“Freedom is the freedom to say two plus two equals four.”
-Winston Smith (1984)
Summer is often regarded as blockbuster season. Summer isn’t known for small releases that come out of no where to make a splash. Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer hopes to change this foregone conclusion. Snowpiercer is Bong Joon-ho’s fifth feature length film and will be his widest release. Bong is best known for his Korean crossover The Host, which is available on Netflix right now. In 2012 Harvey Weinstein purchased Snowpiercer before the film’s final cut, but when Bong turned his finished product over, Weinstein balked. He threatened to not release the film unless 20 minutes were cut, but Bong refused. In turn, Weinstein decided to put no money behind the movie and release it limitedly. The parallels between the film and Bong’s real life struggle to get this movie to American audiences makes the film even better.
Snowpiercer is a train filled with the world’s remaining population after a failed attempt to stop global warming. The man-made experiment reversed the heat, but caused the temperature to drop too dramatically. Now the earth is covered in snow and is completely uninhabitable. Chris Evans (Captain America) stars as Curtis, the sometimes too obvious, reluctant hero who is stuck in the back of the train. The train is divided into classes with the leader of the train at the front, and the lowest of lows in the back. Curtis, along with several others, must fight their way to the front to overthrow the dictatorship that has been put into place.
The plot may sound conventional, but what plays out is a unique and beautiful ballet of loss and violence. The film asks a lot of questions about society and class. The intriguing questions raised are asked in a bipartisan way that allows each viewer to ponder a different answer. Bong never forces political correctness. Every character is painted with a finite brush making them feel human. John Hurt (1984) plays Gilliam, the wise old man that shows Curtis the way, but even his character isn’t perfect. Gilliam, quietly, has the biggest arc in the film.
Beyond Hurt, the cast is littered with great performances. Song Kang-ho (The Host) and Ko Ah-sung (The Host) are fabulous. Allison Pill (Milk) portrays, masterfully, a psychotic teacher. But perhaps the best performance is by the always wonderful Tilda Swinton (Grand Budapest Hotel). Swinton plays Mason, the mouthpiece of Wilford who is the mysterious ruler of the train. She is both ruthless and hilarious in her performance and should be recognized for this role come awards time.
Snowpiercer is a triumphant piece of filmmaking. Bong’s refusal to cut his work was undoubtedly the right move, and the Weinstein company probably missed out on a huge payday by not releasing the movie with a full marketing push. Snowpiercer is both brutal and beautiful. Bong shows us man’s depravity, while at the same time giving us glimpses of redemption and hope. If I can convince one person to see this film then this blog will be deemed a success in my eyes.
I love this movie and I do agree Swinton should be recognized for her work in this. The movie does have a nice message about how we view different class systems in this country. It’s always cool when a foreign director can hold a mirror and show us in a original story. How we are behaving. Great review