Escape from Alcatraz: Why We Love to Cheer for the Bad Guys

Posted: July 4, 2013 by jperritt in Action, Drama, Thriller
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Escape From Alcatraz PosterAs I mentioned in a previous post, my wife and I watched Bottle Shock because we are planning a trip to Napa, CA, and the film highlights some of those wineries. Well, on this anniversary trip we also plan to go to San Francisco and possibly visit Alcatraz. Therefore, I decided we should watch Escape from Alcatraz.

It truly is a timeless film that follows the true story of Frank Morris [Clint Eastwood] and his attempted escape from the famous prison known as ‘The Rock’. It is amazing to see the level of creativity the prisoners displayed in this escape attempt. Wielding metal in a prion cell, making paper mache heads, and life jackets out of raincoats. Most of this would seem too unbelievable were it not a true story. Not to mention the fact that the television show, Mythbusters, recreated the escape and proved that all of this could be possible.

While there are many aspects of the film that are fascinating, one interesting aspect to me is how the movie portrays good and evil. The hero of the film is Frank Morris. This is the same Frank Morris who is a prisoner for breaking the law. And, the same Frank Morris who has already broken out of other prisons. He’s the hero…

Who are the villains of the film? The warden (who is never named, although he is portraying Warden Blackwell, but the film didn’t want to mention his name to avoid legal trouble) and the guards. That is, the villains are the law keepers. The villains are the men who are upholding the law and haven’t done anything deserving of imprisonment.

To me, this is somewhat strange. I found it strange that I was pulling for Morris and his friends to break out of prison! And I was pulling for them, because that is the way the movie is designed. The tense music is played when the guards are getting closer to foiling their scheme. The audience breathes a sigh of relief as the warden leaves Morris’ cell without discovering the hole he’s dug.

Why!? Why was I not hoping they would get busted? Why was I not upset that the guards didn’t catch the crooks? Well, it was partly due to the fact that the warden was a pretty despicable character. Just consider what he did to the character of Doc! Taking away his painting privileges?! How could he do that to the old man from Home Alone!!? And if that weren’t enough, he caused sweet ‘ol Litmus to have a heart attack.

You see, the filmmakers took a true story but told it from the standpoint of the villains being the heroes and visa versa. I wonder why they chose to do this? Why not paint the crooks in a negative light and the law-keepers in a positive light? There could be a few reasons.

First, maybe they thought if they told it from the standpoint of the criminals being the bad guys, the audience would feel disappointed with the ending. I mean, we can’t have the bad guys winning, right? Secondly, maybe they simply wanted to highlight some of the abuses that take place in prisons. Who knows, maybe the warden was an unlikable guy and maybe the guards did have a bad reputation. The prison was closed down a year after this escape, and maybe it was due in part to a flawed system. Lastly, maybe the filmmakers were telling the story from a perspective we could identify with. Let’s be honest, who is guilty and who is innocent? Yes there are those who do harsher crimes and end up in prison, but at the last day we are all guilty. “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone.” [John 8:7].

Maybe we are all pulling for Frank Morris, because we are the villain. We are the ones who are criminals and we are the ones who should remain locked-up forever. However, there was One who did break us out of this eternal imprisonment and he did it, not by breaking the law, but by perfectly keeping it.

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Comments
  1. […] was glad that John Perritt recently reviewed one of my favorite Clint Eastwood films, Escape from Alcatraz.  Hopefully, we at Reel Thinking will examine more of Eastwood’s classics through the lens […]

  2. […] Escape from Alcatraz: Why We Love to Cheer for the Bad Guys. […]

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