It’s a shame that Snowpiercer (2013) didn’t get a UK release last year, having only caught the trailer by chance I thought I’d look out for it in some form. Catching it on an Italian import I was able to see what as going on in this fascinating Sci-fi film confined to a train that travelled the frozen Earth for the last 18 years since a chemical released into the atmosphere in hopes of reversion the effects if global warming. Which had devastating effects on the now snow-covered planet we call home. Leaving only a handful of our civilisation alive, returning society to a strict class system that was once informed on trains. Something we still have today thanks to the recession that has seen the richer get richer and the poor poorer. A struggle for equality is something those at the rear of this beast of a train called the Snowpiercer are fighting for. Lead by Curtis (Chris Evans) assumes the role of natural leader of these survivors who had previously trued to escape from an autocratic social systems that sees the rich comes down only when necessary for those with skills and children they require. The old world we thought we had once left has returned travels around the globe once a year.
I must say I have only been in 1st class once and hated it, I read a menu which had a breakfast with a muffin for £15 which is a ridiculous price really, nobody talks to anyone. Something I am naturally against, an innate feeling that repels me from the upper class, or even first class, a down to earth guy who worked hard and reaps those rewards. Not those of circumstance and privilege. This is a personal perception none the less which is to some extent reinforced in this Terry Gilliam-esque world that shows everything has its place whilst still not really making sense.
After two children are taken away it’s the last straw for the rear of the train, after being shamefully lectured with a shoe metaphor about knowing their place, courtesy of Mason (Tilda Swinton) whilst another is being tortured. Its time to act, time to break free of the carriages they’re confined to and make their way to the front of the train and gain control from the engineer and leader Wilford (Ed Harris). Every carriage is a fight at first, needing the help of drug addict and engineer Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song) to open the doors allowing them to move up the train.
Each door reveals new challenges and surprises, learning more about the inner working of the train and how the society functions, from the kitchen that feeds the rear to the school that brain washes the children to learning a very skewed version of earths history. All made possible by the wise and wonderful Wilford who has constructed a very top-heavy society which functions on order and dominance. Utilising fear to control the rear who are slowly making ground in ever diminishing numbers. Only a few actually make it to the from. We begin with a large and international cast, this is not your average Hollywood film where all the main cast are American, leaning more toward European, ok its largely British. Swinton and weird form with a Yorkshire accent, whilst John Hurt starting to become typecast as the old and wise man who is behind the rebellion.
We start in the dark violent rear of the train, work threw all the axe-wielding soldiers which provides the most violence that is quickly replaced by a slow-motion sequence as we lose quite a few of the rebellion. A brave move by the dictator Joon-ho Bong we are left with a few that we at first wouldn’t expect. Theres a better sense of reality, we can lose stronger people at any point in life which is reflected here. It’s grim to be honest and probably a reason why the film has not yet been released over here theatrically. Becoming brighter and more mysteriously quirky as we reach the engine room. Where all the mystery that has been built up us explained, pulling the film apart more than enriching it. There are some important details revealed which try to counter that all of that.
I also felt let down by the special effects which construct the outside world, which is all to artificial to engage with. It’s as if I as watching a promotional video for a computer game, expect nothing really matched up except the snow. Looking at the credits there were a number of companies involved on the film. Maybe they were all working on different aspects of the film, which would probably work better if the work wasn’t spread so thin, as it looses its visual identity. There are some incredible sequences nonetheless which do blow your mind. I just wish they matched up though.
All of that doesn’t detract from a film which has an interesting idea at the heart of it, taking two themes, one of climate change and social class and throws them both together on a form of transport that helped to reinforced both of them. There’s a lot going on here which keeps you occupied and mind focused, so many characters who we meet along the way. Leaving us to meet Harris at the end playing very much the same role as he had in The Truman Show (1998) a delusional god-like figure who believes he is doing only good, a rational thinker and leader who is intact very flawed.
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