An Inspiring Message Buried In A Terrible Movie- Thoughts on Escape Artist (2017)
Note: I wrote this in 2019 but never got around to posting it.
Escape Artist is not a good movie. It objectively just isn’t. The production quality and acting is clearly amateur and very low budget, and the writing, while interesting and sometimes powerful, leaves much to be desired. I was excited by the premise — one person writes his thoughts about the state of affairs, gains a following, and actually changes the world. This idea spoke to me because I feel that might be part of my purpose. It’s naive and idealistic to think that could be me, or that it’s even possible for a random person to have a real impact on the world. However, a sufficient number of people who are motivated by a common goal certainly can. As the film says, “Can no one person change the world? … As it happens, I guess we all can.”
The movie has value as a message and a call to action. It shows the viewer that they too have the potential to spark or at least contribute to change. I am very forgiving of a film’s faults if I think there is some redeeming value, but unfortunately, it will be inaccessible to most people because of its poor quality. With a reasonable budget and a professional cast and crew, this movie had the potential to be amazing, and maybe even influence people to action. However, that may have defeated the purpose. A major theme of the movie is the corruption of society by money and greed, so accepting a lot of money could be seen as hypocritical.
The movie also posits that people accept much of what they’re told by authority figures, without actually thinking for themselves. This leads to one of the film’s main messages: don’t make your choices based on what others, particularly those with influence or power, tell you to think. The solution they are offering is that people need to be informed, and everyone has the power to decide how they will react to new information and choose what they want to do in response.
For many people, Trump’s election was a wake up call and showed how dire things really are, but interestingly this movie was released only shortly after his inauguration, and likely was written well before he won the election. But his presidency only reinforces this film’s message. Unfortunately, that probably isn’t enough to make it something that mainstream audiences will have the patience for. In part of the movie, they show that most people will look for reasons to belittle a cause that challenges their beliefs or makes them uncomfortable. In one scene, a pharmaceutical company spokesperson reveals that the drug he is paid to sell is, in fact, dangerous. His credibility is questioned and criminal accusations are made, solely because he went against the claims of the corporation. People would feel more comfortable dismissing the possibility that he’s right than consider the possibility that a company might vouch for a drug they know isn’t safe. In fact, if he had unconditionally said the drug was safe because he is paid to say so, his honesty would be more suspect, but people would be made to believe it more.
Ironically, it seems like the main purpose of the movie is to promote the creator’s band, Only Now Existing. All of the music in the movie is created by the band, and the name of the band is used to explain the main character’s motivation. Parts of the movie feel like a music video and don’t seem very relevant to the plot. The music also isn’t particularly good, it’s generic angsty rock which often doesn’t fit the scene. Another disconnect is that one of the articles the main character writes is about the media using sexual themes to distract the people. But many of the scenes feature scantily clad women, and the band’s website and Facebook page is largely pictures of the same. So it seems contradictory to one of the morals of the story. While it might have made sense to combine the creator’s political message and promote the band at the same time, the combination makes it fail to do either.
Even though I seem very critical of the movie, I think it’s the message that makes it important and powerful. The increasing power of corporations and corrupt, amoral political leaders and institutions has led people to feel hopeless to fight against what they’re doing. As individuals we may not have much influence, but collective progress can only happen when enough individuals decide to act.