Saturday, July 26, 2014

Snowpiercer (2013)

When a film like Disney's Frozen gets a lot of hype, I reserve my enthusiasm. But when an international film that couldn't get released in America because they refused to edit it down for dumber audiences starts receiving a whole lot of buzz, I sit up and take notice. Snowpiercer is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi dystopia story, and it's really well done. It's smart, it's exciting, and it's engrossing. It's well-written, well-acted, and well-directed. It's one of the best new movies I've seen in years.

Here's the quick and dirty plot synopsis: mankind plunges the planet into a new ice age as the result of a misguided effort to combat global warming. 17 or so years later, the only humans left alive are the passengers on a large train designed to withstand the cold. They now make up a closed and (relatively) sustainable ecosystem, except that the discontent of the lower class passengers relegated to the tail end of the train is brewing into a revolution to take over the engine (the seat of power on the train).

I know the basic set up of a dystopia where you sympathize with the oppressed class is something of a cliche (I'd like to see a movie about a utopia that actually works, but I guess there wouldn't be much drama), but this movie does a fantastic job of humanizing and empathizing with those lower class characters, and then subsequently showing both the excitement of revolution, but also the violence and the real human toll it takes when your friends start dying all around you. And then you have to ask yourself the question, is the cost worth it? Do we continue forward, or fall back and count our losses?

There are several very exciting, and also several very heartwarming scenes scattered throughout the movie, which is as action-packed as it is dramatic. I obviously don't want to spoil too much, but the climax is fantastically engineered, and has much to say about both the nature of humanity, and what it takes to keep a system running, which then begs the question of whether or not the survival of the human race is a noble goal after all. There are shades of the Architect from The Matrix: Reloaded, and also a scene that recalls to me a similar scene from Metal Gear Solid (I say, to tempt you with a little intrigue).

But mostly, I just want to say that this is a fantastic movie. You have to see it.


  1. Finally watched this on Netflix. Really good movie.

    I like your idea of a film about a utopia that actually works. Imagine it as the inverse of Brave New World and the rest of the genre. The protagonist could struggle with this utopian world and harbor doubts about whether life is worth living in a utopia. Is life real without hardship? Does joy have value without pain? Then they go on the requisit journey of self-discovery, fighting against the system, only to ultimately discover... hey, this system really is perfect. You'd start with these rumors among the youth that the people in the "lower" sectors are being mistreated and abused and all this. And the pure-hearted protagonist sets out to stand against the injustice. But then when the protagonist breaks free into the other segment of society, he finds that they live just as well as the classes he had been told were "higher." Perhaps each segment is told that they're the "high class" because of how powerful perception is: everyone will be happier if everyone thinks they have it good, maybe?

    I also like what you said about the question of whether or not the survival of the human race is a noble goal after all. Also can't help but to point out that's the premise of the conclusion of The Cabin In The Woods (holy crap that sentence had as many thes as The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five The Armies). They decide, if mankind must be sustained by the mistreatment of innocents, perhaps its better to let it die out.

    Also deeeefinitely got the Arcitect vibe from you know who. Very similar. And I'm about to take your Metal Gear Solid comparison a lot further: I don't think I've *ever* seen a movie that felt more like a truly great video game than Snowpiercer. To me it really felt like watching a video game from maybe 20 years in the future when graphics in games will be indistinguishable from a major motion picture. The sets were perfect, like MGS brought to life. The action sequences and plot twists were all totally ripe for a game. You know how Metal Gear Solid could have easily been a movie instead? Snowpiercer could easily have been a top-tier, masterpiece of a video game lik Metal Gear Solid.

  2. Yeah, I could totally see the different train cars being treated as separate stages, all with different decor and obstacles.

    Actually, that sci-fi book I was reading - Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End (he's the guy who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey with Stanley Kubrick) - depicts a pretty positive utopia. These aliens swoop in and basically micro-manage human civilization to create a socialist utopia. They don't explain why they're doing it, and there's some fear that their motivations are not entirely benevolent, but the end game scenario isn't what the reader thinks it's going to be.

    The book describes how perfect the utopia is, and the one bad thing about it is that certain people start to become disillusioned because there's no wonder, there's no discovery left. The aliens don't let man know how their technology works (for their own reasons), and man largely gives up on science, because what's the point of struggling to rub two sticks together when your caretakers have already figured out electricity?

    I thought it was a good representation of a utopia where people do have concerns about whether or not it's good for humanity, but at the same time, it's not a dystopia in disguise, it actually represents pretty ideal living conditions for most humans, just maybe not on a more spiritual sort of level.