Snake Plissken is, of course, an archetype. The stoic, uncaring antihero is a character that can be found throughout the history of literature. Indeed, as flip indifference came to represent the modern notion of “cool,” flip or blasé protagonists became more and more common. For many years — and still to this day — anti/heroic characters in fantastical fiction are often heard commenting wryly on their own strange situations, bored more than astonished. One might call the most recent iteration the “That Just Happened” phenomenon.
When writing Snake Plissken, John Carpenter and co-screenwriter Nick Castle were likely not reaching back to the origins of antiheroes, but to more recent iterations taken from the works of Sergio Leone. Plissken, with his growly voice, a permanent scowl, and propensity for violence, closely resembles several characters played by Clint Eastwood. Snake, however — coming into the world in 1981, a time of Reagan, nuclear fear, and punk rock dismissal of an increasingly conservative America — did not possess his uncaring nihilism as an effect or as a clever analysis of character types. He, and presumably Carpenter and Castle, seemed to come by their hatred of the world honestly.
The premise of “Escape from New York” seems to be a theoretical extrapolation of neo-fascist, right-wing policies in the early 1980s. Set in the future of 1997, crime has shot up in New York City by 400%. The government’s solution was to simply build a massive wall around Manhattan, transforming the entire island into a giant, unsupervised prison. Food is dropped in occasionally, but anyone who gets too close to the wall from the inside will be shot by guards.
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Author: Witney Seibold
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January 25, 2023