Director: Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 protein blocks. Aside from having to get used to some of Bong Joon-ho’s signature stylistic tendencies– mainly a jarring pace filled with tonal inconsistencies and abrupt, drastic mood shifts (all potential flaws that eventually become some of the film’s most distinct and intriguing characteristics)– this film is thoroughly enjoyable on visceral, intellectual and emotional levels. Riveting and intense, Snowpiercer is a refreshingly smart alternative to many summer blockbusters and a uniquely stylish approach to some familiar dystopian science-fiction tropes/themes as well.
Snowpiercer exceeded my expectations by almost as many miles as the train in the film can travel. The premise is in some ways familiar, and in many other ways, it is as unique as its execution: after almost all life on earth has been wiped out by a failed experiment to combat climate change, a portion of the world’s remaining human beings are saved by a train that runs around the globe, turning icebergs into the passengers’ water supply. On this train, a dangerous class system emerges. Evans plays Curtis, the anti-heroic leader of the most recent of revolts– the tail section’s poor inhabitants against the front cars’ rich and privileged ones. The latter are led (or at least represented) by the hilarious-but-also-really-scary Mason, played by the insanely talented Tilda Swinton.
The film chronicles this carefully planned and brutally fought revolution with stylized violence, dark humor, and some pretty shocking twists and turns; the length of the train is filled with discoveries, some gruesome (what are protein blocks made of, anyway?) and others beautiful (gracefully floating snowflakes, anyone?) in nature, and the film remains exciting and gripping– while also increasing in its absurdity– the further toward the front (and thus, the almighty engine) our protagonists get.
Reaching the engine is of the utmost importance to Curtis, whose own past on the train (which has been running for 18 years around the inhospitable globe) is revealed through a heartbreaking monologue near the film’s conclusion. He wants nothing more than to come face to face with the elusive Wilford– the inventor, engineer and conductor of the train, and the true leader of its population.
The biggest twists come in the film’s final act, and the ultimate resolution is hypnotic in its unpredictability, hopeful in its ambiguity– the payoff of the long, strange and often difficult journey is, in a word, satisfying. This film achieves the rare goal though of actually satisfying the need for action, the hunger for morals and messages, and the desire to feel for and relate to characters, all in nearly equal measure. It takes all the most brilliant and disturbing (and not to mention eerily timely) elements of dystopian sci-fi and heightens and reinvents them, resulting in one of the most aesthetically-stunning, fascinatingly intricate and awesomely original movies to come out of the genre recently. Available on VOD platform, this is one of my most urgently recommended movies of this summer.