This is getting scary. In the Tron Cinematic Chiasmus, I noted that it wasn’t my idea to analyze that movie. But once I did, I couldn’t deny it worked perfectly as a chiasmus. I have to give all the credit to a longtime reader of mine named Jordan. He suggested I take a look at it. In addition to Tron, he also gave me two more films to look at when he first contacted me. The second one was Escape from New York. And guess what. It’s a chiasmus, too! That means that the first half mirrors the second half.
I promise I’m not trying to force something that’s not there. But when I looked at Escape from New York objectively, I found that its two halves form a beautifully symmetrical structure. So Jordan is now batting a perfect two for two! That’s really impressive, and I’m starting to wonder if he might be trying to upstage me by showing off how awesome he is. Just kidding. Some people are just naturally gifted, and I love that he has shared some of his talent for spotting symmetrical films with me.
Let’s go ahead and see how Escape from New York follows an incredibly elegant story structure.
Here is what the film’s chiasmus looks like:
A. Narration explains how New York City was destroyed by skyrocketing crime
B. Security personnel callously blow up a couple of convicts on an escape boat
C. Snake Plissken arrives at the Liberty Island Security Control facility
D. The president is the sole survivor when Air Force One crashes in NYC
E. The Duke’s henchman forces Bob Hauk to abandon a rescue of the president
F. Hauk meets Snake and tells him he needs to get the president and a tape
G. Snake gets tricked into having explosives implanted in his neck
H. Snake activates his tracer and flies to the World Trade Center in a glider
I. Searching for the president, Snake meets Cabbie watching a drag show in a theater
J. A woman asks Snake to take her out of the city with him
K. Cabbie saves Snake from the crazies
L. Snake gets Brain and Maggie to help him find the president and escape
M. The Duke’s caravan arrives, and Snake knocks out two of his men
N. Snake busts through a violent crowd on Broadway
N. Snake sneaks around the Duke’s men to get to the president
M. The Duke’s men restrain Snake, and the Duke knocks him out
L. Hauk tells a military leader they’re not going into NYC
K. Brain tells the Duke not to kill Snake
J. A message in Central Park demands all inmates receive amnesty
I. While Brain and Maggie get the president, Snake fights in a ring before a crowd
H. Snake activates his tracer, and then his glider gets pushed off the WTC
G. Snake gets surprised by the Duke and distracts him long enough to get away
F. Accompanied by the president, Snake gets the tape from Cabbie
E. The Duke chases Snake who has successfully nabbed the president
D. The cab blows up, and all of Snake’s convict companions die
C. Snake leaves NYC with the president
B. The president is calloused about loss of life, and Snake shows mercy to Hauk
A. Snake dooms the peace talks by destroying critical information
This is a lot shorter than almost any other Cinematic Chiasmus I’ve done. So much the better. That’ll make it easier to go through all of its finer points below.
A. Peace Is Gone
After the opening credits, some text explains that crime skyrocketed in the United States, and New York City was eventually walled off to serve as a maximum-security prison. Once convicts go in, it cryptically notes at the end, they don’t come out.
Before the end credits roll, the only convict to make it out of the prison alive, Snake Plissken, destroys a cassette tape containing information vital to an international summit. This effectively kills the peace talks and dooms the world to more violence.
B. Justice and Mercy
A couple of convicts attempt to row their way out of New York City on a makeshift boat. But their plan fails when they’re spotted by a security helicopter, which warns them to turn around and then blows them up. The security force shows no mercy in enforcing the law.
As the president prepares for a makeshift summit speech, he shows little concern for the people who died to get him out of New York City. As Snake passes Bob Hauk, he’s reminded of his threat to kill Hauk. But Snake shows mercy to him, saying he might do it later.
C. Snake’s Entry and Escape
The first time we see Snake, he is arriving at the Liberty Island Security Control facility. He’s taken downstairs surrounded by armed guards. As he walks, he’s told over an intercom that he has the option to commit suicide before being forced to enter the prison of New York City.
At the film’s climax, Snake makes his escape from the city. He’s pulled up over a wall surrounding the city while the president shoots and kills the Duke of New York. Once he delivers a cassette tape to Hauk, a doctor neutralizes a couple of microscopic explosives that would have killed Snake seconds later.
D. Crash and Burn
Some revolutionaries commandeer Air Force One and crash it within the walled-off New York City prison. The president is the sole survivor, ejecting in the nick of time in an escape pod.
While driving a cab to escape the city, Snake accidentally hits a mine, blowing the cab up. His fellow mercenaries die one by one until it’s just him and the president making their way to the wall.
E. Trying to Get the President Back
Hauk is the head of prison security, but he’s proven to be ineffective against the Duke. He and his men fly helicopters into the city to try to retrieve the president. The Duke’s righthand man tells them to leave immediately because the Duke has the president and will kill him if threatened.
The Duke thought he was in charge of the prison, but he’s bested by Snake and friends. He races in his car down a bridge to try to catch up with Snake’s cab. However, he’s too slow because the president is already safely outside his power by the time the Duke finds them.
F. Snake’s Mission
In a desperate move, Hauk recruits Snake on a rescue mission. His goal is to get the president and a cassette tape containing nuclear information out of New York City within 24 hours.
