Logline: After an apocalypse that leaves the Earth under snow, a train called the Snowpiercer travels across the globe containing the last of Earths survivors. However, the treatment of the people in the lowest class is sparking a revolution that threatens the fabric of the social classes…
Director: Joon-Ho Bong
Starring: Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, Kang-ho Song, John Hurt.
This is now the go-to expression in my household for something that starts out well, and then fizzles into silliness and cliche: a Snowpiercer.
This is kind of an interesting one. The story goes that Joon-ho Bong came across this great graphic novel about a train that constantly circumnavigates the globe, and the mystery surrounding it all, as the crew at the back of the train are treated like dirt, and the ones at the front appear to live in luxury. The uprising that ensues, and the slow progress of this rebellion through the train are the focus of the narrative, with strange allusions to a greater mystery at hand: children in the lowest class being measured and taken away, people appearing to be brainwashed. Joon-ho Bong was entranced by this story, and prepared to make the film in Korea with a mixed cast of local and foreign actors.
It feels like this film should have been the next “Oldboy”. So, what happened? Harvey Weinstein was involved in the US distribution arms, watched the film before allowing it’s release, and wanted some changes. The director refused these, so Weinstein didn’t release it. Snowpiercer came out in Korea and was HUGE. There was a campaign in the US to get it shown, and eventually it received limited release, in art-house cinemas, which stripped it of it’s fanfare, though it has gained a kind of cult following.
Great little back story right? You sort of want to root for the underdog here, but essentially, it’s not the film it should be. The premise is amazing, and it seems like it’s going to be this great dark film, with awesome action sequences and incredible performances. The real problem is the holes in the script. I held out longer than the people I watched it with, but holes in the plot make me stop caring. I know that by rebelling they are threatening the very fabric of society that keeps them alive, so the motivation of the bad guys to quash the rebellion seems sound, until one of the main villians shoots through a window to try to kill the hero. Think about it: it’s below freezing outside, it’s unimaginably cold, but the inside isn’t. So if you blow out a window on a train that’s moving that fast, there’s going to be repercussions that… threaten the fabric of the very society you live in by causing damage to the train. I kind of stopped caring then.
And what is this film really about? The train is divided into classes, so is this film about breaking down class barriers? It seems that way, but the ending doesn’t really offer an answer as to how that will work. It almost feels like we’re meant to think it’s about the everyman battling against those who keep him down, and yet we find out that no one is really that nice and that’s not really what’s going on… (how to say more without spoiling the ending?) It feels disjointed. Confused.
So, when the mysterious elements were unsatisfying wrapped up, leaving me with more questions than answers, the bad guy rises from the dead for no reason, and the final scene left me frustrated… I was really disappointed. This could have been such an incredible film. And I wonder if perhaps this is what Weinstein was holding out for?