Joon-ho Bong’s masterful film Snowpiercer begins with a scene of violence. Immediately, the audience is plunged in a dark world full of greed, inequality and startling displays of intense, often remorseless, violence.
It’s a dark movie and one of the most depressing visions of a post-apocalyptic world I’ve come across since marathon reading The Road. However, it is also filled with moments of beauty, hope and even—as odd as it sounds while viewing it—humor.
This is also one of many, many movies I’m lamenting over because it’s not receiving nearly as much attention as it deserves.
The story is a relatively simple one as far as post-apocalyptic tales go. It’s set in a world where a climate change experiment, CW-7, has failed and left the world a frozen, uninhabitable wasteland. The last of humanity has packed onto a train called the Snowpiercer, which travels the world in a never-ending loop.
The train has descended into a Brave New World style class system. Those who ended up in the back end of the train live as barely fed, lower class citizens who are subject to torture and execution constantly. While, even before the viewer gets to see the rest of the train, it’s apparent that the well-fed, happy people at the front of the train are living as well as could be after the fall of the world.
This class system, and the frustration and behavior, that results from it is the film’s subject on the surface. However, the film is also about something much more elemental: the eternal struggle humans have over how to label one another and how to view one another.
This is a film about how very easy it is to become a dictator, to become a mass murdered and to become a monster. It’s about how easy it is to live off those below you in society and how easy it is to never, ever question this organization. George Orwell and Aldous Huxley would have loved it.
With a multi-cultural, very talented cast composed of people like Chris Evans, John Hurt, Ed Harris, Octavia Spencer, Kang-ho Song and the ever entertaining Tilda Swinton, this movie is hard to hate.
While it’s not the most original film in terms of themes, it makes up for it in sheer beauty. Many films have tackled the topic of human nature in the face of disaster, but perhaps none have done it in such a beautiful fashion. The film follows the attempts of Curtis (Chris Evans) to lead a rebellion and bring the end trainers to the front of the train, thus seizing control of the entire train.
As he makes his way to the front of the train, the audience gets to watch as he sees what the rest of the train looks like for the first time in his life. We are as ignorant as he is and as awed and appalled by what we see. As he moves from the squalor of the end of the train, we see a constant display of riches. Living trees. An aquarium. Fresh food. The wonders get more awe inspiring as he moves. And we move with him.
The cinematography is also simply astounding, especially considering 99 percent of the film takes place within the train. There are some truly beautiful shots in this film, from singular floating snowflakes to blood beading on a dead man’s brow.
With a limited score, it’s also a very simple movie in a lot of ways. It’s a simple story with a simple goal: get to the front of the train. That’s the goal of the characters and, since it’s so easy to get invested in these characters, ultimately our goal as well.
It’s a film I’m sure to watch again and I’m sure I’ll notice something new when I watch it again. It’s just one of those movies.
It’s also nearly impossible to look away from this film. From brutal scenes of violence to beautiful moments, it’s hard to stop watching. Almost like a train wreck.