So, let’s get this technicality out of the way: yes, this movie was actually released in 2013, first in South Korea (lucky assholes), only to face the threat of Death by Weinstein when it was about to be brought to the U.S.. The fact that the U.S., in the end, actually got this great movie as the moviemakers intended it almost restores my faith in humanity. Key word, “Almost”.
Anyway…“Snowpiercer” is a shining example of the late Roger Ebert’s phrase, “It’s not what a movie is about, but how it is about it.” (funny coming from a guy who gave “Knowing” 4 stars…no, but seriously, R.I.P. you articulate movie buff). After all, what could be sillier than a movie where humankind tries to reverse global warming and ends up plunging Planet Earth into a new Ice Age…and where the survivors have to live on a massive train that tours the world (like, really, rides around the entire world), starving and eating gloop while silently plotting a revolution? Yet here I type, ready to declare “Snowpiercer” not only a good movie, not only a great movie, and not only a complex movie that both embraces it’s genre roots and uses them to reveal the worst in humanity, if not the worst in civilization…oh, don’t give me that look.
I know, I know, a bunch of people huddled on a train that goes around the world after the world freezes (again) does sound hokey. I mean, how about the logistics of the thing? How do they handle sanitation? Clothing? Food? Granted, the movie actually does go into that to varying degrees, but even as it goes into detail about how the train (and by extension, the society inside it) works, the movie itself works less as a tightly-constructed art piece (like, for example, Timecrimes) and more of an allegory littered with twisted takes on Americana filled to the brim with a bunch of downtrodden people who (mostly) just happen to be more diverse and darker-skinned than the more well-to-do folks. “Gee, I wonder what the movie is trying to say?”, right?
With all of that, however, “Snowpiercer” works becauses it’s earnest and twisted in a lot of ways. Here is a movie that isn’t just “WOO-RAH, LET’S KICK ASS” (and the action sequences in this movie ARE fucking kick ass), it also explores the costs, the pain…along with the realization that for all of one’s hard work, it may not really fix the injustice of one’s system at all. That last part is what elevates this movie from, “Ho-hum, just another “foreign” movie with a genre-hook that’s supposed to make USian movie fans salivate while pretending to be more sophisticated because their movie has SUBTITLES”, to “Oh…shit. Well, this IS more than just well-made genre porn, after all.”
FUCK YEAH, this movie is more than just well-made genre porn. Remember when the Roger Corman-produced movie “Death Race 2000” would try to be ABOUT something (The U.S. has turned Fascist, oh, no) while at the end of the day it was just a movie with split-second grisly deaths and corny dialogue…and Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine? Well, that movie looked at human depravity and was the very thing it pretended to critique, while “Snowpiercer” actually sticks the landing. What would’ve been just another power fantasy for the same crowd that embraces “The Matrix” and “Fight Club” for all the wrong reasons, instead evolves into something else: a stylistic allegory that also shows the would-be Occupy/Tea Party protestor just what revolution really means and asks the viewer, “Are YOU willing to go that far?”
No, but seriously, please actually consider that question while watching “Snowpiercer”. We do NOT need another Justine Tunney.
Next week, the best animated movie of the year, “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”.
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