Production Company: Moho Films
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Producer: Park Chan-wook
Soundtrack: Marco Beltrami
Released: South Korea (August 2013) and United States (June 2014)
Originally, science fiction fell into two camps. The first camp was spearheaded by Jules Vern. His writing focused on science and technology. The second camp was spearheaded by Isaac Asimov. His writing focused on people’s reactions to and adaptions of technology. Both of these traditional camps have merit and are still alive in the literary world.
In pop media, however…. these two camps are mostly ignored. Look at the latest Star Trek movie for a good example of that, where the science was largely ignored and the technology varied based on the need of the story. Or, if you want to take a step back further, look at Star Trek in general. Teleporters actually kills the person, but that isn’t discussed at all. Replicators are not feasible with the way the show is set up, but that’s not discussed either. All we are told is the age-old excuse that advanced technology tends to resemble magic to primitive cultures.
Snowpiercer is different. It is done in the same style as Asimovian science fiction. The viewer is presented with technology and then looks at the social and personal consequences of it. It’s a very powerful and subtle movie, filled with unexpected and pleasant twists and turns.
As a warning, this movie does not treat science fiction as magical like in most science fiction movies. The science in this movie is very much grounded in reality and feels frighteningly plausible. Also, as another warning: this movie is bloody and may not be for everyone.
With that in mind….
The Overarching Plot: The plot is bloody fantastic! Humanity tried to reverse global warming by releasing chemicals into the atmosphere that caused the next ice age. The remainder of humanity exists on a train. The cars are divided by social class, with the poor in the far back. We have a hero, Curtis, played by the incomparable Chris Evans who led a revolt. They wanted to fight their way to the engine room to take over the train, only to get fair treatment rather than live in squalor. The desire to revolt and reach the engine grows more when two children were taken away for reasons unknown.
I’d go on describing the plot, but this would quickly become a recap rather than a review. The overarching plot is very well written, giving the viewer unexpected twists that’s incredibly satisfying. It’s not as if “the world will never be the same” type twists. There are layers upon layers of plots that’s ongoing, each of them somehow interrelating with each other.
The Ayn Rand Critique: Ayn Rand believed in personal property and individual rights, as well as an undying belief in laissez-faire capitalism. So the movie dared to show consequences of individual rights being stripped away as a consequence of laissez-faire capitalism. Seriously. The train was created and owned solely by a rich genius named Wilford. Since it was his train, he was the one who decided which social class people belonged to. When people ran onto his train during the huge freeze, those who could afford to pay got to stay on the front of the train. Those who couldn’t pay stayed in the back. There was no social movement. People were stuck where they were at, all from the dictates of one man.
Should one man have absolute control over his own product, when that level of control gives him the power over life and death of the entire human race? The movie does not give a clear-cut answer to this, but it does show the unfortunate consequences of it. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, nor is it necessarily a good thing. If anything, Snowpiercer illustrates the necessity of checks and balances on any sort of power… economic… political… any sort of exercise of power needs to have some sort of limit.
The Most Intimidating Scene of the Year:
The rebels were armed with blunt weapons. The antagonists were dressed in black and wielding very sharp axes. This was shot beautifully. The camera lingered while both groups stared at each other. It was very clear the rebels were seven ways of fucked, but they wouldn’t back down. This was impressive in of itself, refusing to back down against overwhelming and dangerous odds. By some miracle, the protagonists were winning after taking some pretty bad injuries. Then things went bad… very, very bad. Night vision goggles and long, dark tunnels helped turn the tide back with the antagonists…..
I have never, ever, ever watched a scene more intimidating than that this year.
The Ending: It’s kind of a misnomer to call the ending bad. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t exactly great… but it wasn’t horrible. We saw the train crash, getting nailed by the mother of all avalanches. Keep in mind… the remainder of humanity was on the train. Chances are, everyone bounced around like crazy in the train cars and would have died. Or to put it in another way, the avalanche killed off the remainder of humanity. But….
For whatever reason, two kids survived. Two kids crawled out of the wreck, dressed up quite warmly, and walked away. They both saw a polar bear in the distance staring at them. This was meant to be an optimistic scene, showing that there was still life outside of the train. Sure, humanity may be dead, but there was still life…. and the movie ended.
Like I said, the ending wasn’t exactly bad… but it wasn’t good. Here’s why…
First, the movie ended too soon. The way the entire scene was designed, the kids were walking away from the wreckage of the train. In fact, they were climbing up a hill on a mountain range. It would have made sense for them to have made it to the top of the range, let them take a look around the area. It’s obvious that the polar bear would have had to been eating something in order to survive. So maybe they could have seen a minor ecosystem that persisted throughout the deep freeze. That would have fit with the theme of the movie, since the train itself was an ecosystem. So if the movie would have went on for like maybe 30 more seconds, it would have made sense.
Second, a facebook friend of mine, Kelsey, pointed out that it didn’t make sense for the two kids to have survived. Humanity was pretty much dead at this point. Having two kids survive, who did not possess the skills needed to survive, was pointless. It would have made a lot more sense to have nobody survive the crash. Extend the ending and show scenes of the crash as well as the aftermath of it. Showing the effects and aftermath of the crash would add to the reality of the situation, keeping the focus on the human element of the movie rather than a sudden move to “at least something survived!”
Franco the Elder: Franco served a great purpose for the middle of the movie. He had the role of the unstoppable monster who would stop at nothing to kill Curtis and his friends. And in that role, he was magnificent. He was eventually stabbed, seemingly killed. Emphasis on seemingly, because he got back up at the end of the movie to try to attack Curtis again. This time, he didn’t serve a single purpose at all. He charged forward and got into a fist fight with the older Korean expert electrician (Namgoong Minsu) and was killed.
He added absolutely nothing to the scene. Nothing at all.
The Honest Truth
The movie was very good, but it was not for everyone. It was very bloody and filled with disturbing content, like bug eating and cannibalism. So though I am HIGHLY recommending this movie, it is with that one caveat.
The two “bads” that I listed here aren’t really that big of a deal. It does not detract from the brilliance of this movie. There’s so much to love about this movie, it is scary. The plot is very intelligent. The twists all make sense within the context of the movie. Heck, the movie itself is so complex, it isn’t easily summarized at all. It’s first a movie about the dangers of humanity recklessly releasing chemicals into the atmosphere (pollution, intentionally manipulating the environment, etc). Then it is about revolution and class warfare. Then it becomes a critique of the danger of cults and isolated communities. Then it became a lesson on the fragility of the ecosystem. Then it becomes a lesson of the danger of power and responsibility. I could go on and on, as each of these lessons and critiques are all brilliantly interconnected.
I loved everything about this movie. The acting was top notch (Chris Evans was excellent at Curtis). The effects were disturbingly great. I could believe a man had his frozen arm shattered by a sledgehammer. Even the lighting was incredible! The freaking lighting! I’m not kidding. Each train car they were in was lit perfectly, helping set the tone and mood of each area.
This movie deserves awards! Hell, this movie deserves to be seen. Find out where they are playing it in your area and go see it! Don’t you dare download this illegally. Go and watch it. Hell, I think I remember seeing it offered on Xbox Live. So if it is there, go and buy it! SUPPORT THIS MOVIE!!!!
err… wow, I’m getting carried away.
Just go see this movie. It’s an A+! Five stars! It’s freaking as close to perfection as you can get.