising team. But after the fighting, she realized the hopelessness of the weak resistance of human, so she changed her mind to be with aliens.
Carpenter raised a few problems in the film.
a.       How many sunglasses can be made?
In the film, people could not destroy the radio studio of aliens, and the only method to make people see is to wear the sunglasses. Through the reading materials of the past weeks, we have seen how the society and mass people are controlled and influenced in economy and culture. The control is hard to break and hard to resist, just like the system of economy of capitalism and the standards of cultural industry. Some people can see the problem, in every history period. It is true, but only when they wear glasses. Carpenter intended to make the process of gaining a pair of sunglasses so difficult. That is the true difficulty people experience when they try to see the truth. And this is also saying that, people who see are bound to be the majority.
b.       How to win the war?
Nada is the absolute hero in the film. Though there are some people involved in the war, the final result seems to be up to Nada himself. It was a narrow win, though a planned narrow win by Carpenter. But what if Nada was shot a few seconds before he shot the wireless station? This will be what all of us need to face. When Nada succeeded it was actually a little funny, and every time it turns out a little funny, there is something behind it. The overthrown is never a smooth process, but a process largely depend on chances. Actually, I see a pessimistic future of the society from reflection on the scene, since it seems to count the victory on miracles.
c.       What will it be like after the triumph?
This is the ending scene of the film. A human girl was in bed with her alien boyfriend and all of a sudden she saw his real face. If the girl is a character like Nada, she will shoot the alien at once. But she just stopped, and started to look up with wide-opened eyes. This is the true confusion human kind need to face after throwing over the oppressors’ control. The relationship between common people and the oppressors will be a huge, complicated problem presented in front of the whole society.


Shayda Azamian said...

I appreciate your analysis of the transformation that Nada took in the film! After the discovery of his oppressors, his attitude toward society completely changes from being patient and relaxed to suspicious and cynical. I think it's very interesting that you included hyptotheticals into your precis as well by questioning the seemingly-perfect timing of Carpenter's action scenes.

Joshua Park said...

Hahaha I love how you propose Nada as a small potato. Although why a potato is very interesting and unique so why did you choose to identify him as a small potato? Unless this is an common English idiom that I am not aware of?

I particularly liked how you incorporated the list of problems he conveys and tied it to what we learned over the summer. I was intrigued by how you think that from the scene, you reflect that for society, victory will only come in miracles. What is your definition of miracles? To me, victory is when the right person is at the right place at the right time. That definition doesn't constitute to be a miracle but it is, perhaps just as rare as a miracle. But as shown throughout the course of history, there have been such people to perform some victory for humankind whether their effects are local or global in scope, which I don't think should carry much weight.

Yiming Huang said...

I am really interested in your way of formulating this precis, especially the ending problem-specific style.

At first I also think this is not the type of movie that I would like to watch, but all the plots about captialism, or media... Those things "growing" little by little in the movie really attracted my attention. I noticed that you used several quotations in your precis, and I want to know why you chose those specific quotes instead of something else.

Your critiques and analysis on Nada is fantastic, but I think I myself would put more analysis on Frank. To me, he is as a proletariat more significant than Nada. Some personalities of Frank is more realistic, and the fate of his death also had more relations with the proletariat class.

Joshua Park said...

@ Yiming

How would you say he is a proletariat more significant than Nada?

After reading your comment, I just had a thought and would like to see what you would say. So I know when we say proletariat we don't consider the racial divide. I don't know much about Marxist critical theory enough since I just started delving into critical theory through this class, so correct me if I am wrong. But it is interesting how the Nada is a white man vs. Frank is the black man and given their various characteristics they are so. Frank, as representative of the black community, is perhaps as he is because he represents the people who have been suffering under the oppressed system far longer and have learned to deal with it. Nada, the white man, has a name that means nothing and represents ignorance in the general white community. Because he is out of a job and lives in those parks, there is also the complexities of class difference but I would like to know what you, or anybody else, think about this idea of the race factor in this movie.

Theodore H said...

I think in addition to the difficulty of acquiring a sunglass to see the truth, Carpenter also brings up another interesting point through the absurdly long fight sequence between Nada and Frank: even when we are given the the truth, we resist it. It's a lot like Plato's allegory of the cave in which the we truth blinds us in the beginning. Even Nada the ideal revolutionary has a hard time reacting to the truth when he first puts on sunglasses. Others, such as Frank, are even more extreme by refusing to even look at the truth until it's forced upon them.

Yiming Huang said...


No... I'm definitely not talking about gender issues. What I want to mean here is that, Frank here as the man who Nada wanted to convince about the whole alien thing, turned to be obstinate. In the scenes where Nada first discovered the magical use of the sunglasses, he indeed used some time to convince himselg about the truth, including several absurd conflicts at the newspaper stand, or even more, the car hijack. However, the process that Frank conviced himself that the truth about alien abduction, is expresses by a fight. Here, what I wanted to say is that the form of Frank's fighting compared with those of Nada, turned out that he is more of a proletarian. I don't know if I answered your question...

Aaron Baum said...

In regards to Joshua's comment,

I definitely think that race is a big issue in the relationship between Frank and Nada.

