There has been a lot of hype and controversy surrounding Snowpiercer recently, both because of its supposed greatness as a film and the circumstances surrounding its unfortunately limited theater release. With my interest piqued, I decided to give the movie a look, and as a lover of all things science fiction, I went into it with very high hopes.
I had to drive over two hours in order to find a theater that even played the movie, and when I did, it was a tiny, independently owned place literally named The Little Theater. The seats were old and worn, the wallpaper out of date, and except for a couple other people, the theater room was mostly empty, and very, very quiet.. Which only made the experience that much more memorable.
Snowpiercer is a breathtaking and visceral movie experience that shocked me every step of the way. It’s bold, ambitious, and holds nothing back in anything it does. I’ve never really seen anything like it in my entire life, and I can say with absolute certainty that this is one of the few films to leave me truly breathless by the time the credits finally rolled.
It’s a masterfully told science fiction story that is somehow able to take a tried-and-true concept and turn it into something new, exciting, and as it was for me, absolutely thought provoking. Snowpiercer gripped me in a few movies ever have, and its dark and dire tale of survival simultaneously shocked, disturbed, and amazed me. It’s been a couple days since I’ve seen it, and I still can’t get it out of my head.
The year is 2031, and after a failed attempt at preventing global warming results in a brutal ice storm that freezes the entire planet and nearly wipes out the entirety of our species, the last of humanity is trapped on a globe-spanning train than runs off of an unstoppable engine. But with only a limited amount of space, and a responsibility to preserve our species, the livelihood of those on board is sacrificed in the name of ‘order’ and ‘control.’
To accomplish this, the people are split up into several different classes; the lower class resides in the very back of the train and are subjected to brutal intimidation tactics and lack of food; the working class takes up the middle, and while their circumstances aren’t great, they at least get some resemblance of care; and finally, the upper class takes up the front, where there every wish is given to them at the expense of those deemed less ‘worthy.’
After seventeen years of this twisted system, those in the back decide it’s time for a change, and make the bold decision to fight their way all to the front of the train order to wrest control from the corrupted hands of the train’s creator, Wilford. It’s a task that has been attempted several times already, but has never been compeleted, and always ends with the quick gruesome extermination of anyone involved.
While the premise of the film isn’t wholly unique, it’s the way director Bong Joon-ho handles the subject matter that makes it stand out. The world Joon-ho presents his viewer with is dark, grim, and increasingly unsettling, and he holds nothing back in demonstrating just how far mankind has fallen in the name of survival. It all comes together to create a shocking and absolutely enthralling experience that can’t be easily forgotten.
The story follow Curtis, a haunted and determined man with a tragically dark past. Brilliantly portrayed by Chris Evans, Curtis is a likable character who is very easy to both identify and root for, which is a testament to Evans’ abilities as a leading man, since Curtis isn’t always the most pleasant or innocent of people.
Evans gives a nuanced and masterful performance here, and the way he was able to seamlessly transition from a ruthless killer one minute to an emotionally broken man the next was simply amazing. I’ve always known that Evans is a talented actor, but his work here truly blew me away, especially during a particular monologue near the end that might’ve just been one of the most raw and compelling character moments I’ve seen in the theater all year.
The entire cast is phenomenal as well, and while this is very much Evans’ film, some of his co-stars come very near to stealing the spotlight. The father-daughter duo of Namgoong and Yona Minsu, wonderfully portrayed by Kang-ho Song and Ah-Sung Ko respectively, are the obvious standouts here, and even though Nangoong never speaks a word of English, he was easily one of the most nuanced and developed characters in the entire cast.
Jamie Bell, John Hurt, and Octavia Spencer also perform incredibly well, and while they’re screen time is not nearly as prominent as Evans, they make an immediate impression and more than capably carry their own weight throughout the film. However it’s Tilda Swinton’s radically insane Minister Mason who is truly unforgettable, and her inherent need for control clearly sets the stage for the entirety of the story.
Even with all that said, the reason this movies succeeds in the way it does is because of Bong Joon-ho’s impeccable direction both behind the camera and the script. He consistently and excellently manipulates your expectations during the film, and his purposefully erratic pacing, although initially off-putting, ends up becoming one of the film’s greatest qualities.
As Curtis and his band of rebels travel from train car to train car, Joon-ho continues to surprise the viewer with both new sights, sounds and dangers for the characters to face and adapt to. He even manages to consistently manipulate you into a false sense of security and comfort before ripping it right out from under you with a shocking twist that you never could’ve have seen coming.
While Snowpiercer is a very violent film with a lot of disturbing content, Bong Joon-ho never revels in it, and often opts to show only what he absolutely has to, and lets the audience fill in the rest with their own imaginations. And even though some of the pacing can come across as occasionally jarring, you’re always so invested in what’s happening that you can’t help but get caught up in it all.
The only real flaw the film has are some unfortunate plot holes and inconsistencies that go sadly unaddressed by the time the film’s credits roll. It’s not a crippling flaw, and certainly leaves many of the plot’s more dramatic themes open to interpretation, but it is a a bit disappointing to see an otherwise brilliant film held back by some sadly unanswered questions.
However, as brilliant as this movie is, it’s not exactly the kind of movie you watch for pure entertainment. On more than one occasion Snowpiercer had me squirming in my seat from all of the dark and brutal content that was being thrown at me, and while it certainly made for an endlessly gripping experience, it took me a good couple hours just to digest all that I had seen.
Still, Snowpiercer is without a doubt one of the absolute best movies I have seen so far this year. While I don’t think I’ll be running back to it anytime soon, the more I find myself thinking about it, the more I want to analyze it further just to see if there was anything I may have missed the first time through, and I am very anxious to see just what project Bong Joon-ho will tackle next.
This film is bound to become a classic piece of science fiction cinema that I can only hope gets the attention it rightfully deserves. It was very much worth the trouble to watch it on the big screen, and if you’re even a little bit interested in the story Joon-ho Bong has told, then I cannot recommend enough that drive the extra distance to watch it. I don’t think you’ll regret it.