Snowpiercer

The premise of Snowpiercer is ostensibly depressing, but in a weird way, it is also optimistic about the current state of the world.  The future ice age of director Bong Joon-ho’s dystopia is caused by an experiment to counteract global warming that works too well.  As the prologue explains, the temperatures were lowered to uninhabitable levels by dropping the cooling agent CW7 all over the planet.  The idea that the solution to global warming could be so simple is naive, but also weirdly hopeful.  Of course, this snowy apocalypse could be interpreted as an argument against attempting to reverse global warming, in that it implies that doing so could lead to the opposite problem.  Ultimately, though, the terms in which Snowpiercer presents this possibility are too simplistic and the movie itself is too insane for anything realistic about the environment to be inferred here.  This setup is just an excuse to have the entire remaining human population trapped on a train that is speeding around the planet, and that proves to be a perfectly fine justification.

Like most dystopian pictures, Snowpiercer is about a fight between the have’s and the have-not’s, and naturally enough, there is a handsome hero (Chris Evans) leading the rebellion.  The particular social inequality of Snowpiercer is not all that unique or meaningful.  But luckily it is not really about the allegory; instead, it is about what life would be like if all of human society (consisting mainly of Koreans, Americans, Brits, and a few Eastern Europeans) were trapped in a confined space.  It has been 17 years since life on the Snowpiercer has begun, so people have settled into it as a home, but there is not really enough room – at least not for everyone – to truly be at home.  Those in the back of the train with the least means cannot afford to be anything other than constant travelers.  Thus, we have a character like Tilda Swinton’s Mason, visiting to impose the rules from the front of the train onto these passengers.  Swinton is typically androgynous and outrageous (making her the perfect actor for this film), and she is also typically nuanced, which is much appreciated for a role that could have been pure evil in other hands.

There is a lived-in griminess to the opening act that effectively sets the stakes of the narrative, but it is not until the middle section that Snowpiercer gets truly bizarre and memorable by showing off the elements of society that are not of the sort in constant flux.  One train car that the rebels make their way through features a middle-school classroom, with Alison Pill in a delightfully deranged turn as the gun-toting, pregnant teacher.  The type of education offered aboard the Snowpiercer is indoctrination to the cult of personality of Wilford, the creator of the titular train.  There is no way to physically cordon the revolution from the schooling, nor is there even an attempt to bother to do so.  But really, the most insane thing about this scenario is the illusion that a normal-looking classroom can remain a sensible idea.

The conclusion of Snowpiercer is well worth discussing, but not worth spoiling except in the vaguest of terms.  It features a surprising turn from an Oscar-nominated actor in a narrative turn that diverges sharply from the rest of the film in a way that was reminiscent of William Hurt’s appearance at the end of A History of Violence.  It plays around with the concluding tropes of dystopian films a fair bit.  Ultimately, Snowpiercer is a singularly bizarre action fantasia with a legendary set design that will not soon be forgotten. A-

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