Even today so many years after the release of Escape from New York Snake Plissken remains one of the toughest guys out there.
Leather jacket, eye patch, shoulder-length hair, scruffy beard and a cigarette stuck in a corner of his mouth. And yes, tons of attitude! I swear when I was twelve years old I wanted to look exactly like him.
Snake Plissken is a former commando of Special Force Unit "Black Light" and war hero turned bank-robber who we first meet in the classic Escape from New York and then in the not so successful follow-up Escape from LA.
In a world in which WWIII is fought, Snake Plissken does what a typical antihero would do - tries to get by. A bank heist here a bank heist there. It made perfect sense to me when I was a kid. It still does twenty or so years on. Well, not exactly but…only just.
We know that he fought in the war and took part in missions in Leningrad and Siberia. He won two Purple Hearts and was the youngest recipient of the medal in history. He flew a glider over Leningrad.
That is important since in Escape from New York the authorities are looking for someone who can get into the prison-city unobserved. He is also a small-arms and martial arts expert. That all makes him one all-around special-op soldier.
And yet something went wrong. Apparently he got embittered with the military and the system in general. He left the army and turned to bank-robbing. During the Kansas City robbery he was betrayed by one of his associates, the Brain, whom he meets again in Escape from New York.
Though everybody is the criminal community believes that he was killed during the Kansas City incident, he survived and was eventually arrested after breaking into the U.S. Federal Reserve in Denver, Colorado.
At the beginning of Escape from New York the Air Force One is hijacked by the revolutionary group which calls itself the National Liberation Front and forced to crash land over Manhattan.
A few years prior to the incident the Island of Manhattan was turned into a maximum security prison for the most hardened convicts following a 400% rise in crime in the USA. The authorities decide to send in Snake to get the President out and retrieve a very important tape that he carries.
Snake Plissken is injected with two microscopic time bombs set to go off in 23hrs and blow his arteries. His only chance is to bring back the President and have those devices deactivated before the time runs out. When I first watched the Escape from New York, and being a kid, I thought it was dead cool to have those things floating around in your body!
Snake doesn't say much in the movie but all his lines are winners. Irreverent and contemptuous they highlight what I liked most about Snake when I was a growing teenager, and what I still find compelling twenty years on - his fierce anti-authoritarian streak.
For instance, the famous exchange which takes place in the final moments of Escape from New York.
Snake to the President:
"We did get you out. A lot of people died in the process, I just wondered how you felt about it."
When he says that you can see there is a lot of resentment in him. And you feel that he speaks for all disillusioned war veterans.
Besides, is there a better lesson in defying an authority figure for a kid?
And when the President goes:
"Well, I...I wanna thank them. This nation appreciates their sacrifice."
You just know how phony those words are.
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