Neo-noir Western Action Satire, Prisoners of the Ghostland, derives its universe from George Orwell’s allegorical novella, Animal Farm. Director Sion Sono injects many political symbols in an action thriller drama to make his art entertaining and enlightening. He even stars Nicolas Cage to get the attention he needs, but despite his best efforts, the film falls flat emotionally.
Prisoners of the Ghostland is visually enchanting, and the use of symbols is marvellous. However, the magician’s tricks and hacks only achieve a “wow” moment. The bigger picture or an appropriate story demands emotional cleverness. The film is written by Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai, who adapts Animal Farm into a dystopian Samurai Town. The comment made through their stance is commendable, but many might overlook it due to its dull implementation. As said, even the best of intellect requires a bit of style to push the message through.
Note: Throughout the analysis, we’ll try to pinpoint the parallels between Animal Farm and The symbols can be interpreted in many different ways, and thus, a healthy discussion is always welcome.
‘Prisoners of the Ghostland’ Plot Summary
Governor (Bill Moseley), a white male dressed as a cowboy Mayor, rules a fictitious samurai town. The Governor’s granddaughter, Bernice (Sofia Boutella), runs away from home with her two friends. However, soon she falls into a mysterious ghostland where eerie ghosts take her prisoner.
The Governor commands an unlawful man, Hero (Nicolas Cage), to bring Bernice back from the Ghostland. Hero has been serving prison time in the Governor’s reign. He is accused of attempted robbery of the Bleufleur National Bank and killing three tellers, two security guards, a retired navy colonel, a mother, and her small boy with a P29. The Governor puts forth a condition that if Hero brings Bernice back, safe and sound, without any harm, the Governor will free the notorious criminal.
Hero reluctantly agrees, and the Governor gives him a mechanized leather suit to wear. The finer qualities of the attire are that each of its arms is equipped with an explosive device. These devices are connected to a neuro sensor that can recognize the impulse of a man intending harm to a helpless woman. If such impulsiveness is detected, the alarms will ring up, and if they are unheeded, the detonation will occur, injuring the body parts of the Hero.
The mechanism is designed as a safety measure so that Hero doesn’t try to harm or exploit Bernice. The mechanism wardrobe can only be unlocked by a special key that the Governor wears on his neck. And if Hero doesn’t return with Bernice in five days, the explosive will detonate all at once. Thus, the Governor demands a speedy execution of the tasks if Hero wants to walk away as a free man. Without further ado, the Hero plunges into the mysterious Ghostland.
What was Ghostland?
According to the Governor’s minion, outside the samurai town lay a stretch of highway where the evil reigned. Whoever speeded on the highway mysteriously crashed into the Ghostland or Area 244. A similar stance was observed in Bernice’s case, who tried to flee her home in a vehicle and got trapped in the Ghostland. Hero did the same and thus entered the forbidden lands.
In Ghostland, the leader of the tribe, Enoch, told Hero that it was impossible to escape from there. One could survive in the land but could not step out of it. But like all heroes of storytelling, even the Hero of Ghostland was ardent and determined.
Many parallels could be interpreted from the history of Ghostland. According to the prophets, many years ago, a catastrophic wreck Mile 244. A massive reactor helped supply power to the land. But beneath it, the officials stored the toxic, boiling waste. The waste was their secret, hidden legacy. And one day, a mighty tanker burdened with molten nuclear sludge lost control on the highway. It struck a transport carrying deadly convicted men, covering them all with the scalding atomic disease. The fire crept into the soil and the ancient, polluted Earth. The entire city burst into flames and degraded humanity.
If one compares the nuclear catastrophe with the recent incidents in the Japanese community, then the nuclear tragedy at Fukushima pinpoints a close resemblance. However, in all cases of nuclear disaster, the tragedy follows a similar pattern. The officials create a toxic mess, and the government denies any involvement. The innocent citizens suffer miserably, but no one comes for their help. They become ghosts or the prisoners of the Ghostland.
How did the Hero escape the Ghostland?
