It is fair to say that at one point or another, most people have indulged in a touch of escapism. When our own lives become a touch dreary or mundane, it is only natural that films and scriptwriters will try to whisk people away into a different world where people can lead a more exciting time. This is understandable but it is just one way in which plots try and deal with escape. Another way comes with people trying to escape from danger and this is a very common theme for plots as well.
With the advancement of technology and the ability to create even more special effects, catastrophe movies have become very popular. Whether people have been trying to escape from typhoons, earthquakes, floods or any other form of natural disaster, film makers have brought the sense of escape very much to life. With more people worried about the impact of climate change and what this will mean to weather conditions, there is a natural audience for this sort of movie. These movies work on the fact that there is a natural fear of these events occurring in our lifetime but there are also the good old fashioned elements of escaping and a hero emerging to lead people to safety.
The 1970s set the agenda for escape films
No matter how hard the latest batch of escape movies work, they will not beat the 1970s when it comes to a fantastic escape film. This was the era that redefined the rules on the escape plot and film and there was a choice to make. If you loved escape films, you were absolutely spoiled by the appearance of The Towering Inferno and the Poseidon Adventure. One featured a tall building which was on fire from which people had to escape. The other featured a ship that was sinking and people had to escape. Both were big budget films, both had a stellar cast of stars, both were massive films of their time. However, they both shared a very simple plot based around people having to work together in order to secure their safety.
It was inevitable that some people would have to die in these films. This was to emphasise the fact that there was real danger to the people and that the characters you know and love were at serious risk. One of the most important elements of a good escape story is to make sure that the danger is well stated. The best way of doing this is ensuring people die, implying as it does that the same fate may befall other characters.
An escape plot needs to have twists and turns
There also needs to be a number of twists and turns. Salvation should seem within easy reach at various points throughout the quest only for the obvious path to be blocked or the easy option to be denied. It wouldn’t make for a lengthy or exciting film if the first route was the successful route, but there is also a need to wear people down and make them feel frustrated at their efforts. For an escape plot to be really strong, the escapees need to be pushed to their limit. Salvation must seem to be all but impossible.
In this sense, an escapee needs to come to terms with their own life. You’ll often find that someone escaping has previously lost track of the important things in life. With a good escape plot, you’ll commonly hear a key character, central to the escape plan, talking about how they’ll do things differently if they make it out alive. In this aspect, you can consider an escape plot as having similarities to a journey. Not only are people escaping from a very serious threat, they are escaping to a new them that will enable them to look at life differently or more positively. Physical salvation will lead to rebirth and moral salvation.
Whether the risk was fire, as in The Towering Inferno, or water, as in The Poseidon Adventure, the everyday nature of the risks brought people into the story. The danger was not through something out of the blue or the ordinary, it was from something that could befall most people. This creates empathy and a realisation of the jeopardy that we all face in every day life.
Escape is one of the major plots in the stories that we tell, particularly on the big screen. The characters in the story may go through hell and back before coming out the other side and, in a small way, the viewer will share this journey.