Thoughts on Snowpiercer

In a year populated with sequels and reboots, Snowpiercer stands as a film that is both unique and compelling. Its elusive, hard to place appeal may be derived from its unique origin and cast. Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer is the first (mostly) English language film by acclaimed Korean director Joon-ho Bong (The Host). This French-inspired, Korean-directed film stars a diverse cast which includes Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song (one of Korea’s best), Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton, and Ed Harris. If that doesn’t have you intrigued, I don’t know what to say. The fact that all of these people star in a dark, science fiction film makes it even more interesting.
Evoking all the best parts of the post-apocalyptic genre, Snowpiercer deftly sets up its world’s circumstances within the first few minutes of its runtime. A global warming cure gone horribly wrong leaves Earth in perpetual winter; the only survivors were those that boarded the train of an engineering genius named Wilford, who predicted the coming calamity and created a self-sustaining world within a train (the aforementioned “Snowpiercer”) that circumvents the Earth. Seventeen years later, those at the back of the train live in squalor, sleeping five to a bed and eating mass-produced, “protein” bricks delivered to them by the upper class’ enforcers while those at the front of the train live in lavish cabins, enjoying all the excesses of a lost world. Chris Evans plays Curtis, a man hardened by life at the back of the train, haunted by the horrible things he has done to survive. After seventeen years of hardship and multiple failed rebellions, Curtis decides that the time has come for another insurrection when he learns that a security specialist named Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song) is being detained in the train’s jail car. Though the man is an addict, he also possesses the ability to open the train’s many doors, providing Curtis and company with an unprecedented opportunity. Backed by train elder Gilliam (John Hurt), his best friend Edgar (Jaimie Bell), and others, Curtis plans to spring Namgoong Minsoo and make a play at reaching the train’s immortal engine with the hope of assuming control of Snowpiercer and righting the many wrongs that the mini-societal hierarchy within the train has caused.
From this brief synopsis you can probably tell, Snowpiercer is some pretty heavy stuff. It’s dirty, depressing, and filled with metaphor and symbolism about interclass relations, autonomy, and governmental corruption. It’s also one of the best films so far this year. The cinematography and set-design is beautiful, especially as Curtis and company move farther through the train and witness the opulence of the themed cars on their way towards the immortal engine. The direction by Joon-ho Bong creates a sense of tension that builds throughout the film while still managing to maintain the human moments that make its characterizations so strong. The script itself is crisp and moves at a brisk pace with exposition being delivered through suggestion rather than long-winded monologues, delivering answers to questions in surprising, unpredictable ways, all culminating in a climax that both horrifies and astounds. All of this is supported by Chris Evans brilliant performance. Snowpiercer solidifies Evans’ leading man status, giving him the opportunity to showcase his range, portraying a determined, yet broken man. Though he does not speak a word of English, Kang-ho Song’s security specialist Namgoong Minsoo is immediately likeable and intriguing, which is not surprising considering Song’s impressive filmography (seriously, if you haven’t seen Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the Host, and Thirst, do so now). The supporting cast also give memorable performances, especially the great and powerful Tilda Swinton, who mesmerizes with her portrayal of Minister Mason, the voice of Wilford. Mason’s obsession with maintaining the social hierarchy of the train, coupled with her bizarre ticks and false teeth make her one of the most memorable characters in some time with Swinton, as always, elevating already great material.
I shall say no more for fear of spoiling the experience. However, for those gamers out there I will say that this is probably the closes you’ll ever get to a Bioshock movie, cherish it. So if you like a film that’s both thought-provoking and thrilling, Snowpiercer is a fine choice and one of the finest films produced this year so far. To sweeten the deal even further, for some reason Snowpiercer did not get a wide release and is available On-Demand now on Amazon. Here’s the link:


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