While many of the themes and messages in They Live have been covered both in class discussions and in our readings, the role of religion in an oppressive society was never really addressed. Therefore I wanted to cover the religious elements found in the movie and explain them in the context of a Marxian framework. Religion in They Live had a two-fold purpose: 1) to unite the proletariats and 2) to be the agent that wakes the people and shows them the truth. Leninists will interject here and quote Marx for stating, “Religion is the opium of the people,” but that’s a misconstruction of Marx’s intent. The content of religion, namely the belief in an afterlife for those who suffer in the present world, is a tool used by the ruling class to subject the oppressed. However, the methodology of religion is a legitimate form of protest by the proletariats. It is the form and not the content of religion in They Live that carry out the two aforementioned purposes. There are two clear examples in the movie that support this: the church and the blind preacher.
The church is the hideout for the rebels; the place unites all the rebels on a literal level. However, the church in the film is only the shell of religion. There is no Christian message. The gospels sung inside the church are merely recordings and the preaching of the Church members are not parables, nor biblical passages, but “Wake up! Wake up!” a message embedded in reality than in the supernatural. The rebels are not evangelists but active combatants, engaging in semiological guerilla warfare and culture jamming to fight back against the oppressors in present-day conditions.
The blind preacher is a further extension of how the form of religion servers as the unifying factor and the agent that incites change. The preacher is the very character Nada sees in the film although there is no interaction between them in the beginning. Nada sees the preacher surrounded by a group of people who are listening to him. However, the preacher isn’t citing the Bible nor is he talking about redemption in the afterlife. Once again, he’s talking about the present world and about fighting back. He says “They have blinded us to the truth… Outside the limit of our sight they're feeding off us.” The irony behind these statements is not lost on the viewer, but they wouldn’t be ironic if the form of the preacher, a blind man, was not shown to the audience. Of additional importance is social status of a preacher. They are perceived to be exemplary figures, deserving our attention because they have something important to say. If the blind man was an ordinary man, he’d be dismissed as a lunatic, sort of the like the people you see at Sproul.
The form of religion in the film plays a pivotal role in establishing authority so that people will listen and join their cause. After all, we saw what happens when Nada tries to use his own personal authority to convince Frank to join. It took a 10-minute brawl to finally convince Frank to look at the truth. At that rate, Nada will never get a revolution going on his own. But the social perceptions of clergy members enable the rebels to expedite their cause.