Snowpiercer, One of the Best Movies you Might Not See
By Cape Rust
This past weekend my wife and I found us divested of parental duties from supporting our teenaged daughters’ myriad activities and decided to have a date night. Now before you get all excited (I know that wasn’t the case), understand that rather than going out and painting the town red, we chose to stay at home have a nice quiet dinner and decided to rent a movie. Sure that might sound lame to some, but there are a few of you out there who know the value monetarily and spiritually to dates like this. My wife made a wonderful dinner and at its conclusion we decided that we would just get an On Demand movie rather than having to troop out to the local video store and then suffer the burden of having to return said movie. We flipped through the selections and were not impressed, until we came across Snowpiercer. I had reviewed the second Snowpiercer graphic novel for another site that I write for and really enjoyed the setting and had been looking forward to seeing this movie. My wife was only mildly skeptical, but based on the rundown I gave her, was willing to take the risk and watch it with me.
Snowpiercer is Korean Director Bong Joon-ho’s English-language debut. This science fiction dystopian movie takes place on a train propelled by a perpetual motion engine that does laps along a track over 4000 KM long. The world is covered in snow and ice, and as far as they know the inhabitants of this train are the last people on the earth. On the surface this movie appears to have many typical themes and a setting that we have see in the spate of dystopian movies that have hit theaters, especially the ones based on teen or YA novels. As Snowpiercer progresses, the typical dystopian themes give way to much deeper and complex ideas.
Bong and the story do feed directly into the whole class struggle bit, which was the major driver behind the story. It has been done and it has been placed in many different settings, but I think this is the first time I’ve seen it done on a train. As you would expect the closer to the engine, the higher you are in the rigid caste system. The first part of this movie is muted and dreary, with no shots of what the world looks like outside of the train. You can feel the cramped confines and almost smell the humanity. I’ve lived in tight quarters, but not like this. You can feel the tension between the guards along with a sense of unity between the low folks in cattle class. Then just as you figure how things work at the back of the train something happens which puts their rebellious plans into action.
As the movie progresses, those complex ideas start to emerge; you start to see very odd reactions from the people who have lived in squalor for the past fifteen years to the opulence that is rampant just a few train cars away. Everyone will get different things from these scenes but as important as the complex ideas are, the way they are conveyed is what made Snowpiercer stand out for me. Describing this movie to one of my friends, I said it was what would happen if Dredd and Hunger Games had a love child.
Each car encountered is a whole new world and the farther up in the train our stinky rabble rousers advance, the more decadent things get. The colors of the privileged are vibrant and bordering on obnoxious, while the urchins from the back in their hobo like clothing provides a stark contrast. The frozen planet that surrounds the train acts like a secure wrapper that cares not where someone might live on the train and will not hesitate to kill anyone who ventures outside the confines of that wrapper. I got a bit of a bio-shock vibe a few times as well. The fight scenes were elegant in their gore and were more disturbing because of masterful sound editing than the amount of blood that hit the windows and the floor.
This, like any other movie, was not without faults; for me the biggest was not being able to clearly hear some of the dialogue that was translated through a device used by Nam. I speak a little Hongul (Korean) and even the places where it was used seemed like the volume was turned down. Because of the situation, it is hard to get a good handle on the characters, but that is okay because as much as you may like some of them, don’t count on them making it; close quarters combat is deadly.
Snowpiercer is available On Demand and had a limited theatrical release. I loved that I didn’t have to even put pants on to see a “first run” movie; I’m sure this movie makes even more of an impact on the big screen. Snowpiercer is an amazing mixture of very typical themes that are presented in such a way as to seem unique. The visuals are stunning and at times frightening, the casual deference that is shown to the misfits from the rear as they advance is eerie. This is a thought provoking movie that will awe you with its brutality both physically and mentally. In shot I loved it!