With his time running out, Snake nearly completes his mission. He finds the cassette tape in Cabbie’s cab as he pulls the president into it and then hurries toward the city exit.
G. Surprising Snake
During his preparations, Snake is tricked by Hauk into getting two microscopic bombs injected into his neck. Not taking this lying down, Snake grabs Hauk by the neck demanding he take them out now. The doctor who injected him says they can’t neutralize them until right before they’re about to detonate. Snake lets go of Hauk.
During an escape attempt, Snake opens the hood of Brain’s car to discover one of the Duke’s men inside waiting to strike. The Duke and his men are also about to shoot Snake. Not giving up, Snake shoots a pipe that emits a spray of gas that distracts the Duke’s men just long enough for Snake and his associates to get away.
H. Glider Takes Flight
As Snake uses a glider to quietly fly into New York City, he activates his tracer to let Hauk know he’s alive and well. Then he lands on one of the World Trade Center buildings. He barely manages to stop before going over the edge.
After Snake defeats an opponent in a duel, he activates his tracer once more to show Hauk he’s still alive. Then he hurries to the top of the World Trade Center to retrieve his glider. However, a group of crazies are there, and they push it off the edge of the tower.
I. I Thought You Were Dead
Snake follows a tracking signal to a theater where he sees a bunch of men in drag dancing on stage in front of a sparse crowd of convicts. A jolly fellow named Cabbie is in the crowd. He follows Snake outside the theater, noting that he thought he was dead. Snake fights off a couple of thugs and then discovers that the tracking device is on a bum, not the president.
Snake is forced to fight a giant muscular man in a ring in front of a giant crowd of the Duke’s men. He seems to be outmatched, but he manages to kill his opponent and grab his tracer off a thug. Meanwhile, Brain and Maggie find the Duke’s righthand man wearing Cabbie’s hat. They also find the president wearing a woman’s wig, and they successfully rescue him.
J. Take Me Out with You
Upon encountering a group of crazies, Snake hunkers down in a restaurant. A woman is in there, too, and she asks Snake to take her with him when he escapes the city. Before he can answer her, she gets dragged down through the floor during a sudden attack.
In answer to a signal from a group of crazies, a surveillance helicopter lands in Central Park. They obtain the president’s briefcase. Inside it, Hauk finds a message demanding amnesty for all convicts in the city. Hauk refuses and prepares an all-out air assault.
K. Saving Snake
After shooting his way through a wall and running to escape the crazies, Snake is relieved to see Cabbie roll up in his cab. He helps Snake escape, and Snake repays his kindness by pointing his gun at him and demanding to see the Duke. The best he can do is to take him to meet Brain.
While using Snake’s gun to shoot all around the president, the Duke (surrounded by crazies) is confronted by Brain. Brain asks the Duke not to kill Snake, and the Duke points his gun at Brain to make him leave. The Duke shoots the president’s briefcase, and the Duke’s righthand man takes the cassette tape out of it.
L. Getting Out and Going in
Snake meets Brain and Maggie. Brain explains the Duke’s plan to use the president as leverage to get everyone out of prison. But Snake persuades them to follow his own plan to escape the city with the president.
A military leader tries to pull rank on Hauk, but Hauk refuses to back down. Even though it appears that his plan to rescue the president has failed, he won’t allow a military strike on the city while there’s still a chance for his plan to work.
M. Meeting the Duke
The Duke arrives at Brain’s place in a huge caravan. Cabbie abandons Snake, Brain, and Maggie in their moment of need. To make their getaway, Snake knocks out two of the Duke’s men and steals their car.
While attempting to rescue the president, Snake gets pinned down by the Duke’s men. Brain betrays him, claiming he helped Snake in duress. Upon coming face to face with Snake, the Duke knocks him out and takes all his gear.
N. Breaking Through and Sneaking Around
The turning point comes when Snake, Brain, and Maggie try to beat the Duke back to his hideout where he’s holding the president. They take the most direct route: Broadway. Unfortunately, it’s also the most dangerous route because it takes them through a barrage of crazies hurtling rocks at them as they drive down the road. They eventually smash their way through a barricade.
They arrive at the hideout a little ahead of the Duke and split up. Instead of taking the most direct route to the president, they take a more roundabout approach. Brain and Maggie distract the guards while Snake sneaks around them atop a train. Unfortunately, a guard shoots Snake in the leg with an arrow just as Snake kills him with a knife to the forehead. Snake then unties the president, and they quietly make their way back along the train to the car.
Subtle as a Snake
I find it amazing that Escape from New York is a few minutes longer than Tron, but its chiasmus is nearly half the size of that film’s. Escape from New York is a film that takes its time to let the events unfold. It’s not in a particular hurry to get from plot point to plot point. While Tron crammed in tons of critical information in every scene, Escape from New York frontloads itself with plot information and setup, and then it is just kind of content to mosey on down to the finish line.
Analyzing the film in this way has helped me gain a new appreciation for it. A lot of things I used to think of as throwaway bits now seem much more important. For example, I never understood the point of the girl in the restaurant who asks Snake to take her with him. She gets tossed away before she can become an important character. But now I see that she’s an integral part of the chiasmus.
We’ll see if Jordan’s third film is as spot-on as his first two. I’m excited to find out!
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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