Warning: vague spoilers for the movie, though the links at the end have far more spoilers than my mini-review.
A few weekends ago, H and I went to see a movie I’d been waiting to see for a long time (as in, the earliest mention of it in my email was April of 2013, so I’ve been waiting over a year): Snowpiercer. I love science fiction films and I’d watched director Bong Joon Ho’s classic Memories of Murder (highly recommended, by the way) and loved it. Plus, a dystopian movie starring Chris Evans, Jamie Bell and Tilda Swinton? I needed this movie. Little did I know that it would be a year and three months before I could see it.
I suffered through the battle between the director and Harvey Weinstein. He wanted to cut 20 minutes out of the film (as he did with The Grandmaster, which didn’t suffer as much as it could’ve, though I still knew what was cut). And when you see the movie, you wonder what he could’ve cut and what kind of movie that would’ve been. And then you’re grateful that we’ll never know. Eventually Weinstein relented, doing the film a disservice by giving it a limited release (NY and LA) and then a wider release (larger cities/art houses) before allowing it to be VOD and in 300+ theaters. I’m just happy it made it here at all, to be frank.
Yes, I could’ve downloaded it illegally. And, on numerous occasions, I debated buying it on DVD (either the Hong Kong or Korean editions, but came with the needed English subtitles). But I really just wanted it to come out on DVD. Then I saw it was coming out the weekend H and I were going to Chicago — perfect! Except it wasn’t playing in Chicago. And then I found out it was going to be at The State in Ann Arbor (where H and I had previously seen A Touch of Sin, another amazing movie and also highly recommended). I asked and she agreed to go. But then, lo and behold, Snowpiercer got a wider release.
Instead of driving an hour (give or take) to sit in uncomfortable seats, we got to see it in a theater in the mall between our homes. It was worth the wait (I shouldn’t’ve have had to wait, but that’s a different story). Snowpiercer is loosely based on a French graphic novel (two volumes, one of which I own and haven’t read yet — on purpose) of the same name (Le Transperceneige in French). It’s the story of a train. In a post-apocalyptic world (of our own making), the train must circle the globe in order to keep the people on board alive. At least that’s what we’re meant to believe.
Bong Joon Ho makes us believe a lot of things and that’s part of what makes Snowpiercer so good. It’s what he doesn’t tell us that makes Snowpiercer a great movie. I’ve heard it been called a lot of things, many negative: overly violent, unsettling, disturbing, upsetting and akin to a horror film. It was none of these things to me (or H, really). Perhaps it’s because we’ve seen so many movies that are all of those things. Or maybe it’s because I’ve read so much dystopia that I forgot other genres exist. Or maybe we just went into the movie knowing what we were getting into. Regardless, the movie is those things to other people, just not to me (or H).
Our story follows Chris Evans’ character as our reluctant hero. He has secrets, all of our characters have secrets — hell, the train itself has secrets. This movie is about secrets — but it’s more than that. It is, of course, a movie about class, an examination of our society (the 99% at the back of the train and the 1% at the front of the train). And it’s not without flaws, but even the best movies are flawed.
Yes, there is violence. This is not a fluffly dystopia or a kids movie. Yes, it’s scary if you’re not used to this type of thing (which I’m assuming most of the US movie going public isn’t). There are upsetting, unsettling and disturbing things in the movie. But it’s all worth it because Snowpiercer is the kind of action movie Hollywood thinks we don’t deserve. They want us to believe that it’s too good for us, too smart for us. But it’s not. We’re all smart enough to understand the movie; on one or all of the many levels. And that’s why you need to go see it. It’s okay to cover your eyes if it gets bad (though it’s got nothing on The Raid and The Raid 2, which are two of the most violent movies I’ve ever seen, but really good, though I can only recommend them with caveats). But you should see it, even if it’s only on the small screen (though, like the new Godzilla movie, Snowpiercer is best seen in the theater).
And now that I’ve said my piece, here are a ton of links about the movie.
