Brilliant and Exciting But Violent and Ultimately Depressing
Starring: Chris Evans, John Hurt, Song
Kang-ho, Ed Harris, Tilda
Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia
Spencer, Ewen Bremner, Ko
Asung, Alison Pill, Vlad
Ivanov, Luke Pasqualino, Clark
Middleton, Stephen Park, Paul
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Audience: Older teenagers and adults
Runtime: 126 minutes
Distributor: CJ Entertainment/The Weinstein
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Executive Producer: Miky Lee
Producer: Park Chan-wook, Lee Tae-hun,
Jeong Tae-sung, Steven Nam
Writer: Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson
Address Comments To:Bob and Harvey Weinstein
The Weinstein Company (RADiUS-TWC/Dimension Films)
345 Hudson Street, 13th Floor
New York, NY 10014
Phone: (646) 862-3400
Fax: (917) 368-7000
In the story, a climate catastrophe occurs in 2014 when officials try to stop “global warming” by cooling down the Earth’s atmosphere using jets releasing chemicals. Instead of just reducing the heat, they turn Earth into a floating ball of ice.
Seventeen years later, the remnants of the human race are riding a special train created by an entrepreneur inventor named Wilford. The train enforces a strict class system where the poorest of the poor ride in the back of the train and are fed with a processed bar of black jelly that looks like coal and tastes terrible. Meanwhile, the richest of the rich ride in fully fed luxury up near the engine, which Wilford runs from his railroad car designed like a fancy penthouse. None of the poor people in the back get to eat the fancy meat and vegetables grown and raised by the train’s agricultural experts.
A revolution, however, is brewing among the grimy lower classes in the back. It’s being led by Curtis, the protégé of Wilford’s rival, an elderly man named Gilliam, who only has one arm and one leg. Curtis (played by Chris Evans, who plays Captain America in the current Marvel movies featuring that character) and Gilliam (played by John Hurt) think they have a plan that will get them to the engine room, something previous revolutions failed to do.
After they release an imprisoned Korean engineer who can open the gates to the other cars ahead, the revolution begins in earnest. However, Wilford (Ed Harris) and his thuggish minions have a couple tricks up their sleeves. Gilliam hasn’t told Curtis all that he knows about Wilford and himself. Meanwhile, next to Gilliam and his sacrifices, Curtis feels inadequate to take over the engine room as planned. Also, the Korean engineer, played by Korean star Song Kang-ho, has a secret plan of his own that could derail the whole revolution and lead to new challenges for humanity.
SNOWPIERCER is clever and exciting, with a lot of interesting, sometimes profound, ideas about society, government and popular revolts. The plot twists that are revealed when Curtis and the Korean engineer finally make it to the engine room and when Curtis finally confronts Wilford carry these political, moral themes to a deeper level. For example, when Wilford reveals some uncomfortable truths to Curtis about what’s happening behind the scenes, he talks about the “eternal engine” that metaphorically runs society. Overall, however, the movie’s worldview seems rather socialist, anti-capitalist and utopian, until the twists at the end lead to a more pessimistic, if not nihilistic, humanist conclusion about the human condition. So, leftist ideology eventually seems left behind at the railway station, so to speak.
One of the more interesting ideas in the movie’s beginning, though, is the notion that the environmentalist left’s ideas to turn around global warming could very well backfire in the end. This is exactly what happens when the governments of the world accidentally turn Earth into a floating ice cube. It would be interesting to see whether any of our leftist friends will catch that particular subversive message in the movie. Even if global warming were true, it might not be as serious as the environmentalists and left-wing ecologists are making it out to be. In fact, it might not even be a problem at all. Their solutions, as this movie suggests, might actually make things worse. Or, as some critics suggest, they might not make that much of a difference.
Be that as it may, as noted above, the movie’s worldview ends up being rather humanist, but in a nihilistic way that leaves the movie’s socialist notions behind. Ultimately, the movie suggests humanity may be doomed to extinction when confronted by the forces of nature. The movie also suggests people are doomed to a never-ending cycle of oppression, revolution, change, then back to oppression. As The Who rock group once sang, “Meet the new boss; same as the old boss!” A tragic death that occurs just before the third act adds a poignant quality to these messages.
That said, SNOWPIERCER has one redemptive aspect to its depressing viewpoint. Without giving anything away, at the end, Curtis makes a sacrificial decision that lends some hope. His decision seems to tell viewers that, even if your situation seems or even is hopeless, sacrificial love or compassion may often be the only positive decision that you can make, or that you should make. The movie seems to suggest that, even if your sacrifice doesn’t lead to a good result, it’s an inherent good in and of itself. This shows that even a humanist movie can have some Christian elements. After all, Christians preach the sacrificial love and compassion of Jesus Christ to all people, whether or not those people eventually believe the Gospel and come to Christ. In fact, even if they don’t come to Jesus in the end, the preaching of that Gospel may mitigate their sin in some way that will lead to a better world for some person, or even many people, or even the whole world.
SNOWPIERCER also contains lots of strong foul language and very strong, sometimes disturbing violence. The violence isn’t as overtly graphic as it could be, but it’s very strong and sometimes bloody, either overtly or by implication. This negative content, and the movie’s depressing worldview and socialist allusions are unacceptable, though not perhaps completely abhorrent. Thus, MOVIEGUIDE® gives this movie Four Stars and a Minus 3.
SNOWPIERCER is filled with action. It’s exciting, dramatic, and sometimes profound and touching. The characters and dialogue are interesting. In fact, they provide a brilliant, though ultimately depressing, political allegory. SNOWPIERCER has some moral, redemptive elements, but it also has some socialist, anti-capitalist ones. The leftist themes eventually, however, give way to a nihilistic humanist worldview about the human condition. SNOWPIERCER also contains lots of strong foul language and some brutal, disturbing violence.