Sunday, January 18, 2015

Snowpiercer review

    I'm a big fan of post-apocalyptic movies. The fact I have an extensive section of my blog dedicated to reviewing PA fiction should tell you such. However, there's a simple fact the majority of post-apocalyptic fiction isn't very good. Writing about, literally, the most depressive thing possible is hard enough. Doing so in a way which doesn't break your suspension of disbelief or, if it does, allows you to go for the ride anyway is even harder. Moreover, I have the additional qualifiers of wanting my apocalypses to say something as well as be entertaining.

    So what do I think of Snowpiecer?

    I like it.


The power of the people is on display: dark, brutal, and outmatched yet still defiant.
    The premise of Snowpiercer is a failed experiment to stop global warming has resulted in the entire world becoming a frozen ice cube. A billionaire industrialist named Wilford (Ed Harris) has created a perpetual motion machine to power a train which he uses to ferry the last survivors of humanity around the world forever. On a literal level, this makes no sense as any practical person would recognize there's nothing you could do on a trail you couldn't do better in an underground base or compound. However, on a symbolic level, it makes perfect sense for capitalism.

    The function of capitalism is to go round and round the world to produce stuff which exists to fund more capitalism. Trains also have another symbolic meaning as they have a special place in the writings of Ayn Rand. Does it make sense on a practical level to have a train as the last resource of humanity? No. However, it doesn't need to be practical because the guy who created the train is implied to have done so because he liked trains more than buildings. Snowpiecer takes place in a world where entire civilizations are at the whims of the rich.

    The situation on board is beyond desperate as the bottom half of the train's cars are filled with people treated worse than animals. They aren't even used as a source of cheap labor, so much as they're kept there in horrible conditions only to have their children removed at various times, never to be seen again.

    So, you can guess they're ripe for revolt.

Mason is a multi-dimensional antagonist. Believing in the system and almost cartoonishly evil at some points but sympathetic when forced to confront the humanity of her victims.
    The movie follows the struggles of Curtis (Chris Evans) as he moves from train-car to- train-car, attempting to reach the engine. He is helped in this struggle by Gilliam (John Hurt), who holds a place of great importance to the survivors. Kidnapping a drugged-out security expert who doesn't speak English, the revolutionaries have only a small chance of succeeding. Even if they do, the train is the only thing keeping them all alive.

    Or is it?

    Snowpiercer, like Brazil, functions on dream logic more than anything else. Wilford's train is like the Nine Circles of Hell, each containing a differently horrible sort of location. Even the wealthy live in a horrible set of conditions, brainwashed into a nihilistic drug-filled world of empty pleasures where their families exist solely to venerate Wilford but promise no real hope for a better tomorrow. I'm especially fond of the character of Mason (Tilda Swinton) who manages a shocking degree of character range despite being written as a deranged parody of both Margaret Thatcher as well as the aforementioned Rand.

John Hurt gives an amazing performance, showing he's still the greatest guy to get for any dystopian film.
     The set-design is beautiful with each of the cars being a monument in compact engineering. The hold for the lower-deck passengers, the nightclub, the aquarium, Wilford's quarters (who's very emptiness is a massive display of wealth), and the shockingly out-of-place preschool all do a wonderful job to explain this world and how it works. The action parts of the story are engaging and brutal--which I like. I prefer my bloodshed to be a part of the story and it certainly is so here. Alison Pill (The Newsroom) does a memorable turn as a pregnant school-teacher indoctrinated from birth in Wilford's philosophy.

    Much of the movie's social satire depends on a simple fundamental premise: Capitalism is a system which provides survival but is it the absolute best system we could have given it also generates immense suffering? I.e. is it possible to do better? The answer posited by the movie is, "We don't know." Revolution may or may not be the answer because the people on the ground frequently don't have any better answers than the people above them. The movie is an unflinching portrayal of the good, bad, and ugly side of class relations even if it's also ludicrous in places.

     The conclusion doesn't end on a note either triumphant or hopeless. Instead, it ends with an uncertain future for both passengers as well as the privileged. I like this because it allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions about the merits of trying to move past a system which works--but at horrific cost.


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