SNOWPIERCER: a reaction

tl;dr version: Worth watching twice to process all they have to say.

Last week, Heidi and I had a not-leaving-the-apartment date night. (Those miles add up when driving around town, and Muncie is not so condensed that we can try walking anywhere date-worthy.)

Though we have no real limit on movie-finding potential, thanks to The Future and The Internet and a fair number of DVDs given to us by friends we haven’t yet watched, sometimes it’s nice to be current and relevant. This led to my movie pick, SNOWPIERCER, which is currently in theaters. For a price approximately equivalent to one movie ticket, you can rent the movie through various video-on-demand (VOD) sources (which I shall not link because I trust in your search engine compatibility, dear reader).

First of all, before getting to the actual movie, I want to say that I like how they handled the VOD release. No platform exclusivity intended to drive sales to one particular venue. Just another way to see the movie they made without waiting for its physical copy release. Maybe my reaction is positive in part because I did not find out about this through incessant advertising, cramming every nook and cranny of my various web experiences with proclamations that this is the best thing ever in the history of ever. I heard about it through word of mouth from a few people who I trust, and thus did not immediately sour myself to the experience.

But enough about that. Let’s get to the actual movie. Fairly certain there will not be any spoilers, for I tend to try and speak in generalities. Even so, you might want to avoid reading too much about the film before seeing it, so that you have a fresh experience.

SNOWPIERCER all in all impressed me with its gung-ho approach to a strange premise: what if we go too far in fighting global warming and accidentally freeze the planet? They do not focus too much on the science of it, which is fine because it revolves around some imaginary compound injected into the atmosphere and really doesn’t have much to do with the plot as we find it. It takes moments for us to realize how the situation affects our protagonist: he is stuck living in the lower class section of the train, and he wants out.

One of the most peculiar and fascinating aspects of the movie is its setting. Basically everything takes place on a train. That’s a pretty limited scope for a summer film, where conflicts are often global and cities are mercilessly punished for existing. (Granted, every single city in SNOWPIERCER is ostensibly destroyed, but it happens off screen and we never really see much of civilization’s corpse.) Despite this apparent limitation, the train is used to great effect. While in the back of the train, the tight corridors add to the feeling if oppression. As more and more of the train is revealed, it acts as a sort of social stratification metaphor that, while heavy handed at times, is pretty effective and clear.

It doesn’t hurt that this is some sort of Super Train, built and designed to travel the world. A cool concept, one about which I wish we could have seen more. Sure, traveling the world isn’t the point, but as an aside it could be interesting to see the now-frozen landscape a bit more.

Of course, the movie wouldn’t be much without a story, and the story is a fairly obvious one. The people in back want to stop being in back and push forward against the desires of those living up front. Though this attempt to move forward covers most of the action in the movie, it serves as a framing device for us to learn more about the characters on either side of the conflict. We do eventually learn more about the train, but that’s more toward the end.

I was actually pretty surprised by the various pockets of society on the train. A few bizarre cultural developments led to the train up front looking very unfamiliar, yet somehow at the same time not unexpected. The forward passengers are the rich elite, and apparently subject to odd lifestyles for oddity’s sake.

There is not much more that I can say without delving further into spoiler territory. It should not surprise you that some people die along the way (for what glorious revolution can take place without making an omelette or something), but I was rather frustrated with some of it. Some of the deaths felt pointless, and other deaths that should have been poignant were undercut by bad timing and / or taking place almost entirely offscreen. The motivations of several characters are often hard to place, making them seem inconsistent.

I think there is a lot that recommends this movie. It’s a far cry from the typical action movies that come out of the mill, and even manages to set itself apart from its scifi brethren. It also takes more than a few risky approaches to the uncomfortable aspects of its premise, without making its terrible revelations seem pornographic. SNOWPIERCER is what it is, and it owns it, for better or for worse.

Would I say you should watch it? Yes, as long you can stomach: strong swearing, sequences of brutal violence, an examination of humankind’s animalistic tendencies, Chris Evans with a beard, and crappy endings.

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