In a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off most life on the planet, a class system evolves aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine.
“Passengers, eternal order flows from the sacred engine. We must occupy our preordained position. I belong to the front, you belong to the tail. Know your place! Keep your place!”
Snowpiercer is an excellent movie with a highly thought provoking plot and stunning cinematography and set design. It’s the kind of movie that best watched with little prior knowledge as watching a trailer will surely ruin the effects of the visuals – so no pictures in this review. And you may want to skip the paragraph in which I discuss them.
Really, all you need to know is that it is a movie with political undertones about a revolution on board an extremely classist train filled with loads of action scenes. The rest of the journey is best experienced along with the characters for maximum impact. I didn’t know much about the film beyond the synposis when I watched it and I was really glad I didn’t look further because I’d have ruined the experience for myself.
The concept behind the film is pretty original and is inspired by a French comic trilogy by the same name. The reason for the Earth freezing over isn’t super important, any reason could have been given to explain the the creation of the ecosystem on the train, but attributing it to a failed attempt to reverse global warming serves to highlight the stupidity of human nature right from the opening scene.
The design of Snowpiercer is perfection. The world of the train is highly detailed and intricate. Each shot contains only what is needed in the scene, narrow camera angles mimicking the close confines of the train. The colour scheme is immaculate – dark colours reserved for the back of the train with a bright, full palette for the rest of the train. Two scenes stand out to me: the first is when Mason arrives at the back of the train wearing a bright yellow jacket, impossibly bright and sunny against the dark grey backdrop of the third class passengers. The second is when Curtis and his small team make it out of the back of the train and for the first time in a very long while are greeted by sunlight. The intensity of the sun makes you recognize just how dark the back of the train really is. As a viewer experiencing this along with the characters, these scenes only add the sense of injustice.
As director Bong Joon Ho mention in an interview (on the special features section of the DVD) he drew inspiration for the back of the train from concentration camps. The way the passengers are counted, forced into extremely cramped quarters, and are subjected to cruel punishments is definitely reminiscent of prisoners in the Holocaust. Meanwhile, the passengers at the front of the train live in luxury, brainwashed into worshiping Wilford as a god. It’s fascinating how in just 17 years a new societal structure can form and the movie is certainly commenting on the nature of humanity and its willingness to follow those in positions of authority without asking questions.
Being a joint American-Korean production, the cast, while mainly white, is multicultural, which makes sense given that the train collected the final survivors in the world, but’s its notable in a world of white-washed Hollywood movies. On that note, there are some martial arts style fighting sequences in the movies, along with typical fist fights. There are a good number of gritty and violent action scenes adding to both the slightly unsettling and strange atmosphere of the train and intensifying the battle to reach the engine. I appreciated that while dramatic, the action never reached the point where it felt too over the top to be realistic.
The ending. There are so many twists and turns and revelations that it’s certainly the kind of movie that lends itself to a second viewing. The unconventionality of the ending carries with it many points of discussion – I could easily write a review on the ending alone. But I’m really happy with how it ended – leaving you with almost as many questions as when you began.
Snowpiercer is a complex and challenging movie that is brilliantly executed. Highly recommended.