One Wild Ride: Snowpiercer
By: Meg Humphrey
Korean director Bong Joon Ho has already carved a name for himself for niche American audiences with hits like Mother and The Host. Snowpiercer is his English language debut that fans have been dying to see since it was completed and released internationally in 2013. Based on the French graphic novel, Le Transperceneige, the movie starts with newscasters reporting that on July 1st, 2014 (the day I happened to see the movie), seventy-nine countries release the chemical CW-7 into the atmosphere to halt global warming. This, of course, has the extreme effect of bringing on another ice age. Everything is dead except what’s aboard Wilford’s train. The train is a magnificent feat of engineering; it’s a perfectly balanced ecosystem that loops around the world once per year. The head of the train is Wilford himself and the further back you go, the lower the social statuses fall. Curtis Everett (Chris Evans) is in the tail section and committed to bringing about an uprising. If he can make it to the engine, where Wilford is, he can control their entire world and bring some relief for those in the lowest classes.
The acting is brilliant which is no surprise when you look at the cast. Practically every actor and actress has an impressive resume. With the talents of Chris Evans, Kang-Ho Song, Octavia Butler, Ed Harris, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell and John Hurt, there was no doubt that the audience would be completely sucked into the world of the train. Evans highlights his dramatic acting abilities (which we all knew he had thanks to Sunshine), but doesn’t forget his physical prowess. It is definitely a role that proves his range expands beyond chronic flirt and Captain America. Although Curtis is a far cry from the stalwart super soldier we’re used to seeing Evans as, he still plays a man struggling to do the right thing and protect his people. Righteousness suites him.
Bong Joon Ho has put thought into every person that appears on that train. It’s no mistake that the tail section and economy workers are filled with people of color and non Americans. The closer Curtis and Namgoong (Kang-Ho Song) get to the engine, the people populating the cars become more white, thin, and conventionally attractive. They spend their days partying, doing recreational drugs, and socializing. They have privacy, healthcare, and education. It’s impossible not to see the social commentary in the movie. He shows the homogeneity of the upper class, their exploitation of everyone lower than they are, and the arbitrary rules and factors that decide the fates of those less fortunate.
What will have me re-watching this movie over and over is the way that Bong Joon Ho weaves this story. His blending of emotions is spot on. He knows exactly how much and what kind of humor to use to ease the viewer. He knows how long a fight scene should go on before it starts to feel too hopeless or too long. He brings you to the edge of victory only to slam you into despair, but then he’ll raise you up again. The movie never feels slow or stagnant. There’s depth and clues in every action. I’ve seen it twice in five days and I can’t stop thinking about it.
I really urge everyone to go see Snowpiecer if it’s somewhere near you (even if it’s not near you, it will be coming on VOD services shortly). Some parts may be a little bloody, but the violence isn’t gratuitous or unnecessary. It’s an emotional ride and despite being science fiction, it’s one of the realest pieces of drama I have seen in a long time.