By all accounts, this week’s movie “Snowpiercer” is a blockbuster. It’s fast-paced, action-packed and features an all-star cast with Captain America himself (Chris Evans) in the lead. Despite all of those things, there’s a good chance you haven’t heard of it.
“Snowpiercer” is Korean director Bong Joon-ho (The Host) first English-language film, and what a debut it is.
This is simplifying things enormously, but “Snowpiercer” is essentially “Hunger Games” on a train (yes, literally on a train). There are a few details that separate it, but the basic premise is the same: classes are divided by cars, and children are stolen from their families to serve the “greater good.”
Imagine, if you will, a post-apocalyptic Earth. As the result an ill-advised, last-ditch effort to save the planet, by spewing chemicals meant to cool directly into the upper atmosphere, Earth is now a desolate, frozen tundra and entirely uninhabitable.
All that’s left of humanity exists on a futuristic high-speed train that completes one full loop every 365 days.
In the front of the train, there’s every luxury you could imagine. But the back of the train’s a different story. This is where those that couldn’t afford to pay are kept and used as the wealthier see fit. It’s an inhumane existence to say the least, and after 18 years of circling the planet the discord is about to come to a head.
The revolution, led by the reluctant leader Curtis (Chris Evans), his sidekick Edgar (Jamie Bell), and his mentor Gilliam (John Hurt), starts early on in the film and keeps moving just as quickly as the train which carries our characters. As they make their way toward the engine we see more and more of the gross inequality and brainwashing that’s developed in these confined quarters of humanity.
First stop is the prison car, which houses the man who created the door locks, Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song) and his apparently clairvoyant daughter Yona (Ah-sung Ko). Their cells are drawers you’d expect to see in the morgue.
Lording over this locomotive is its creator, the rarely seen but often praised (by the more fortunate), Wilford (Ed Harris, anyone who’s seen “Truman Show” saw that one coming). It’s his mouthpiece, Mason (Tilda Swinton) that steals the show. Her character is absolutely loyal to a fault, and cruel in the most matter of fact way, and it’s just amazing to watch. Going back to the “Hunger Games” metaphor, I suppose she’d be the Effie Trinket of this story, if Effie had a bit more blood on her hands.
As the story hurdles forward it becomes clearer and clearer that this is a battle that cannot be won. The cost is high and at the end is a level of disillusion that you cannot prepare yourself for.
Above all this movie is beautiful, the visuals are absolutely stunning. You will feel like you are on this train with them. The inequality is wonderfully translated into a kaleidoscopic journey through this train. It’s wonderful.
The same can be said of the cast, story, and even a rather strange monologue from Chris Evans at the climax of the film. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s a little unnerving, and it’s supposed to be.
“Snowpiercer” is fast and smart and an experience that’s hard to describe, but definitely worth the 2 hours.
…for those interested in such things (like me), this is a good read: