MANILA, Philippines – Snowpiercer is a science fiction thriller whose premise seems ripe for the Hollywood box office. But under the direction of South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho, Snowpiercer transcends the traditional Hollywood sci-fi thriller by showcasing something bold and whole-heartedly satisfying.
After a failed global warming experiment pushes the world into a perpetual ice age, the world’s remaining survivors are forced to live on the Snowpiercer, a massive self-sustaining train whose miraculous engine allows it to run around the world without stopping. It’s been 17 years since the train began its final voyage, and with a tenuous oligarchy controlling life aboard the Snowpiercer, humanity’s broken class system is unsurprisingly displaced behind its steel walls.
Snowpiercer tells a very straightforward story. A group of rebels led by Curtis (Chris Evans) and Gilliam (John Hurt) spark an uprising that aims to take the train from its wealthy upper class represented by Mason (Tilda Swinton). This requires them to fight their way from the rear of the train to the front, and hopefully, take the train’s hallowed engine.
Though the train itself is in perpetual motion, its inhabitants are at a standstill. They are forced to live in a controlled environment where social status is set in stone and roles are strictly defined. Residents at the front of the train flaunt their authority over the rest of the carriages, but it’s the residents at the tail of the train who suffer the worst.
Despite the inhuman conditions aboard the Snowpiercer, there is a twisted logic to the laws that govern it. Its passengers are what’s left of humanity. The train’s failure spells the extinction of the human race, and it requires a cruel sense of order to run it.
Brutal and relentlessly dark
The film is brutal and relentlessly dark, but its most harrowing scenes aren’t characterized by unsettling acts of violence. Instead, Snowpiercer disarms by introspection, peeling off layers of its imprisoned inhabitants until there is nothing left but bone. As Curtis and his small band of rebels push forward towards the front of the train, each new carriage brings a new horrible realization about their moving prison.
Bong’s strict decision to follow the perspective of the rebels allows us to share these realizations through their defeat, disgust and triumph. But this decision also provides a maddening sense of claustrophobia. The action is vicious, the deaths even more so. Like the characters, we are trapped aboard the Snowpiercer, and the only choice we have is to move forward.
Despite the scarcity of life aboard the Snowpiercer, Bong romanticizes very little of it. Lives are taken with little to no fanfare and murder is carried out with no hesitation. But this only helps punctuate the brutality above the train.
Audiences who have become accustomed to the traditional style of Western filmmakers might find themselves disoriented by Bong’s unique form of storytelling. But for those who are open to a fresh set of eyes behind the camera, Snowpiercer is as imaginative as they come.
A Class of Its Own
Class struggle has always been a popular theme in the genre of science fiction, and Hollywood outings are no exception to such conventions. While Snowpiercer starts off with the rather typical conflict between the lower and upper class, it quickly evolves into something more personal than socio-political.
By the end of the film, we are reintroduced to a Curtis who is far different from the idealistic rebel from the tail of train. We see him no long as a righteous man of the lower class, but of a man whose principles are as gray as our own.
Where Snowpiercer succeeds is not simply in distinguishing the good and the evil, but in relaying the harsh truth that good and evil are, at times, hardly distinguishable from each other. And while the villains of Snowpiercer bellow at us to know our place, its heroes challenge us to change it.
Like the best of science fiction, Snowpiercer makes bold and disturbing observations about humanity. But this time, it’s done by seeing the world through and about ourselves, and each other. – Rappler.com
Watch the Snowpiercer trailer here:
Zig Marasigan is a freelance screenwriter and director who believes that cinema is the cure for cancer. Follow him on Twitter at @zigmarasigan.
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