For one, it seems that Frank, at least at first, is more critical of the status quo system of economic repression than is Nada. However, in the movie Frank is less willing to do anything about the problem, whereas Nada actually goes to investigate. I think this reflects the fact that African Americans have been oppressed in the US since the beginning of this nation, and because of this, Frank more readily recognizes when exploitation occurs. At the same time, the character of Frank in the film is made to show that much of the African American community has lost hope for any redress of grievances after fighting for so hard only to end up living in a country which still discriminates based on race, if not explicitly then implicitly. Nada, on the other hand, is a white man, and thus is the most privileged population group in society (even if his character isn't in the film, he still represents the group as a whole). His denial of what is actually occurring reflects the fact that it is difficult for those in a privileged position to admit that something is amiss unless it is practically shoved in their face. However, after this realization, the empowered population feels more ready to actually engage with stratification in a way that can destroy the system because they have been empowered throughout history.

Second, I think that the fight scene as a scene between a black man and a white man is very interesting. To me, it demonstrates that race as a defining factor of one's being has been made so important in this country that it divides those who should otherwise work together. Furthermore, as a scene between two impoverished individuals, this demonstrates that specifically the wealthy have created race as such a crucial part of the self. After slavery was abolished and African Americans entered the labor market, wealthy employers made sure to demonize African Americas in order to make poor white workers hate them for taking their jobs. Because of this, whites focused hatred on blacks rather than on the real enemy, i.e., the wealthy. Indeed, the length of the fight scene is not the only absurd aspect of the interaction, the reason for starting the fight is absurd in the first place. The purported reason for the altercation is that Frank (for some reason) refuses to put the glasses on. This develops into a fight. Because the stated reason for the fight is so absurd, we can only assume, then, that the real reason the fight occurred is because of racial tension.

Joshua Park said...

@ Yiming:

I don't recall asking about gender issues but yes I think you touched on my question about how you think Frank is more of a proletariat than Nada is. So now then since you said based on the forms of fighting of Frank vs. the forms of fighting of Nada, Frank shows he is more of a proletariat. Can you expound upon this a little bit further? Were not the fighting forms and fighting moves almost mirror to each other that helped create the comedic sense? Unless you meant the reaction to the truth between Frank and Nada where Frank had to go through violence but Nada was more self-contemplation and observation?

Joshua Park said...

@ Aaron Baum

YES! YES! Your first paragraph put my exact thoughts into specific words. I was thinking about that while reflecting on the movie except I couldn't express it into sentences to comment haha. But yes, I completely agree on the racial implications between Nada and Frank and how they associate to the roles they play in the movie.

Your second paragraph is a lot for me to contemplate with. Very interesting interpretation of the racial factor in the fight scene. The racial tension exhibited during the fight scene represents the racial tension between the proletariat, a manipulation by the bourgeoise to distract the attention to the root of the problem. It does seem to have merit. However, I don't know if I can agree with what you said about how you conclude such an interpretation based on the reason for the fight. To limit such a complex interpretation based on the simple absurdity of the cause of the fight is... I can't think of the right word for this it's 1 in the morning LOL. Constraining? A bit of a stretch to make? Maybe when my mind is refreshed after some sleep I can explain myself haha

Aaron Baum said...


I'm glad my first paragraph could help. In regards to the second argument I made about the racial reasons for the fight, I can understand how that seems reductionist. As this is a movie created for a mass audience and not a more explicit argumentative piece of writing, it is in my opinion much more up to interpretation than other texts we have looked at. However, I still believe that race had a lot to do with why the fight started.
After rewatching the fight scene on YouTube, the beginning is fairly absurd. Frank first strikes Nada as Nada walks towards Franks and instructs him to wear the sunglasses, this is after Frank gives Nada one week's worth of pay. So there is this conflict between treating Nada kindly and abusively which doesn't make much sense in context. The next attack comes from Nada, after he says "I'm trying to save you and your family's life". After Nada says he is trying to help Frank, he hits him. This makes absolutely no sense, and I think this is reflective of something which Carpenter says also makes no sense. In this case, I see race relations as the biggest issue at hand. This makes sense between racism based on the color of one's skin is just as absurd and arbitrary as the fight itself. Of course, there are other interpretations, but even if one pins the fight on another issue, I believe Carpenter is being intentionally reductionist to one or a few issues that he says are absurd and should not incite conflict but do anyway.

Kerri Chen said...

This piece is great because it raises questions about the film that inspire more analysis of the characters and their motivations. The racial analysis in the comments was also very engaging. I'm interested in the question raised regarding the significance of the sunglasses as a mode of understanding the truth. One factor that came to mind when I thought about the use of the sunglasses is the fact that the characters needed them at all. It seemed that only using them, or "looking through another lens", could anyone see the truth. One could infer that if we didn't question the way of living we are accustomed to, we might unknowingly live amongst aliens as in this film.

Also, I think it's significant that the characters used sunglasses and contacts later on. It seems to correlate to the time in which the Nada and Frank were first discovering the underlying truths about their world and when they are actively resisting it. When wearing sunglasses, a sort of accessory or even an aid to viewing something outside of yourself, such as in dark glasses for a 3D movie, the characters are sort of captivated by this spectacle of a world completely changed. They take time to look at everything and attempt to grasp at what their view now means. When the heroes of the film begin using the contacts distributed at the resistance meeting, it hints at the impending war to come. Contacts remain on the characters eyes better, which allows them more freedom of movement to fight the war against the world that they now see in a different light.