Movie review: “Snowpiercer” is uniquely post apocalyptic



The post apocalyptic humans at in "Snowpiercer" are definitely a strange bunch.

The post apocalyptic humans at in “Snowpiercer” are definitely a strange bunch.

I’m not exactly sure why I chose to see “Snowpiercer” as my matinee show today. I think it was a rebellion against the hype over the “Planet of the Ape” series. The latest film of that monkey business is the hot thing in the theatres right now.

My movie choices sometimes are similar to my voting patterns: there have been elections where I held my nose and voted. I wouldn’t describe the process that went into my opting for “Snowpiercer” over “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” as similar to the one I have used to pull a lever for a politician, but  I really wasn’t dying to see either film. I just needed some cinematic entertainment of any kind.

Ironically, my contra-methodology resulted in my viewing a movie in which the main character is an anti-hero.  The story centers on Curtis, the leader of a revolt of passengers on a post-apocalyptic train called the “Snowpiercer”.

The train’s moniker comes from our dear Earth’s environmental woes following a misguided attempt by world leaders to combat global warming. After they seed the atmosphere with an agent meant to lower the Earth’s temperature to tolerable levels, the planet is plunged into an extreme Ice Age.

This epoch event is the equivalent of the Great Flood of Noah, and the viewer is told that all life has become extinct. The only life that has survived the deep freeze is those humans and vermin present on the “Snowpiercer.”

The train is the brain child of a mysterious person named Wilford, whose name for some reason brings to my mind Willy Wonka. Indeed,  the characters in “Snowpiercer” are at times as bizarre as he is. But that should be expected in a film about a world that has experienced Armageddon, albeit one involving extreme contrasts to fire and brimstone.

“Snowpiercer” is a little like  “Mad Max”, except the setting takes place in metal containers speeding around a frozen globe. It definitely isn’t similar to the Tom Hanks vehicle “Polar Expess”, which is a mystical Christmas movie. The spirituality of “Snowpiercer” is that of an icy hell.

Wilford is the Wizard of Oz. We don’t see him but we know he’s on board because his representatives refer to him as the merciful and all-knowing engineer.

Of course, Wilford is at the front running the train, which has a distinct caste system. In “Snowpiercer” the focus is not on elites like Wilford, however. It is on the lowest caste: the people who inhabit the squalor in the rear compartments.

It is these unfortunates whom Curtis leads in rebellion.  He is reluctant to take on this mantle of leadership, but he is egged on by an old man named Gilliam who fills the role of wise man for the train tail enders, and by his own second in command Edgar.

It is obvious that Gilliam means for Curtis to not only lead these tag alongs, but to take over the command of  the entire train. To do this they must overpower armed guards and Wilford’s visible managers in order to advance to the front.

Wilford’s henchmen aren’t men at all. They’re  women. These include Minister Mason, a squirrelly looking old bag who makes Lily Tomlin’s operator character Ernestine seem attractive in comparison, and  a younger female named Claude, a personal assistant to Wilford.

The storyline of “Snowpiercer” is an odd journey through each car of the long train as the rebels seek to advance. We’re not sure at the beginning  of the film what lies ahead of the tail section. The opening of each gate by a security expert is a little like the old game show “Let’s Make a Deal”. Finding out what is behind the next door does add intrigue.

The current leadership of the “Snowpiercer” don’t give up without a fight though. The ideology prevents it.

Minister Mason notes that there is a definite pecking order. She says to the people in the rear, “I am the hat. You’re shoes. I am the head. You’re feet. This is so. The original order was defined by our tickets. Class: first, second and riders like you.”

Minister Mason makes it clear that she thinks they are lucky to even be aboard,  and that all worship and praise should go to the all-knowing and merciful Wilford.

However, the folks at the end of the train aren’t so grateful.  After 18 years of  being housed in an overcrowded windowless area that is more like a submarine than a train, and eating nothing but some dark, square biscuits, the people have had enough. Thus, there is the rebellion and those in the rear are like Dorothy and her companions, off to see the wonderful Wizard of Oz, except their intentions toward Wilford are malicious.

One of the reasons I thought I would want to see this flick is that Roger Ebert described the visuals in “Snowpiercer” as stunning. I couldn’t help but think of them as computer generated, however.  As a result,I did not have the same response to the snowy scenes as Ebert. They did, though, make me miss the frozen countryside  of the Nordic country I once lived in.

“Snowpiercer” also appealed to me because I have always loved trains. I am not sure I would want to be a passenger on the one featured in this noire film.

A combined Korean and American production, the director is Korean Bong Joon-ho. The Wikipedia account of him says he pushes boundaries and that his stories are an emotional roller coater ride.

“Snowpiercer” is definitely edgy. It is “Road Warriors” set in “Day After Tomorrow”.

Yet, I was not moved emotionally either way. There is just too much violence and profanity. If there was any movement at all in my feelings during the film, it was downward because of its darkness.

Furthermore, I was a little confused by the plot.  I think this might  have been because of the cross cultural aspects of the movie’s production. The Korean Bong was inspired to film “Snowpiercer” with the Americans after reading the French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige”.

I suppose like any good story some things are left to the viewer’s interpretation. Even so, I left “Snowpiercer” wondering if I understood the story.

Being a good American,  I did go looking for  a message from “Snowpiercer”, whether I was supposed to or not. To me the lesson of the film  is to be wary of leadership.

The world of this flick ends up in the shape it is in because of idiotic decisions. Furthermore, the people running the train belong in an insane asylum, not in leadership. Lastly, revolutions sound nice, but before manning the barricades it is always a good idea to think about whether the leaders of the rebellion are any better than those they seek to replace.

The producers of “Snowpiercer” may not have led us into a movie making breakthrough, but  I think “Snowpiercer” is unique in some ways. It  will probably gain a following, especially among those who like stories involving humans trying to manage in a collapsed society at the end of the world.





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