It’s been a long time since I saw a film and a took a crack at extrapolating its Enneagram. (I’ve been pretty busy with A Game of Thrones.) But I recently had the privilege of watching a cult classic, John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, and it would hardly be fair to leave the film unattended when Kathleen has been reviewing movies left and right.
With that said . . . Well, we shall see what I come up with, but it’s not looking good.
Perhaps my own opinion of the film as a whole is influencing me. I’ve seen this movie once before, many years ago, and I remembered quite a lot about it. It is truly a memorable work. I respect the filmmakers, and I can’t help but acknowledge the impact the movie had on the realm of fiction.
Hell, there probably wouldn’t even be a Metal Gear Solid series without this film.
Nevertheless, I don’t much care for this movie. I don’t like the characters and I don’t like the plot. I don’t think the film is awful — it’s just not my taste. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy watching it, and it doesn’t mean I won’t try my hardest to analyze it.
Let’s do this by the numbers, shall we?
After the incredibly long opening credits have finished, the film begins with what I can only describe as a “Double One”: the setting is established, then established again, the first time via onscreen text and narration, and the second time with straightforward visuals.
This seems like a very strange way to open a movie, but I’m not against it — after all, the setting is complicated and needs to be clearly presented. (A dystopian prison city may not be difficult to grasp now, but I’m betting it was a little bizarre back in 1981.)
During the second half of this Double One we meet Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) and briefly see Snake Plissken, our Nominal Hero. But I can’t fault the film for poor pacing, because once the setup is finished we move right into . . .
Air Force One is shot down over New York City Penitentiary and the President (Donald Pleasence) is taken hostage. We don’t even need any more elaboration here — just about anyone watching this will realize this is a Problem That Must Be Solved.
But Snake is our true protagonist and has to be affected by this Two, so Hauk meets with Snake and explains the situation to him, delivering a clear ultimatum: rescue the President or rot in New York forever.
A clean Two. So far so good. But we need a Three next — and I’m having trouble finding one.
Right after Snake agrees to fly a stealth plane into New York and save the President he’s given some gadgets, then injected with some anti-disease juice. Only it isn’t really anti-disease juice, it’s bombs. Tiny, tiny bombs in his arteries set to explode in 22 hours.
Hauk must be a great judge of character because he puts an Explosive Leash on Snake, believing he’ll bail once he’s in the plane — he turns out to have guessed correctly, so now Snake has incentive to Solve The Problem and see this movie through.
This seemed like the obvious Three to me when I was watching — in fact, it’s a textbook Three if I’ve ever seen one. Snake was affected by the Two, but not terribly interested — now he is.
So where’s the Six? Arguably it would occur when he gets the nano-bombs removed — but that doesn’t happen until the end of the movie. I’ll talk a bit more about that when we get there, though.
I have another theory for the 3, which I’m calling the Bracelet Edition. I’m borrowing it from Eric, so if it’s faulty, blame him. (Ha, I kid.)
Among the gadgets given to Snake are a tracking device and bracelet that will send a homing signal to Hauk if its hidden switch is pushed. When Snake lands in New York he tries to use the tracking device to locate the President, using the homing signal in the President’s bracelet, but when he finds said bracelet it’s attached to homeless dude. The President has been moved away.
The reflective nature of this 3 and 6 is nice: the President has a bracelet, Snake finds it, but it sets him on the wrong course; Snake has a bracelet, he uses it, it sets Hauk on the right course. Yin and Yang. Good.
The timing is wonky, though: Snake has already experienced a fair bit of New York City before he finds the homeless guy with the President’s bracelet, which means we should be well into the Four by this point. It could work, but it’s a stretch. I’ll get back to this in a minute, let’s span some running time first.
Snake enters New York and we get a proper introduction to how it works, how it breathes and behaves. We meet Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine) and see the Crazies, the cannibalistic sewer dwellers. The homeless guy with the bracelet appears and is knocked out by Snake.
Whichever 3/6 is correct, the main thing to take away from this Four is that Snake is alone. He gets a few directives from Hauk and he meets Cabbie and a nameless woman, but he doesn’t actually know any of them and tries to ignore them.
Therefore, the Switch occurs when Snake finds somebody he recognizes, his old partner Brain (Harry Dean Stanton). Cabbie reappears and drives Snake to Brain and his mistress/companion Maggie, played by Adrienne Barbeau, who coincidentally starred in the first movie I ever formally reviewed. Funny how these sorts of things circulate.
As a Switch, this is pretty good, but only by considering Snake’s character — a character who doesn’t change. An ideal Switch would display the curving point in a character arc, but Snake has no character arc. He is static.
Because Snake doesn’t change, I’m going to assume the Enneagram doesn’t cover his development at all, but rather his mission: Save The President. As I said, with this in mind, this is a decent Switch: Snake enlists more people to help him on his mission, moving the odds in his favor.
Snake, Brain, Cabbie and Maggie work together (err, more or less) and find the President, who is being held by the Duke, the mission’s primary antagonist. By extension, this makes him the antagonist of the Enneagram as well, but I don’t think he rates very high on Snake’s shitlist — for Snake, Hauk is the primary antagonist.
