‘Snowpiercer:’ Frosted Trips

In Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer, by the year 2031, the earth has frozen over, and the world’s only survivors are packed into this technological wonder of a train that barrels around the globe in a constant effort to not freeze up and expire. The proprietor of the train is the mysterious and inaccessible Wilford. Curtis Everett (Chris Evans, wonder if the role was written, or at least named, with him in mind) is an able-bodied, attractive white man, so he is naturally the selected leader of the “back of the train,” of a group of people who seem to have been arbitrarily selected to spend their days in squalor, barely surviving in dirty, damp, unlivable spaces. They are perpetually treated like, and covered in, s**t, fed nothing but nasty-looking gelatinous “protein bars,” and beaten and trampled upon by the armed guards that dictate their lives.

We are given a slight taste of life at the “front of the train” in select incidences, and they hint at an eccentric class of extreme wealth. A woman in a pristine, mustard yellow pea coat and harsh lipstick comes to steal a child from the back of the train for unknown purposes. Tilda Swinton dons some giant granny glasses, even bigger horse teeth, and an ambiguous European accent with which she eloquently demeans and diminishes the worth of the people unfortunate enough to live in the muck. She touts a belief that this is how things must be, that everyone has their place, that there must be balance in order for the success of the train (which is a not-so-subtle symbol for any class-based society).

This speech, of course, comes moments before Curtis and the rest of the back of the train rebel and start to take control, car by car. Here is where the comparisons to Cabin in the Woods begin (it’s a good thing). As Snowpiercer progresses, we are slowly lowered into the depths of the mind of Wilford, the strange and god-like control he exhibits over this train, and the obsession with the notion that order can only be maintained by making people suffer. Snowpiercer is no longer just the bloody, underdog revolt actioner it started out as. It becomes downright dark and funny, and so weird, for so much the better.

As Curtis’ group moves up the train, the injustices pile up. The manufactured pseudo-society of the train is slowly revealed to be incredibly indulgent and idyllic in a way that’s so incredibly offensive to Curtis and his people (and the audience) when compared to what they have endured at the back of the train. The good ol’ 1% enjoy greenhouses and aquariums and dance clubs and spas and fresh fruit. It becomes increasingly evident that there was definitely an opportunity to spread the wealth a little bit.

The setup is intentionally coy in such a masterful way. The systematic reveal of the cars on the train gradually sinks Curtis and his people into a totally exhausting bewilderment. It’s heart-wrenching to watch these people discover everything that’s been hidden from them for no good reason for seventeen years.

Unfortunately, the final scenes, once Curtis reaches the back of the train, are dragged down by a lot of talking. Apparently Harvey Weinstein thought it wise to chop off twenty minutes, which sparked an argument with the director. The end does drag, but cutting time doesn’t seem like the correct choice (and ultimately, the movie was not shortened). So much exposition is shoved into the last twenty minutes, backstory that could have been infinitely more effective if it was dispersed throughout the film. Maybe it’s because we get the explanation of Curtis’ past after everything has gone down. Maybe it’s the fact that Chris Evans (Curtis Everett) isn’t a good enough actor to make those scenes really work. Most likely, it’s a mixture of both that make the last sequence of the movie its own lagging caboose.

But Snowpiercer is an original. That train is an odd and forceful propellant into the genre of dystopian science fiction. The cast is insane (John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, Alison Pill, Jamie Bell, and Steve Park, who is in a lot of things but I will always know him as Mike from Fargo because it is one of the most memorably creepy performances ever in a movie as far as I’m concerned). The dark humor is effortless. The injustices are real. The future is terrifying.

Grade: B+

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