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Snowpiercer (review)

Train in Vain: Snowpiercer is Full of Holes
 Review by Sharon Knolle

Produced by Park Chan-wook, Lee Tae-hun, 
Park Tae-jun, Dooho Choi, 
Robert Bernacchi, David Minkowski, 
Matthew Stillman
Screenplay by Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson
Story by Bong Joon-ho
Based on Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, 
Benjamin Legrand, Jean-Marc Rochette
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Starring Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Go Ah-sung, 
Jamie Bell, Alison Pill, John Hurt, 
Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris

Let’s start with the good things about Snowpiercer, the futuristic film by Bong Joon-ho, based on the graphic novel.

It’s set on a frozen earth where the last of mankind lives aboard a never-stopping super train with all the amenities of home, except for its fourth class passengers, who live in abject squalor.

It’s got a fantastic cast, led by Chris Evans, mining a much darker vein than Captain America, as the hero from the last train car who decide it’s finally time to push forward and overthrow the front-cars’ punishing elitism.

He’s ably supported by John Hurt as the Wise Old Man among the rebels and a terrific-as-ever Tilda Swinton as the Elite’s slimy representative. It’s also got some terrific action sequences and some startling visuals.

But the film, as audacious as it is in depicting the brutal class struggles in such a limited environment, raises more questions than it answers.

Many of these issues were likely in the source material (which I haven’t read) but if you’re going to dream up a train that contains all that’s left of mankind, you’ve got to address all that should entail and that’s where Snowpiercer falls flat.

The train has been circling the globe for 18 long years after attempts to halt global warming disastrously backfired, leaving a frozen, uninhabitable world. Fortunately, visionary inventor Wilford (a barely-used Ed Harris) had already built a self-sustaining super train that would feed and house an unspecified number of people. We see all the sections of the train, from the filthy conditions of the last car to the gardens, artificial oceans and classrooms the elite enjoy.

Wilford planned for humanity’s every need, but what was the purpose of the last car that houses the undesirables? At the last moment, Wilford agreed to let just anyone on board. As Swinton points out to the grimy have-nots, he didn’t have to do that. So then, why exactly, did he?

[SPOILERS AHEAD] Did he know that he’d need the children they’d produce to take the place of failing train parts? Because that’s the only practical use that the underclass serves in this delicate ecosystem.

When the rebels encounter an entire train car full of armed, masked soldiers designed to put them down, it’s a striking scene. But you also have to ask: Is that all these men are on board for? Or are they merely taking time out from making sushi, raving in the club or some other pursuit enjoyed by the chosen few?

It turns out there’s another, more sinister reason Wilford wants the lower classes on board and wants them so cruelly subjugated. But it’s a real a stretch that he was so far-sighted as to see the need for these rebellions, as well as the extensive weaponry needed to stop them.

What makes even less sense is that there simply aren’t enough food-generating cars and not enough places for everyone to sleep. The train is supposed to be self-sustaining but from what we see, but there’s simply not enough space or enough resources for everyone on board. Am I nitpicking? Sure. But if you’re going to show every inch of this magnificent accomplishment, shouldn’t it be thoroughly convincing and not just mere allegory?

More things don’t add up: Why does Jamie Bell have a strong working-class British accent (the actor’s own) when no one else on the train does? We’re told he was born on the train and his mother died shortly after his birth, so there is no reason whatsoever for his particular accent. And where did that small child get a fur suit that fit so perfectly in the final moments when we saw it borrowed from fully-grown decadents?

The journey itself is an unpleasant one. The revelations of what went on in the name of survival are grim and far-fetched. Evans is as compelling a leader as he is in the Marvel films but to what end? His despair seems to doom everyone on board, although we’re left with a faint sliver of hope. But when he stops caring what happens, so does the audience.

The film’s received its share of raves, but I can’t say I enjoyed the ride.

Rating: 2/5

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