Now that I’m writing this out the disparity between Snake and the plot is becoming rather interesting to me. How many films follow a hero whose goals are in conflict with the main plot? If this was an intentional direction on John Carpenter’s part, I’m willing to give him a cautious thumbs-up.
Whether or not it is, Snake gets injured, captured by the Duke, and his gadgets are taken from him, including the special bracelet used for signalling Hauk. Snake is forced into a Blood Sport with a hulking wrestler guy. While they’re fighting, Brain and Maggie free the President.
I’ll touch on Eric’s Six first since it occurs chronologically earlier: when the Duke learns the President has been freed he and his gang start to give chase. During this chaos, Snake manages to locate the prisoner wearing his bracelet and flips its switch, alerting Hauk of the President’s safety. This is important because just prior to this moment, Hauk was prepared to send in an explosive cavalry and destroy the Duke’s base. This would have killed a number of innocents in addition to the Duke’s men, not to mention Snake, which would have ended the movie.
So, I can see the wisdom in this 3/6, but they just occur at strange points in the film. The Three is too late and the Six is too early, which means there’s too much Two and virtually no Seven. I’ll try to find one anyway . . .
Following the last interpretation (The Bracelet Edition), Snake defeats the wrestler and teams back up with the others. At this point the secondary objective is made obvious: the President was traveling with an ultra-important tape when he was taken hostage, and this tape must be returned intact in order to avert a nuclear war. (Frankly, I’m guessing about that part. I don’t remember if they fully explained why the tape is important, but it is, so that’s all that matters for now.)
While making their escape from the city in Cabbie’s taxi, Snake recovers the tape and plays it in Cabbie’s recorder to make sure it still works. It does, but when the President asks for it Snake ignores him, deciding to hold onto it until after they’ve properly escaped.
As we’ll discover by the end of the film, Snake switches the Important Tape with one of Cabbie’s random music tapes. I am convinced the switching of the tapes is the Seven moment, but there are several instances where Snake could make this decision.
For The Bracelet Edition I’ll argue the Seven occurs in the taxi, when Snake plays the Important Tape and then hides it. I’m running with this one primarily because it happens after the Bracelet Six but before the Eight truly begins. With that in mind . . .
The Duke chases the heroes’ taxi across the bridge, which has been extensively mined. At this point the supporting characters start to die in increasingly ridiculous ways, although I get the impression Carpenter did not intend any of these deaths to be humorous.
At the end of the bridge Hauk’s people throw down a winch to help Snake and the President escape, but the Duke catches up and starts firing on them. The President returns fire and kills him, Solving The Problem established by the Two. Snake does nothing. Yet another indication that the film’s “hero” is more of a discordant puzzle piece in the story’s Enneagram than a real mover-shaker.
I’ll break my own rules and walk through the Bracelet Edition’s Nine before returning to my own take on the Enneagram. Snake returns both President and tape and is rewarded with the antidote to his nano-bombs. Snake receives some insincere gratitude from the President, then offered a job by Hauk, which Snake naturally refuses.
When the President plays the Important Tape on television for the world to see, only to discover too late that Snake has switched the tape with Cabbie’s music tape. The film ends with Snake destroying the real tape.
Now, this Enneagram mostly works, but the 3/6 are inescapably disparate, the Seven is vague and the pacing is shot to hell. Let’s rewind a little to delve into my take on things — don’t expect anything better, just stranger.
As you’ll recall, my own Three concerned Snake’s injection with nano-bombs. This made the most sense to me because it fit all the defintions of a strong Three — it occurred right after the Two, it came out of nowhere, it redefined the urgency of the Two and forced Snake to participate, etc.
If that’s the Three, the Six should occur when Snake has the nano-bombs removed, but as we’ve seen, this doesn’t happen until the Eight has finished and the mission’s been accomplished. It doesn’t work. Yet the Seven fits so nicely . . .
The President is being prepped for his television appearance and believes he holds the Important Tape, but Snake has it. Snake seeks the President out and asks him “how he feels about all the people who died for him.” It is clear Snake will return the real tape if the President supplies an answer he likes — he tests the President’s moral fiber without his knowledge.
The President fails this secret test, giving a forced answer along the lines of “the whole country will remember their bravery.” Snake walks away and lets the President play the fake tape, which possibly brings about the end of the civilized world.
This Six and Seven work really well for me . . . except now the movie’s over. The only thing like an Eight here is Snake’s brief meetup with Hauk, who asks Snake if he’s going to kill him for what he did to him. Snake says he’s “too tired.”
Hmm . . . once again I will consider the possibility that this movie has two Enneagrams, one that concerns the mission to rescue the president and one that concerns Snake personally. The Bracelet Edition covers the mission’s arc, and while it’s not excellent it hits most of the proper beats. In this light I appreciate that the President is the one to kill the Duke — the true hero of the mission kills the villain, definitively tying up the last loose end.
As I said, the Duke was never Snake’s nemesis — Hauk is. He’s the one responsible for Snake’s suffering and he happens to represent everything Snake seems to hate. Snake literally does nothing but run away during the Eight of the Bracelet Edition — his personal Eight is his last encounter with Hauk, when he officially throws his hands up at the world and walks into the sunset, free.
Weird, I think I like the movie now. Well, I like it a little more, anyway — even if all I’ve done is reinterpret everything in the film to suit my own themes. Oh well.
Thanks for reading.