'Snowpiercer' Review: Disturbing, Old-Fashioned, Sci-Fi Brilliance
When Netflix announced that Snowpiercer was coming to the streaming service in November, I made an inhuman noise of excitement. People in my office looked at me like I was crazy. It was a little embarrassing. Whatever. I've been waiting to see this movie since it was first announced.
Things get moving pretty quickly right from the get-go in Snowpiercer, based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette. The opening credits feature news reports about an attempt to reverse the effects of global warming by releasing a chemical into the atmosphere. It works a little too well and sends the earth into a post-apocalyptic ice age, wiping out all life except for those who managed to board a train built to be a closed ecosystem where people could survive.
We see the train after the opening credits, or rather, the tail-end of the train where the poorest of the survivors live in squalor. While those at the front of the train get schooling and night clubs and five-star meals, those at the tail have no windows or showers, sleep in barracks, and are fed only protein blocks made of insects. Their children are taken from them with no reasoning, and if they ever step out of line they're punished by having a limb stuck out of the train and frozen clean off. They've decided they've had enough, though, and, led by the reluctant Curtis (Chris Evans), they begin a revolution to get to the front of the train and take control away from the all-knowing, unknown, omnipotent ruler, and the train's creator, Mr. Wilford (Ed Harris).
Along the way, the revolution picks up Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho), a security expert who has been sentenced to solitary confinement, and his teenage daughter, Yona (Ko Ah-sung). Namgoong Minsu quickly opens the gates and gets the rebellion through the first few cars easily enough, but then they run into trouble.
As they make their way to the from of the train, the rebellion starts losing members. In fact, Snowpiercer is basically the Game of Thrones of post-apocalyptic train movies. Everyone dies. No one is safe, including your favorite characters. And there are a lot to choose from. With a cast including Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, and Tilda Swinton, it's hard not to get attached to these characters. Swinton may even be my favorite character, even though she is rather hellish. She's hilariously evil, and the performance she gives is one of my favorites from her.
Death abounds in this film, and director Bong Joon-ho doesn't shy away from the graphics of those deaths. This film is bloody and disturbing, but what else would you expect from the last people on Earth trying to win a better life for themselves after 17 years of hell?
Even with the gore, though, Snowpiercer is visually stunning. Every frame is treated with great care, and the result is a beautiful film that deals with ugly and terrible concepts, making it all the more of an achievement. I found myself cringing at times at the horror displayed by people who forgot what it meant to be human, and yet I was unable to look away.
Snowpiercer is a blunt allegory for the class problems our world is facing, but it handles the telling with grace. Rather than tell the story from a political point of view from one side or the other, it simply shows viewers the situation as it stands, leaving us to come to our own conclusions.
The story begins to slow as it nears the end, and it leaves a few questions unanswered. Ultimately it ends weakly compared to the urgency which permeates the rest of the film, but that's a small complaint compared to the otherwise brilliant story told by Bong Joon-ho. Ultimately, Snowpiercer is a work of art that I would recommend to absolutely everyone.
Side-note: Chris Evans' beard is a glorious and beautiful site to behold. If nothing else I've said convinces you to see this movie, watch for the beard. It won't let you down.