'They Live' Has The Most Inexplicable Fight Scene In Cinematic History
On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Eleven pipers piping ...
We only know one piper, and that's "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, pro wrestler and star of 1988's They Live. If you've never seen They Live, you're still familiar with the film thanks to two things. One, the line "I'm here to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and I'm all out of bubblegum" (a line that wasn't in the script, but which Piper pulled out of his wrestling repertoire). And two, the meme of Piper putting his sunglasses on, which reveals the world's hidden truths.
An hour into the film, Piper tries to get Keith David's character to put on those glasses. David refuses. The two then fight, a sequence that lasts more than five minutes. Hearing that description, you'd assume that this is some vital part of the plot, that maybe these two are enemies and the film has been building up to this moment. And yet these two characters are friendly before and after the fight, and there's no explicit reason why there's even a conflict about putting on the glasses. You could imagine a version of the script without the fight at all.
Because of this, fans have spread all kinds of rumors that seek to explain what's going on here. One common one says the two actors are fighting for real. Keith David (the actor, not the character who we aren't bothering to name) didn't really want to fight, which is why his character keeps getting up and trying to leave, while Piper is so keen to show off his wrestling moves that he refuses to let David go. In reality, the two choreographed the whole thing and practiced it over the course of weeks—six weeks, says writer/director John Carpenter.
Another rumor says that, fine, both actors were into it, but it still wasn't supposed to be part of the film. The script called for a quick 20-second tussle, which would make sense, but then these two guys put together this whole routine because they both wanted to be action heroes. But Carpenter says that's not true either. When he wrote the script, he had a whole page with just the words "The fight," then the next several pages said just "The fight continues."
There's still something weird going on with that fight, insist viewers. Despite all the fancy footwork, there are none of the usual tricks films pull to make long fights exciting. They don't move from room to room or get creative with props, there's no steady escalation, no music. At one point Piper breaks the windshield of David's car and apologizes, and then he starts laughing. Is this whole thing commentary on the absurdity of fight scenes, or of violence in general? No, say David and Piper. They were trying to make the fight awesome.
Sorry that we don't have a definitive interpretation of the fight. Maybe we need magic glasses to see the truth. Or maybe the truth is just that two guys punching each other in an alley is cool.
and a partridge in a pear tree!
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Top image: Universal Pictures