Snowpiercer: A Movie Review

snowpiercer

Synopsis: A failed global-warming experiment (injecting an artificial coolant called C7 into the atmosphere) kills off all life and sends earth into a new ice age.  A lucky few manage to survive aboard the Snowpiercer, a train on a permanent path of circumnavigation around the globe. Snowpiercer is self-sufficient and its survival and the continued existence of its occupants hinges on carefully balanced eco and social systems. The story focuses on Curtis, played by Chris Evans, who leads an uprising along with the occupants of the end of the train, against the occupants of the head of the train, including the train’s designer and conductor, the enigmatic Wilford.

The movie is based on a French graphic novel by of the same name, written by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette.

graphic novel

The story begins near the end of the 17th year of Snowpiercer’s operation as the last bastion of civilization upon the now frozen earth. Frequent shots through the train’s window shows abandoned cityscapes devastated by the impact of ice and snow. Chris Evans as Curtis and Jamie Bell as Edgar appear as a gritty, grimy, brotherly duo intent on revolution. They receive mysterious messages hidden in their daily food ration (disgusting gelatinous protein bars made from…Soilent Green! No, not really, but it is pretty bad when you find out what they’ve been eating). The messages contain clues and hints that guide Curtis and Edgar in how to proceed with their uprising.

curtis

The movie starts off dark and gritty: stereotypical apocalyptic  fodder. But as the story progresses, its surrealistic, comic book roots start to show. Absurdity and graphic violence contrast the dark socio-political overtones and the styles play off each other nicely. My two favorite scenes in the movie are when the dirty, wretched, end-of-the-train rebels make their way into the school room and the bright, shiny, clean children sing them a song about what happens if the train stops (We die! die! die!); and a scene where the same bloodied band of fighters stops to have a bite of fresh fish at a Japanese style sushi bar while sea life swims overhead in a carefully maintained aquatic eco-system (fancy aquarium).

As Curtis and his rebels fight their way to the front of the train, they are overcome by more and more absurd and outrageous displays of decadence and splendor that are available to “head-of-the-train” passengers.  At certain points, the movie almost has a sort of Tim Burton feel to it.

The plot does a fabulous job ratcheting up the tension. I worried the ending was never going to stand up to all that build-up.  In some ways I thought the ending was predictable (without giving too much away, it reminded me a lot of the scene between Neo and the “Architect” in the Matrix movies OR Dorothy when she finally gets to the Wizard of OZ), and in some ways it was surprising.  Either way, I’m not convinced it was satisfying. However, the fact that the voice of the movie was morally ambiguous was refreshing. No preachiness, no force feeding, just thoughts for us to chew on on our own. This film treats its audience like we might actually be a little bit intelligent.

If for no other reason, I urge you to watch the movie, to see Tilda Swinton’s outstanding performance as Mason, the completely wacked-out ambassador or “Minister of the Train.”

tilda

Tilda Swinton has been growing on me, lately.  I’ve seen her recently in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and in the Indy vampire flick, Only Lovers Left Alive.  She’s insidious as an actress, sneaking into your subconscious and charming you before your aware of it.

Tilda is a freaking chameleon. With her androgynous looks, she’s a blank canvass. A little bit of costume, a little twist of persona and Tilda completely disappears beneath the surface of whatever character she is playing. I have always loved character actors, and she’s quickly rising to the top of my list of favorites.

The cast, overall, is stellar. Chris Evans (who has come a loooong way since his days with the Fantastic Four, plus he’s just so nice to look at!), Jamie Bell (have you been watching him on AMC’s Turn? If not, then you should), John Hurt (what movie has he not been in?), Octavia Spencer (I kept hoping she’d make her famous “chocolate” pie and feed it to Wilford) Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, and Kang-ho Song.

snow piercer cast

I think if you generally like graphic novel movies such as V for Vendetta, Sin City, etc., and/or if you like post apocalyptic survival stories, then this one is definitely worth seeing. It takes some unexpected turns and at times its visually stunning. I’m not sure if the social statements were all that new or provoking, but the surreal setting and unique style of the movie put a fresh spin on something that could otherwise be old and tired.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Widdershins
    Jun 25, 2014 @ 19:13:12

    I’ve been following all the brouhaha about the North American release. Was the dreaded voice-over included? I’ll see it anyway, the concept is so wacky it makes sense! 😀

    Reply

  2. squee1313
    Jun 25, 2014 @ 19:22:11

    In the version I saw, there was no voice over. But I also didn’t get subtitles, and most of Kang-ho Song’s lines were in Korean (?), so if he said anything phenomenal, then it totally went over my head.

    Reply

  3. cdsquee
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 01:56:37

    Ok. Just watched this on your recommendation. Also because J dog got it on demand. Excellent excellent recommendation. No voice over on demand here either

    Reply

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