Near the beginning of John Carpenter’s paranoid horror film In The Mouth of Madness, a character proclaims, “Nothing surprises me. We fucked up the air, the water, we fucked up each other. Why don’t we just finish the job by just flushing our brains down the toilet.” While re-watching the film a couple months ago, I was reminded of a notion I’ve had in the last couple years… that the fantastical movies of John Carpenter are becoming true.
I mean, am I the only one who cringes (and sometimes laughs) at the irony that New York and Los Angeles seem to be on track to turn into prison cities as they were in Carpenter’s two Snake Plissken movies? What was once an 80s/90s Science Fiction doesn’t seem too hard to imagine as crime infests each metropolis. Or you can go back to his more grounded second feature, The Assault on Precinct 13, a story that could be ripped from the evening news in nearly every state as violence, riots, and aggression towards law enforcement have rocked our country the last four years. Moving to the world stage, I was watching his 1987 apocalyptic film Prince of Darkness last night and couldn’t help but compare the slow but clearly threatening assembly of satanic zombies around the church to the gradual but obviously hostile build up of Putin’s forces on the border of Ukraine. Like Carpenter’s characters, our world leaders just kind of watched it happen until it was too late and, regretfully, they now also share the characters’ dilemma of possible annihilation. Even at his most ridiculous, Big Trouble in Little China hints to a world takeover from the other side of the Pacific. I wouldn’t say that’s so far-fetched anymore.
But perhaps the closest correlation between Carpenter’s movies and our world is the famous five and a half minute fight scene in They Live. I recently showed the film to my ex-girlfriend (she didn’t appreciated its satirical relevance) and couldn’t help cracking up at the “Put the sunglasses on” brawl between Roddy Piper and Keith David in the context of our current cultural divide. In essence, both sides of the political spectrum have been saying that same thing to each other the last few turbulent years. Each side wants the other to “see” the real world; both the right and the left believe they have “the sunglasses” and stubbornly want the opposition to put them on. I recommend watching the iconic scene again in the light of recent political battles. And if you’ve never seen the movie, stop what you’re doing right now and watch Carpenter’s biting sci-fi satire.
Later during In the Mouth of Madness, a character says, “A reality is just what we tell each other it is. Sane and insane could easily switch places if the insane were to become the majority.” Take that as you wish but, for me, it’s a haunting prediction. I no longer watch John Carpenter’s movies as fun fantasies but prophetic visions of a possible future, however crazy (and entertaining) they may be. Let’s just be glad we don’t have to worry about The Thing taking over our friends, becoming an invisible enemy who could turn on us at any moment… or do we? I wish I could say that we’ll all be alright because vampire hunter James Woods is going to save us… but he’s been cancelled.