“…a little human compassion…”

Bob Hauk: Plissken, if you get back in that glider and fly back here without the tape or the President, I’ll shoot you down myself! You try to climb out, I’ll burn you off the wall! Do you understand that, Plissken?
Snake Plissken: [beat] A little human compassion.

Probably my favorite moment of Snake’s.

The exchange above, is of course, taken from John Carpenter’s dystopian cult hit Escape from New York, which celebrates it’s 35th Anniversary today, July 10 (it was released on the same date back in 1981.)

Backed by Carpenter’s simple but effective score, one of the top ten anti-heroes in cinematic history took over the imagination mid-summer the year I graduated high school. I remember going to see at the Grand Theater in downtown Paris, Tx. Probably on a Friday or Saturday night, with my friends if I recall correctly. It wasn’t a date movie – it was a guy flick. A good ol’ testosterone neo-noir sci-fi western of sorts… a lone ex-military convict, forced to save the President from Manhattan Prison.

In 1988, the crime rate in the United States rises four hundred percent. The once great city of New York becomes the one maximum security prison for the entire country. A fifty-foot containment wall is erected along the New Jersey shoreline, across the Harlem River, and down along the Brooklyn shoreline. It completely surrounds Manhattan Island. All bridges and waterways are mined. The United States Police Force, like an army, is encamped around the island. There are no guards inside the prison, only prisoners and the worlds they have made. The rules are simple: once you go in, you don't come out.

“In 1988, the crime rate in the United States rises four hundred percent. The once great city of New York becomes the one maximum security prison for the entire country. A fifty-foot containment wall is erected along the New Jersey shoreline, across the Harlem River, and down along the Brooklyn shoreline. It completely surrounds Manhattan Island. All bridges and waterways are mined. The United States Police Force, like an army, is encamped around the island. There are no guards inside the prison, only prisoners and the worlds they have made. The rules are simple: once you go in, you don’t come out.”

A lot of my fellow geeks and nerds would no doubt attest to wanting to be Snake, and might even had affected his tone and mannerisms (which Kurt Russell patterned after Clint Eastwood) in the privacy of their own homes. I myself remember mimicking his voice, trying to match the gruff, whispered tones, trying (and failing) to grow the right scruffy beard and maybe even sliding an patch over one eye.

What really struck me about the film is it’s bleak outlook about the human condition – and it’s assertion that we will, left to our own devices, bring about our own doom.

It’s a stylish, low budget sci-fi pop-corn muncher and it’s also a social commentary – maybe a lot closer about society today than when it came out thirty-five years ago. Back then, it was just a fantasy… today, looking at the mass incarcerations here in the USA and the fascist political rantings happening daily on TV and the internet – not so much.

And in the middle of it there’s this wonderful little human moment – with Snake, alone in a city of criminals and psychos and cannibals, listening as Hauk growls and threatens . And Russel’s response, his line reading isn’t what you’d expect. He doesn’t growl back, he doesn’t spit out a witty one-liner.

He sees the futility of it all. He sees the death of empathy and hope. The cost of one human life – his life – doesn’t stack up against another’s. Compassion is dead.

If you haven’t seen it, shame on you. Find a friend who has a copy – I know you have one who does. Get it, watch it.

Happy 35th, #EscapeFromNewYork

Bob Hauk: You going to kill me, Snake?
Snake Plissken: Not now, I’m too tired.
[pause]
Snake Plissken: Maybe later.

Snake

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