Snowpiercer (EIFF 2014)

SnowpiercerIt’s been seventeen years since the world froze over, the disastrous results of humanity’s vain attempts to reverse global warming, and the last surviving humans are confined to a self-sufficient, self-sustaining bullet train that circles the planet once every twelve months. The intervening years have seen a class system emerge aboard the train, with Curtis (Chris Evans) and his fellow refugees — nominally lead by Gilliam (John Hurt) — relegated to the rear compartments and Wilford (Ed Harris) entombed in the re-enforced engine. It’s Mason’s (Tilda Swinton) job to liaise between the two, but her unwelcome visits have only served to stoke the flames of rebellion.

For Bong Joon-Ho’s latest — an English-language adaptation of French graphic novel Le Transperceneige — the road to release has been a turbulent one. Having successfully fought the Weinstein Company for final cut, it’s the director’s vision that finally arrived in the UK this month via the 68th Edinburgh International Film Festival. It’s hard to imagine what a shorter version might look like, for Snowpiercer packs so much into its 126-minute running time that to remove anything at all would be to change the film considerably.

The first section of the movie is — bar a brief prologue establishing the premise — set entirely within the confines of the lattermost section of the train. It’s a dark and unforgiving place, where the inhabitants live in poverty, dine exclusively on gelatinous protein bars and line up under duress for regular inspections, where their numbers are counted, their children abducted and any signs of dissent quashed without mercy. For Curtis, the only reasons to hope are Gilliam, cryptic messages ostensibly sent from the front and the unbreakable promise of revolt.

The plan is for a mob of men to force their way to the brig, where they will find and free the man responsible for designing the train’s security systems. In theory, with his help they can proceed unimpeded all the way to the engine. Their target, Namgoong Minsoo (Song Kang-ho), however, has his own ideas, and takes the opportunity to free his daughter (Go Ah-Sung) and demand payment in drugs for his help opening the doors. Together with Edgar (Jamie Bell), Tanya (Octavia Spencer) and Grey (Luke Pasqualino), Curtins pushes on, meeting resistance of his own as Mason mirco-manages line after line of defense.

As horrific as the earlier scenes are, with characters being beaten and tortured for the trivialest of slights, it’s only once the rebels leave the tail section and their plight is shown in the harsh light of day that the true extent of their suffering becomes apparent. Snowpiercer is a dystopian sci-fi in the vein of The Matrix Reloaded, but it is also a darkly comic satire with a lot to say about the human condition. The absurd juxtaposition of Tilda Swinton’s distinctly Aardman-esque spokesperson, Alison Pill’s psychotic primary school teacher and Ed Harris’ fine-dining ruler is incredibly unsettling, and watching Evans move incredulously from carriage to carriage is as harrowing as it is heartbreaking.

Evans gives quite possibly the performance of his career, impressing throughout but really coming into his own for the final act, where a series of increasingly gut-wrenching revelations bring into question everything he thinks he knows about the train, and everything we think we know about him. Swinton is also on top form as Mason, instilling surprising complexity into a character that could quite easily have become caricatured. Few other actors get as much to do, but they each have their moments; Octavia Spencer when she learns that cigarettes aren’t as extinct as she’d been lead to believe, Bell when the revolution is jeopradised by an ill-timed inspection and Go when she first shows signs of prescience.

There are problems, however, and you do suspect that even this director’s cut is not the complete incarnation of the story. Luke Pasqualino’s character just appears out of nowhere, others are written out surprisingly early on and there are occasional gaps in the narrative that seem too glaring to have been overlooked by accident. Also problematic is the scenario itself, which doesn’t stand up to the simplest of scrutinies. Admittedly, there are numerous carriages that we don’t see, but for a supposedly strained civilisations life aboard the train is not as streamlined or austere as you would expect. The distribution of the carriages is strange and counter-intuitive, while there don’t seem to be anywhere near enough residential rooms for the on board population. Oh, and the less said about the ending the better.

For the most part, however, Snowpiercer is as great as they say. It’s a full-bodied sci-fi that’s as laughably absurd as it is hauntingly familiar. Still no word of a nationwide release, but Snowpiercer is not to be missed when it finally arrives in the UK.

4-Stars

 

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

One Response to Snowpiercer (EIFF 2014)

  1. Nostra says:

    Saw it this past week and thought it was a nice concept. Some messages were a bit too obvious, but the style of it and the surprise of every new train car was cool.

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