Movie Review: "Snowpiercer"
July 6, 2014
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
In Snowpiercer, director Bong Joon-ho gets to have his ice and his fire, too. I’m a big fan of the apocalyptic action thriller, especially when it involves a focus on questionable science (see also: The Core, The Day After Tomorrow, Armageddon), but I did not enjoy this film. I don’t enjoy gory or overly violent movies, and had to close my eyes during violent episodes throughout the movie. So with that caveat, I have a few comments. For a more general review of the movie, check out the NYTimes' review.
The film has some scenes of beauty, both of the train’s interior and of the frozen tundra outside. What’s left of the world is snowy, but not with deep enough snow to hide the frozen forms of the destroyed cities and ships that the train passes on its annual journey. I liked that time was marked on board by the passing of landmarks outside. I wish more film time had been spent on developing the relationship between the train and the frozen earth over which it passes - how does this train work, exactly? But the film’s focus was almost exclusively on life inside the train. (Perhaps the graphic novel goes into more detail.) But evidently this film does not fall neatly into my category of “apocalyptic action thriller with a focus on questionable science,” although it does flirt with the genre. It’s also part-horror and part-drama, with a tiny bit of sci fi.
I enjoyed the few moments of Terry Gilliam-esque absurdity, especially the scenes with the school-car and the food production. Even the part when they discover Timmy (I won’t spoil it) had a certain Gilliam-like quirk to it that I could appreciate, though (or despite that?) it reminded me of the Doctor Who episode “The Girl in the Fireplace.” The overall set-up of the movie also reminded me strongly of the BioShock game series, with its separate worlds run by businessmen of questionable morals, and with its high amount of gory violence.
So while I can appreciate the comparisons that A. O. Scott for the Times makes to Brazil and The Poseidon Adventure, both of which are movies I greatly enjoy, I have to come down against the film on a personal level. Most of the movie I found myself turning away. If violence doesn’t phase you, this might be a great summer movie. It might even get you thinking. There’s some stuff about class going on, and environmentalism too, but I was too distracted by the bloodshed to notice. As someone who enjoys seeing the world saved at the end, I was a bit disappointed, very disturbed, and somewhat confused by this film. All I really took home from it is, “humanity is awful and we’re all going to die.”
As the poet imagined, if the world is to end twice, both ice and fire will do - in this case, you can expect both. But don’t expect much humor or hope along the way.