American Myth and Escape Plan

Escape PlanAs I noted this morning, I went to see Escape Plan with my brother. Given that it is a Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, I expected it to be terrible. It wasn’t. I found it more engaging than I expected. It is a prison break film, and as such, there was much more actual plot than one normally gets in these things. Still, there was much to dislike. It had far too much exposition. The plot is straight out of a comic book. And it still had a lot of unnecessary action. But it is certainly one of the better films that either man has been in—not Rocky or Terminator 2, but watchable.

Thematically, what’s wrong with the film—and for that matter almost any Hollywood film—is its focus on the individual. Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a guy who consults with prisons by breaking out of them to show their weaknesses. He ends up in—Of course!—a prison that can’t be broken out of because of a double cross.[1] In the movie, Breslin is helped out by Emil Rottmayer. But that’s just because Schwarzenegger plays him. In general, the American film is the rugged individual defeating the system. Frankly, we’ve regressed from an artistic standpoint.

For example, Breslin has his business associates who are shown to be worried about him. But they are impotent to help him. A more reasonable plot would have them rescue him at exactly the time that he gets out himself. This approach seems to have fallen out of favor, just like the bomb being diffused with one second to go—and for the same reason: it seems awfully contrived.

Most of my day was spent working on a technical project that isn’t going terribly well. And this evening, I found myself having an anxiety attack. I decided to stop working and watch what has become my “go to” film when I am anxious or depressed: Romantics Anonymous. It is true that I have a huge crush on Isabelle Carre. And I very much identify with the Benoit Poelvoorde character. But I don’t think that’s why I return to it again and again.

The main characters are far more individualistic than any character that Stallone (or Schwarzenegger) has ever played. But it is only through the help of those around them that they find happiness. She has her support group and he has his employees. The individuals need help from their community in order to thrive. And in Romantics Anonymous, the community is celebrated. It is sad that we rarely see this in an American movie.

[1] The plot is entirely predictable and a glance at my notes during the movie show. But here is something to remember: the villain much be introduced in the first act of a movie. Normally, the villain is introduced in the first 5 minutes. This usually means it will be someone close to the main character. These days it is normally the character who seems too boring to be suspected. Anyway, it is all related to Chekhov’s notion, “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

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