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Politically Thought-Provoking Caper
on 13 April 2009
This is a clever and crazy film - especially notable, on a basic level, for its wacky special effects which make it look more 1950s than 1990s, and which need to be enjoyed in the spirit of this film.
On a more considered level, there's a lot going on, politically.
Right up to the end, it is not clear on which side John Carpenter is standing - if he is standing anywhere - nor the intended take-home message.
From the start, it is clear that Carpenter is vilifying, among other things, a certain kind of extreme theocratic Christianity. In the USA, that is a hugely political thing to attempt to do. The film bombed at the box-office and perhaps this is part of the reason. The anti-Christian message is pretty well to the fore. For example, the President is portrayed throughout the film as a lunatic who will kill his own daughter - who "needs to pray" and who clutches a Bible. For some people, that will be offensive.
However, we don't find spiritual or ideological refuge in the opposing side either!
The President's opposite number, the leader of the prisoners on Los Angeles island, is a Che Guevara lookalike, called Cuervo Jones - who initially seems like some kind of hip Third World alternative, until we discover that he likes to murder people for fun in the disused sporting arena.
While the prisoners on Los Angeles island are leading a much "freer" existence than the inhabitants of the US mainland - unlike the mainlanders, they can smoke, drink alcohol, eat red meat, own guns and wear fur coats - they are not using their freedom in any constructive way.
For example, on landing on the island, the first thing Snake Plissken finds them doing is machine-gunning each other out of car windows. They all seem - witness the stadium scene - to be psychopathic hooligans who use their freedom and their inhibition from "rules", simply to kill each other.
If Carpenter comes down on anyone's side - and I am not entirely sure that he does - then it would tend to be on the individualistic side of Snake Plissken. The final scene of Plissken with the cigarette in his mouth, appears to represent some kind of homage to this "American Spirit" of individualism.
In reality, though, neither the extremist individualism of Plissken, nor the theocracy of the US State, nor the revolutionary psychopathy of Cuervo Jones answers satisfactorily the question which this film posits.
That is, how, and by whom, do we wish to be governed?