“Snowpiercer” Should Have Been The Breakout Blockbuster Of The Summer: Bong Joon-ho’s dystopian masterpiece ought to be the film that everyone’s talking about this summer, just like Spielberg’s Jaws in 1975. So what went wrong? Warning: Spoilers for Snowpiercer ahead. (Buzzfeed)
26 Reasons “Snowpiercer” Is The Best Movie You’ve Never Seen: In pictures/gifts and with some spoilers. (Buzzfeed)
The Snowpiercearound: The Grantland staff is currently a little obsessed with Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, a should-be U.S. blockbuster currently relegated to VOD and a handful of theaters across the country. (It’s already made more than $80 million internationally, so no need to worry about it.) It’s a weird, thoroughly entertaining piece of sci-fi action, that left us with more to chew on than a freshly milled batch of protein blocks. WARNING: BIG SPOILERS AHEAD. If you haven’t seen the movie, go watch it right now, then come back here and climb aboard our hurtling apocalypse train. (Grantland)
Snowpiercer review: Train ride through Bong Joon-Ho’s icy apocalypse is one ticket worth buying (Sydney Morning Herald)
In ‘Snowpiercer,’ A Never-Ending Train Ride And A Society Badly Off Track: The movie itself is uniquely international: Snowpiercer is based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette. It’s directed by a Korean auteur and stars Hollywood A-listers including Tilda Swinton and Ed Harris. The movie opened in South Korea last summer. Since then it has played all over the world, and certain Americans have been wildly impatient for Snowpiercer to open here. (NPR)
The Satisfying Chill Of The Audacious ‘Snowpiercer‘: Idea-heavy science fiction hasn’t exactly been burning up the box office lately with films like Edge of Tomorrow and Transcendence. Snowpiercer‘s limited release isn’t going to do much to change that, but this is exactly the sort of ambitious, audacious and uncompromising filmmaking that deserves to be seen. (NPR)
Sci-fi movie Snowpiercer is one of the most political films of the year: So long as the system exists as it is, those who seek to change it are doomed to become chewed up by it. You can say you want to do something about income inequality, but the only thing that will really change it, in Bong’s view, is exploding the order as it exists and embarking upon something new entirely, even if that something new leads to certain death. (VOX)
Snowpiercer: Snowpiercer succeeds where last year’s Elysium fell short. Projecting the problems of today into a science-fiction tomorrow, it also ties them to a compelling story that keeps shifting under its characters’ feet. (The Dissolve)
Snowpiercer: A Bleak Allegory About Climate Change and Income Inequality—Set on a Train!: Snowpiercer is its own strange, special thing, a movie that seems to have been sent back to us from some distant alternate future where grandiose summer action movies can also be lovingly crafted, thematically ambitious works of art. Let’s keep pushing ahead, one train car at a time, until we get there. (Slate)
SNOWPIERCER Movie Review: An Incendiary Masterpiece: Bong Joon-Ho’s English-language debut is an exciting, inventive and brilliant masterwork of agitprop scifi. (Badass Digest)
In ‘Snowpiercer,’ bureaucracy is the real monster: But while Bong Joon-ho’s movie is certainly political, in that it is concerned with policy decisions and their outcomes as well as power and bureaucracy, I am not sure that it is in any way straightforwardly progressive. Rather, it draws ideas from many traditions and current controversies. If there is a real enemy here, it is the mindless worship of a preexisting order. (Washington Post)
Train in Vain: How ‘Snowpiercer’ Became the Summer’s Coolest Movie: South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s sci-fi epic fought its way to American screens — and beats Hollywood blockbusters at their own adrenaline-rush game (Rolling Stone)
Hurtling along in Bong Joon-ho’s train movie ‘Snowpiercer’: But the real engineer is Bong, and though there are bumps along the way, he knows how to drive this train. (LA Times)
‘Snowpiercer’ director Bong Joon-ho conducts the sci-fi train his way: With “Snowpiercer” Bong has continued his genre cross-pollinations, making a politically minded action movie that deals with real-world issues in a fantastic setting on a scale that is both personal and epic. (LA Times)
Why “Snowpiercer” Director Bong Joon-Ho Should Be Your New Favorite Filmmaker: Chris Evans’ new movie is the English-language debut of Korean director Bong Joon-ho. But it’s worth braving subtitles for the the filmmaker’s earlier work too. (Buzzfeed)
Chris Evans Proves He’s More Than Captain America In “Snowpiercer”: The superhero franchise star shows off his dramatic chops in a dystopian story about humanity’s desperate attempts to survive a sudden ice age. (Buzzfeed) Note: Less about Evans than I expected, but an interesting read.
Go see the movie. Please go see the movie. We need more films like it.