Everyone always focuses on that one line. Go ahead, admit it. As soon as you saw the title of this piece, you said it. Seriously, if you haven’t yet, go ahead. I’m sure you’ve had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane just as much as you’d had it in 2006, when _Snakes on a Plane_ slithered into the national consciousness…and our hearts.
All right, that might be an exaggeration. After all, “Snakes” was just a one-off gag. It can’t be art, can it? Consider the plot—surfer bro Sean Jones has to fly from Honolulu to L.A. to testify against “mobster” Eddie Kim after witnessing a murder and escaping with the help of FBI agent Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson). Kim, rationally, decides to prevent this testimony from occurring by sneaking a crate of pheromone-crazed snakes into the plane’s cargo hold (“You think I didn’t exhaust every other option?” Kim queries. “Yes,” the audience replies).
From there on, a crew of (stereotypical) rich characters on the flight must band together to fight the snake menace, including, but not limited to: the flamboyant male flight attendant Ken, the ditzy starlet with a teacup Chihuahua named Mary Kate, the angry British businessman who sort of looks like John Malkovich, the last-day-on-the-job flight attendant Clair (Julianna Margulies) who is clearly Too Smart for this Shit (and clearly Too Out of Work Not to Appear in _Snakes on a Plane_), and, of course, hypochondriac rapper Three G’s, famous for the single “Booty Go Thump”, and also his bodyguards , Troy (Kenan Thompson) and Leroy.
But five years later, it’s not the snakes that matter (though, despite the now lame CGI, the initial scene of snake mayhem is the most concentrated moment of horror movie delight in cinematic history, and lines like “We missed the bastards…because they’re cold blooded” do not get nearly the level of credit they deserve). It’s not—dare I say—even Samuel L. that matters here, though of course he’s in fine ass-kicking form as always. It’s “Snakes on a Plane” as a film that matters, because it is the first decade of the 2000s in movie form. It’s as if director David Ellis was making a preemptive period piece, a “Back to the Future” for the Millennial Era.
Consider the product placement. Sean Jones chugs Red Bull while riding motocross, cases of it lying untouched in his Honolulu apartment. Troy rocks a PSP on the flight, crying out when he fails a level. Three Gs lathers on the Purell after an unwanted touch from a fan. _Snakes_ simultaneously uses and mocks the convention of product placement. Three Gs is totally irrational for using the Purell; Sean Jones is a caricature of the action sports bro already without the Red Bull; Troy is a nerd for freaking out on the PSP. Who would actually want to use these products after these characters used them? Who would ever have wanted to use these products, besides characters that exist as symbols of an extravagant and neurotic decade?
Then there’s the film’s treatment of the flamboyant male flight attendant, Ken. It’s taken for granted that Ken is gay, and that this is a point of comedy. When he talks about having a girlfriend or offers to suck Big Leroy’s ass to remove some venom, the other characters on the flight react with disbelief or repulsion. The joke is that Ken isn’t actually gay—the film simply uses him as a commentary on the homophobia so prevalent among bro and rap culture at the time.
_Snakes_ covers these themes, along with the vapidity of celebrity worship (see how good it feels when the rational John Malkovich doppelgänger is absurdly punished for sacrificing Mary Kate the Chihuahua to a python), the rise of nerd culture (the poison control expert on the ground is much more important than Bobby Cannavale’s FBI agent on the ground), the power of smartphones (a Blackberry is used to identify some of the dead snakes), and more—all phenomena deeply ingrained in the cultural DNA of that decade.
And of course, _Snakes_ is about air travel and security concerns in a post-9/11 world. When the passengers band together to fight off the snakes, they must use makeshift spears (all the forks and knives on the flight have been replaced with sporks) and whatever else they can scrounge up against the snakes’ superior weapons, like some fantastical, darkly-comic re-imagining of United 93. While this may be disconcerting in how it portrays terrorism, both in making light of the real, tragic outcomes and labeling hijackers as sex-crazed exotic snakes, it completely captures the fear and absurdity of the age of terrorism and increased security. Is a plane full of snakes really that much crazier than using a plane as a missile for an ideological scare attack?
As a result, _Snakes_ wasn’t just timely—it’s become timeless, a decade trapped in amber, just waiting for you to press play and release the snakes of history.