Set in a future where a failed climate-change experiment kills all life on the planet except for a lucky few who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system emerges.
Year 3, Film #47
THE REVIEW: Snowpiercer is a movie that I passed over when it came out earlier this year. I had heard about it, and the controversy over the release in the United States, but it didn’t really stick out to me. Over the last couple months though, a lot of my friends have seen Snowpiercer and gave it high praise, which earned it a place on the top of my watch list. Now having seen it, I’m glad I was encouraged to do so as Snowpiercer will certainly earn a spot amongst the best films of the year.
There’s a lot to love about this movie but I think it can be simplified into the following: come for the setting, stay for the story. As I’ve professed many times before, I’m a sucker for movies that are restricted to a single location. Often times, that restriction leads to new and different problems and conflicts, which leads to creative and interesting resolutions to those conflicts. All the rules and materials are laid out up front; what you see is what you get. In Snowpiercer, there’s a singular train with the remaining survivors of the human race. Our heroes, living in the poverty-stricken tail-section, are trying to make it to the well-off front-section to take control of the engine, and with it, control of the train.
You can easily have mysteries and surprises in regular films (just look at Christopher Nolan’s entire oeuvre), but the same is true for these one-location films. This is what I find creative and interesting about films like Snowpiercer. While we always stay in the same train for the entire film and we know the lay of the land, we are never quite sure what to expect in the next section. We’re still left guessing at what’s going to happen next while also maintaining a sense of familiarity and consistency with what came before. It may not be as shocking or jarring as a film like Memento or Interstellar, but I’d argue the suspense is just as remarkable and fulfilling.
Setting and story are closely tied in Snowpiercer, but they each contribute separate pieces to the entertainment pie. Setting, as I’ve already talked about here, provides the intrigue and the suspense; it gets your foot in the door. The real clincher is the story though. It’s a dystopic future, which is a popular trend at the moment, but Snowpiercer charts its own path. All the recent dystopian films include action and violence, but Snowpiercer has a lot more blood and gore than its PG-13 counterparts. They all have a destroyed Earth and few remaining survivors (it is a dystopia after all), but in Snowpiercer everyone is cooped up in one train which creates quite the powder keg. And, they all have a secondary (or primary, depending on how you look at it) theme. With The Hunger Games it’s a simple good fighting against evil (Katniss against the Capitol) and in The Maze Runner it’s a fight for truth and answers.
Snowpiercer is so enthralling because these themes shifted and morphed throughout the film revealing new elements to the story so that by the end, it was almost a different movie than when it started. At the beginning, Snowpiercer seems like just an action film with Curtis (Chris Evans), Edgar (Jamie Bell), Gilliam (John Hurt), and all the other tail-car people fighting for control of the train to wrest control away from Wilford (Ed Harris). That would have made for a great film by itself, but what makes Snowpiercer so incredible and so above-and-beyond the other fare in the genre, is that it evolves into something much larger. There are twists and turns that you wouldn’t expect, and yet, are clearly foreshadowed during the movie — you’re just not looking for the clues. It starts out as a heist film of sorts but turns into a film about basic human needs and drives. I could say more, but that would just spoil the rest and ruin your experience.
THE TAKEAWAY: There is much more than first meets the eye with Snowpiercer. Right off the bat there’s some easy things to like that make this a great film like the whole premise and location (world’s end, single train, fight for power). But Snowpiercer doesn’t just stop there, no. This film takes it to the next level by having a highly intricate backstory for everything (these people have been on the train for 17 years now) and a gradually evolving focus. It may start out looking like another run-of-the-mill action movie, but it ends in a place that is unexpected yet makes perfect sense all while being utterly satisfying. I’m kind of upset I didn’t see it in theaters when it came out.
THE RATING: 5 out of 5