When Hero (Nicolas Cage) attempted a robbery of Bleufleur National Bank, he had a partner in crime named Psycho (Nick Cassavetes). Through a flashback, it was established that it was Psycho who shot all the innocent souls in the bank. Probably, Psycho had psychopathic tendencies, and on the day of the robbery, he forgot to take his medicines. The same was asked by Hero when Psycho pulled the trigger.
After Psycho went out of control, Hero deserted him and tried to run away. But special forces arrived and arrested Psycho. Hero ran away from there, and law enforcement fired shots to stop him. In the combat, the law enforcers accidentally shot a woman and her daughter, young Bernice. Later, it was revealed that a white man wearing red gloves (the Governor) took the girl into his captivity. Hence, Bernice wasn’t the Governor’s real granddaughter but a prisoner of his reign, like many others.
In an attempt to save Bernice from the samurai ghosts, Hero intentionally triggered the alarm. The explosives detonated and injured Hero’s right arm and left testicle. The heroic incident brought back Bernice’s consciousness and her voice. For a moment, she thought Hero died in the attempt to save her life. However, in his conscious dream, Hero saw the souls of the people he harmed in his life. The soul in ruins helped Hero and gave him another life to fulfill a greater purpose. The Hero called himself “radioactive,” i.e., he was enlightened and unconditionally loved by these souls.
With the confidence gained, Hero gathered the ghost-landers and confronted the guards of Ghostland. During the confrontation, Hero realized that the guards’ leader was none other than his partner in crime, Psycho. His face and body were drastically burnt from radioactive material (as told by the prophets earlier). Hero told Psycho that all the people they harmed became ghosts, and for the time being, he thought that these ghosts hated them. But he recently realized that they needed him and came to him for help. Psycho deciphered that maybe they wanted Hero to rescue them from the real predator, The Governor.
In the end, Psycho lets go of Bernice and Hero so that they can finish the nemesis.
‘Prisoners of the Ghostland’ Ending Explained
As soon as Bernice and Hero arrived at Samurai Town, Bernice’s sister, Susie, took charge of a machine gun and opened fire on the Governor’s samurai. However, in the combat, Susie got shot, and thus Hero slashed the remaining men. The final combat took place between Hero and the Governor’s most loyal hitman, Yasujiro.
The salient samurai, Yasujiro, played grey throughout the narrative. He was not inherently criminal, but a prisoner of Governor’s tyranny. At one point, it was underlined that Yasujiro’s sister was also Governor’s prisoner, and thus, for her freedom, Yasujiro had to follow the madman’s order. In my personal opinion, Yasujiro’s character might have derived inspiration from Boxer, the workhorse (portrayed in Orwell’s Animal Farm). As per the novella, Boxer pledged allegiance to Napoleon (Berkshire boar). In Prisoners of the Ghostland, the Governor and Napoleon displayed an uncanny resemblance.
Hero skillfully killed Yasujiro, while Bernice shot the Governor and ended his dictatorial reign. All the prisoners renounced the Governor’s monarch and established a free society of their own. Hero retrieved the unique key and disarmed the mechanical suit, thereby saving himself from the explosion.
After the Governor’s death, a kid (dressed as a crow that symbolizes a messenger) from the samurai town ran into Ghostland to deliver the fortunate news. As per the prophecy, after the Governor’s end, the time started again, and as soon as the second hand struck 12, the watchtower exploded, ending the misery of the Ghost-landers. The whole sequence depicts the incidents of the “Battle of the Windmill” mentioned in Animal Farm.
In the end, Hero, Bernice, and Susie were seen seated at a bus stop while the townies carried on with their mundane tasks. From a distance, Hero saw an artificial blue butterfly in a gift shop that reminded him of the Ghostland.
According to ghost-landers, anyone who touches the blue butterfly will die. The symbolic visual could be interpreted in many ways. It depends on how one wants to decipher it. In my personal opinion, I believe the new Samurai Town has seized the blue butterfly, the creature that was gravely feared by the ghost-landers. It is why Hero comments observing the visual, “Samurai Town is gonna be a beautiful place one day.” In the visual, Hero saw a ray of hope for a better future.
Soon after, Hero, Bernice, and Susie walked out of the town.
Prisoners of the Ghostland is a 2021 Neo-noir Western Satire Film directed by Sion Sono. The film stars Nicolas Cage in the lead role.