Guest post by Nathan Mees
First, prior to reading my review of Snowpiercer, you need to head over and read Grant’s. I’ll give you a moment…
Done? Great. Time for some film rebuttal action…
I will not rehash Grant’s excellent overview of the film to save us all time. Rather I want to offer up a different take on the film and hopefully provide some new food for thought. Before that, however, I want to echo Grant’s admiration for the cinematography and plot.
As the film moves from car to car along the seemingly endless Snowpiercer (the name of the train) the colors grow more vibrant, the details more crisp, and the overall madness to this post-apocalyptic world more soul crushing (but in a good way). It is the proverbial onion, layers upon layers, but at the center is a deeply visceral visual experience and philosophical revelation rather than tears. The setting is brilliant as it serves as a claustrophobic bottleneck that grows tighter and tighter rather than opening up. In an odd twist, the caboose of the train, the home of the lowest class, is the most opening and layered while the closer and closer the rebels, lead by Curtis (Chris Evans), get to the front of the train, and therefore the most powerful members of society, the most walled in the train becomes. The A.V. Club has a great break down of this that I recommend you read.
As for the plot, what struck me was its originality while also being utterly cliché. It just one more in a long line of dystopic films, but man does it give this genre a kick in the teeth. It tackles massive topics–social status and order, economic injustice, political manipulation and corruption–and, as Grant said, it refuses to provide neat and clean answers, and it does all of this on a train (A TRAIN! Who rides a train anymore?!) without the help of a big name star. This is what makes it so genius to me. With the lack of a huge name (not that Chris Evans, aka Captain America, is an actor lacking merit or fame) to drive the film, it allows the cinematography and the plot and the demanding questions raised to be the star. You walk away with a lot to chew on, not a sequel to wait for.
And this is where Grant and I cease to be on the same page. In his review, Grant bemoaned the problem with independent films and the issue of selling out. Snowpiercer is a film that was clouded in controversy when it was first release due to the director, Bong Joon-ho, refusing to give into the Weinstein Co. desire for 20 minutes to be cut. Luckily, the director held out and refused to present a film he was not pleased with (for reference on why I will always support the director’s vision over the studio, do a little research into the train wreck of a film that is All the Pretty Horses. A flawless bildungsroman novel that Billy Bob Thorton turned into an epic 3-hour-plus journey that the studio stripped down to a western romance. To this day Billy Bob refused to do directors commentary for the DVD unless his cut is made available).
Now, Grant does rightly state that often directors holding out and wanting utter carte blanche can lead to more violence, sex, and language which is unnecessary to the film. However, this is not always the case (I loved Mud, for example) and Snowpiercer is a film that proves it. The Weinstein Co. wanted to cut character development, which is the most crucial element of this film. If you cannot care about the characters, the journey from the back of the train to the front is meaningless. According to Bong Joon-ho he was not asked to cut violence or language from the film, so the use of both, for me, serves a purpose in this movie. I jokingly told Grant that I would most likely swear a whole lot more than they do in Snowpiercer if I was in the same predicament, but then again I work with high schoolers, so keep that in mind.
This is not a movie for everyone. In fact, it is a deeply difficult film to watch, but that is the point. Imagine living on that train, (A TRAIN!) (and yes, I know I already talked about a train in all caps) an almost forgotten form of transportation, that simply goes on and on and on and on and on. I was worn out by the end and I see that as the point. Revolution is draining, especially when one discovers..well, I won’t give anything away.
Listen, this film may not be for you. It is violent. It has a load of language. It presents humanity at its worst. But it forces you to think, to ask big questions of yourself and our current world, and, maybe rather unexpectedly, it has hope. It may be Cormac McCarthy’s version of hope, but it is there. I promise.