Written by Amanda Pampuro
“You can’t trust a skinny cook and you can’t trust the fat leader of a starving country.” – J.G. Sarmiento
Escape from New York is a lot like Overboard, except Kurt Russell has an eye patch and instead of tricking Goldie Hawn into raising his kids, he rescues the president from the hands of criminals with life sentences in the world’s greatest maximum security prison—Manhattan.
Much like Prison Break, there is a spoiler in the title. And the film opens with someone’s shotty shot at escape, so you know it is impossible to break out unless you are Kurt Russell and decide to try running across the bridge and climb a rope.
Liberty Island security control predates Fringe and looks a lot like airport security, down to the yellow lines on the floor and the calm voice overhead giving directions. The one perk the prison processing center has that airports do not, is you have the option to be cremated on the spot.
The president’s plane is hijacked by rebels and he has to emergency land in Manhattan, where he is quickly captured by crime boss The Duke and held ransom. Badass Snake Plissken is coerced into rescuing the president and a cassette tape he is carrying containing plans for nuclear weapons. While most dictators would use the president as leverage to get better guns or food, the Duke demands freedom for freedom—he offers to exchange the president for the freedom of his people. Which is a strange request as the Duke is only in power as long as the prison remains in operation. Instead of furthering his own power, The Duke does what is best for the people of Manhattan.
On the other hand, America’s president is a fat, bald man who squeals as he is used for target practice. He is completely helpless and incapable of saving himself. Being thrown in the middle of the prison, he is given opportunity to understand what is happening in the country he rules and to see how his people live, but instead he begs for his bourgeois existence and pees his pants.
The Duke is willing to get his hands dirty and nearly stirs up a revolution. The president is not so much a hostage to him, but his only means of being heard. Therefore in the 2000 election, my vote went to the Duke.
Filmed in 1981, set in 1997, this film anticipates a parting between the people and their government. As crime rises 400%, the government will use its power to build a wall and ignore whatever problems exist. As the nineties and millennium are marked with political apathy and politicians that are socially and economically distant from votes, I would consider this prediction somewhat accurate. Then again Escape from New York was not so much anticipating a time of political turmoil, so much as reflecting one—creator John Carpenter has been quoted saying he was inspired by Watergate and certain lines parallel of the poor treatment of Vietnam vets.
1997 also features a super stealth glider plane, primitive GPS, and reliance on cassette tapes for storing information about nuclear fusion. While in the ‘80’s Escape from New York was considered a worst case scenario to be lived in fear of, today we call the same thing reality TV.
My biggest criticism is that though it is set in a giant prison in New York, the movie seems to take place in dark allies and warehouses. The whole movie is a long shot in the dark, but the last ten minutes make it worthwhile. The first thing the president does upon escape is get made up for the camera. He offers Snake anything he wants, and Snake asks the president how he feels, about all the people who died for him. The president gives a half-assed thanks, as he glances in the mirror. Snake takes a drag on his cigarette and walks away.
But he doesn’t walk away, he makes a sequel.