Snowpiercer – WOW. JUST WOW!

GameStop, Inc.


There’s an almost inherent political, moral, and philosophical nature of great science fiction films – Metropolis, They Live, Robocop, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Brazil, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek, and so many more. Snowpiercer, the latest film by Joon-ho Bong (The Host), is not only one of the most densely political films of recent memory, but one of the best blockbuster-type films of recent memory. I’ll tread lightly in my review as I don’t want to ruin any of the laughs, thrills, and chills of one of the best films of the year.

The year is 2031. In order to combat global warming, an attempt to chemically engineer a cooler planet has resulted in a new ice age. All of humanity’s survivors live on an expansive train, sheltering them from the deadly cold outside. In the 18 years since the planet froze over, the train has developed a rigid class structure. There are the haves (hats) and there are the have-nots (shoes). These class structures are brutally enforced. Brutality is usually followed with a stern lecture from Mason (Tilda Swinton), the emissary of the upper class. The underclass is preparing a revolution. Their spiritual leader, Gilliam (John Hurt), has ceded the planning and execution to his protégé, Curtis (Chris Evans). Aided by Edgar (Jaime Bell) and Tanya (Octavia Spencer), Curtis and the train’s denizens must free Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song), who has intimate knowledge of the train’s security, from prison before attempting their coup. Others have tried, all have failed.

Like the film’s titular train, Snowpiercer constantly barrels forward with incredible narrative momentum and doesn’t stop until the closing credits. This is what blockbusters should strive to be. It provides big action and deep thoughts. This film is political, philosophical, environmental, and sharply satirical. Its ups and downs play the audience like a violin.


A brief digression: This year I’ve realized that Tilda Swinton is my spirit animal. Regardless the size of her role in a particular film, she’s an absolute pleasure to watch. This year alone she’s appeared in 3 of my favorite films – Only Lovers Left Alive (John Hurt is in that one, too), The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Snowpiercer. Each performance is extremely varied, yet each of them memorable. The inclusion of Tilda Swinton in the cast of any film is now grounds enough to see it.

It’s tragic that Transformers 4, an almost avant-garde collection of dissociative images, populates the multiplexes and Snowpiercer, a meticulously constructed adventure, plays a few art house theaters. Why is Snowpiercer relegated to a limited release? Harvey Weinstein. Living up to his nickname, Harvey Scissorhands, Weinstein wanted to trim 20 minutes from the film’s running time. Following a backlash from fans and critics, the film had already screened at festivals and would be released internationally unscathed, Harvey relented, opting to release the entire film uncut but in a limited run. Even with all this controversy, however, it’s important to remember that Harvey has not only clashed with some great filmmakers, but has wholeheartedly backed others – Quentin Tarantino is the best example. But having actually seen the film now, one has to wonder if Harvey even watched the film at all. There’s nothing to cut. This film doesn’t have an ounce of fat on it, not a single unnecessary frame.

The underwhelming marketing effort and limited release makes it imperative to bring more attention to this film. If you’re tired of money-driven, opportunistic blockbuster entertainment (*cough* Trans4mers), it’s almost a civic duty to support Snowpiercer. This film doesn’t pander. It respects the audience’s intelligence – what a rarity these days! The film’s dense political material has been bouncing around in my head for days after viewing. Its explicit indictment of Social Darwinism being the most prevalent in my mind, but there’s also a sly commentary on political and economic thought as a kind of religious orthodoxy. There’s a lot more to discuss about the many themes of Snowpiercer, however, dear reader, this isn’t the place. All I’ll say is this: GO SEE SNOWPIERCER! Tilda Swinton is in it.

Snowpiercer is currently playing in limited release though it will be slightly expanding next week. It will likely be available VOD in a few weeks, but this should be seen in a theater. 

Anytime Costumes

One Response

  1. Michael Colbert July 14, 2014 Reply

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