Monday, December 29, 2014

Movie with Abe: Snowpiercer

Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Released July 11, 2014

Dystopias have a certain quality to them, and the most effective ones are those that seem like they could actually exist in the not-so-distant future. “Snowpiercer” creates its reality by starting with an extremely current and relevant theme, global warming, and demonstrating how one presumed solution to the problem led to the unexpected and irreversible freezing of the planet. Those members of the human race that remain live aboard a train that races around the globe through the ice and snow, and it stands to reason that those herded into the steerage class would be itching for the opportunity to take revenge on those who have long oppressed them at the front of the train.

“Snowpiercer” takes the concept of class inequality and realizes it in a very literal and linear way. The front of the train is seen as a mythological utopia, one where passengers want for nothing and know equally little of the suffering and misery that goes on at the back of the train. The vehicle itself is used to astonishing effect, as those who have never known anything other than the back car charge forward to overtake the front, passing through car after car filled with laboratories, prisons, sushi bars, classrooms, and plenty more. There is tremendous subtext to be found in this story, but its physical setting is just as impactful.

“Snowpiercer” is a dark film, one which sheds little physical light on its characters aside from when a welcome burst of sunshine peeks in from windows passengers have never laid eyes on and which presents a grim vision of what this future looks like. The state of law and order is purely totalitarian, and crime, however minor, is met with the most severe of punishments. As a result, it can only be expected that the revenge those wronged seek is bloodthirsty and brutal, and few passengers if any will survive this revolt unscathed.

This is a strange film in many ways, taking advantage of its dystopian nature to portray truly depraved characters. The eccentric Mason (Tilda Swinton), who metes out justice excitedly and talks down to the rear passengers with pleasure, is the best example of this, giddily fancying herself at the top of this very peculiar world. Swinton is just the right person for this odd role, and she’s the standout of a cast that includes a few other solid turns, including dependable performers Chris Evans, John Hurt, and Jamie Bell in the kind of roles they usually play. The film as a whole is memorable but often hard to latch on to, moving at such a fast but unsteady pace and often prone to stylistic tangents that distract from its storytelling. There are many great ideas presented throughout, and not all of them lead to a coherent and compelling resolution, but those that do are hard to forget.


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