Thursday, July 10, 2014 12:01 am
Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer is the sort of film in which the director asks you to buy into his premise and trust that the trip he’s taking you on will be worthy of your time. To be sure, it’s the sort of movie that can be picked apart if everyday logic was applied, but what film isn’t susceptible to overcritical eyes and unnecessarily pointed observations. (Reminds me of an old friend of mine who walked out of Raiders of the Lost Ark because he claimed the Nazis weren’t in North Africa during the time of the movie – his loss.) No, Snowpiercer requires that if you’re in for a penny, you’re in for a pound. While Bong, who burst on the scene with the South Korean cult horror film The Host in 2006, takes a bit too much time to get to the movie’s punch line, he ultimately makes a powerful statement as to the condition of our world in portraying an imagined future that contains far too much reality for comfort.
Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, the film imagines a not-too-distant future in which efforts to reverse global warming have grossly backfired, sending the world into another ice age. Those who survive this catastrophe, a few more than a thousand at best, have sought refuge on a massive train that circles the world in an never-ending loop. A forward-looking inventor by the name of Wilford (Ed Harris) predicted a catastrophe of this sort and had an international system of track engineered and built, along with an engine capable of pulling over a hundred cars. The passengers have been purposely divided into classes with the rich at the front of the train and those of increasingly lower social status packed in the back.
It’s a standard social situation where dystopian fiction is concerned and one that, what with the increasing power of the 1 percent and the swelling ranks where the rest of us live, becomes truer and truer each day. It comes as no surprise that dissension is brewing in those cars far in the back, with a revolution being dreamed up by Curtis (Chris Evans), who keeps a smoldering rage constantly stoked in his belly. He has more than a few willing allies, notably Gilliam (John Hurt), the oldest and most respected in the group, Tanya (Octavia Spencer), a distraught woman anxious to find her stolen son, and Edgar (Jamie Bell), a young man without direction who idolizes Curtis.
Once the inmates start to take control of their rolling asylum, they begin a forward march to the head of the train, losing members as they go to the resistance that meets them, but having their eyes opened as to how opulently the richer passengers have been living. The production design by Ondrej Nekvasil is extraordinary. Each successive car they enter reveals a world of its own. There’s a Greenhouse Car, a veritable forest on wheels devoted to growing fruits and vegetables. There’s the School Car in which children of the elite are fed propaganda by their insane instructor (Alison Pill) in the most mentally stimulating environment you can imagine. The highlight is the Aquarium Car in which fish of all varieties swim to the sides and above passengers in an all-encompassing tank. If nothing else, the film is a visual delight.
Bong stages more than enough action throughout to satisfy the teenage crowd but those looking for a bit more meat to the story will get bored by their repetitious nature. However, once Curtis reaches his final destination and the grand social scheme of things is revealed to him, the film becomes a horrifying, social commentary that bites close to the bone. While a globe-circling train is far in our future, the attitudes of the governmental and social forces that rule Snowpiercer are already in control.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.