I was thrilled to see Snowpiercer had made its way to Ghanaian cinemas almost a year after release. I myself saw it for the first time earlier this year via other mediums and it definitely felt like a film that would play well on the big screen like any good film should. Snowpiercer is South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s first English-language production and an adaptation of a French comic book series, Le Transperceneige.
He is also working with a stellar Hollywood cast including Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell and John Hurt for the first time. The film focuses on a revolution in a class-segregated train carrying the last human survivors on Earth after the world is made inhabitable by the sheer cold. Everything has frozen over due to man’s efforts at interfering with nature in an attempt to combat global warming.
Snowpiercer, to some, may play out as a relatively nuanced metaphor for human society not just in some distant dystopia but even here and now to some degree. I might also add it is also amusingly unsubtle about the whole allegory which I’ve seen put some people off but Bong Joon-ho doesn’t appear to be aiming for any form of restraint in his execution of this idea. That becomes clear when a character flat out breaks into exposition about how “the train is the world…we humanity”. To those who can’t get on board with the central idea, the film is at worst a very good action thriller pushed forward by a strong leading performance from Chris Evans who is showing there will be life after he hangs up the blue and red shield.
We are pulled aboard the locomotive rife with segregation 17 years into the future and we start our tour of the Snowpiercer in the rear end. Life is rough, impoverished, musty and choked in this part as the inhabitants make do in their supposed preordained position. Ticking the first box in this films long Marxist checklist, the underprivileged masses are plotting an uprising with Curtis (Chris Evans), Edgar (Jamie Bell) and the wise and weary Gilliam (John Hurt) in the thick of proceedings.
A sequence of events sees them break out of the rear end confines when they, along with fellow comrades, pick up Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho) a junkie but a security expert who apparently designed the train’s security doors and his daughter Yona, also a junkie. And forward they move, with the sole aim of subverting the class system by taking full control of the train – “All past revolutions failed because they didn’t take the engine…now we’ll take the engine,” Curtis says.
As they make their horizontal journey through the train, the stark gulf in class becomes apparent; the film becomes less claustrophobic, the food becomes better and things generally become brighter. We move from people clad in dirt-filled rags to soothing scenes of greenhouses and bright rooms full of jolly kids. We move from people living off gooey synthetic looking rations to the juicy exotic cuisines of the bourgeoisie. The line in this politically conscious film is drawn clearly between the deprivations of the have-nots to the excess of the haves.
There are also times it felt they were traveling forward in time from the hellish dark ages to the enlightened front. In the film’s first dose of violence, the revolutionaries battle it out with soldiers armed with battle axes and other basic weapons in viscerally medieval and absolutely savage battles then we move ahead a few cars and the action is moved by ferocious gun battles more akin to the modern age. The difference in setting from carriage to carriage allows for quite variant cinematography ranging from gritty aesthetics to glowing hypnotic ambiances making this film quite a visual feast.
Bong provides some memorable moments and characters like Tilda Swinton’s quirky and weasel Mason. She described her character as a mix of Margaret Thatcher, Colonel Gaddafi, Adolf Hitler and Silvio Berlusconi and the Hitler, Thatcher and Gaddafi references are quite accurate. She is the caricatured PR of oppression and devours every bit of screen time afforded her. Props must also go to Evans as a very different kind of leading man than we have seen for Marvel as the depth his character brings to the fore affords us the time to contemplate the more serious bits of this film and take in the more compelling commentary on the path society as we know it is treading. The rest of the cast along with the injections wit and darkly comic matter into the script (Kelly Masterson) make this a memorable Sci-Fi action film.
This film more than delivers on such a short budget (about 40 million$) for your average blockbuster. Brilliant control and direction from Bong and a committed cast grant the film flair and depth along with the impressive action in what surely is one of this year’s best films.
By: Delali Adogla-Bessafirstname.lastname@example.org/Ghana