Snowpiercer is a fascinating angle on the ‘pre-ordained order’ of society and what human nature is capable of without moral leadership and laws in a post-apocalyptic world. That all of this takes place on a perpetually moving train is just another layer of existential irony – just like life, it just keeps moving, it never stops.
The story is primarily told through the eyes of Curtis, played by Chris Evans. He yearns for freedom and justice for the ‘freeloaders’ on the back of the train while the rest of the people enjoy good food, good living quarters, and good times. As the freeloaders continue to be oppressed, eventually they snap and Curtis leads them on a rebellion to take over the train. What he has to do to obtain this freedom may just make him twice the monster than the ones he is fighting against. That is one of the many tensions of the film.
The story is so unique and well told (for the most part). The director asks the questions of the importance of social order, he critiques the economic class systems, and he puts in debate the idea that all humans have equal value. Then he refuses to give neat answers to any of them.
The end of the film not only produces a gut-wrenching shocking moment but a huge moral twist that was impossible to see coming. Chris Evans’ acting made all of this possible as he delivers an incredible performance.
In terms of cinematography, the film is superb. There are a lot of tight shots – as it should be since the story is on a moving train. Each car of the train has its own look and color, each one is down perfectly. The director seems equally comfortable shooting action sequences that require intricate choreography as well as those dramatic shots that let the pictures tell the story. There is no rush in establishing characters that you ultimately care about and the cinematography captures this perfectly.
But for all the good that Snowpiercer possesses, it also represents what is utterly frustrating about independent films. What do I mean? Here is the basic layout of what I’m talking about.
Big Money Movie Houses reserve the authority to cut certain scenes that are too long, too boring, too risky, or too controversial. They also force certain movies to tone down the language, violence, or sex in order to get the film at the rating they think they can make the most money. Typically this is the PG to PG-13 rating. They want to make a movie that will appeal to the most people so they can make the most money possible.
“Purist”/independent directors scream “sell-out” at this and start waxing eloquently about artistic freedom and remaining true to the vision of the film. Enter “Independent Film House” that allow the director to make the film exactly as he or she envisions without having to ‘compromise.’
The upside of this arrangement is we get incredible acting performances and great stories like a Lost In Translation or a Juno.
The downside? Sometimes more is just more, not better. In other words, the director has the freedom to put in more violence, more sex, more language, more long, moody dialogue, more character developing monologues, or whatever else they deem necessary to the film that most people don’t want to watch.
Mud was like this. Great story that drug out over 2 hours with extended shots of a boats going up and down the Mississippi River. It’s a beautiful film but it borders on boring. I’m sure it is exactly the way the director wanted it. The problem is so few people liked that version.
Snowpiercer is in this same predicament. Great story, great acting. Bogged down and distracted by the violence, language, and a couple of characters that make you go – why exactly is he in the movie?
The film is rated R for good reason. The violence and language not to mention the overall tone of the movie make it rough to watch.
On one hand, the violence is understandable. It’s a key character in the story. Revolutions are expensive, the value of human life has to be weighed against the desire for freedom. Is it worth it? The violence shows us the cost of freedom.
However, the tone and violence (and language) go overboard. The point is made, the impact happens and then the director decides to keep hitting the audience with more violence and more language. It reached a point where it was distracting from the movie.
It’s hard to see the necessity of 30+ “F” bombs and other obscene language at the craziest times. Particularly in scenes where it not only didn’t have any impact, it actually distracted from the story.
The story of Snowpiercer is so good, the twists and resolution at the end of the film is so surprising and well done. However, it earns its R rating and is tough to watch at times. A good editing of this film and it’s a great film. As it stands – I can’t imagine watching it twice.