Snowpiercer (2013): The Cost of Revolution

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     “Snowpiercer” is one of the better films I’ve seen in the post-apocalyptic genre. It has consequences, high stakes and human characters who are relatable, as well as covering the many ways revolution can be viewed and the cost that comes with it, regardless. I’ll get into more details in the assessment.

    The film was directed by Joon Ho-Bong who was also one of the screenwriters, along with Kelly Masterson. “Snowpiercer” was produced by: Park Chan-wook, Lee Tae-hun, Jeong Tae-sung and Steven Nam.

    The story was based on the graphic Novel Le Transperceniege by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean Marc-Rochett.

     The premise is the near future has brought about an attempt to counter global warming that leads to the world freezing over. The survivors board the Snowpiercer and the story unfolds years later in a world where unequal power dynamic lead to the rich preying off of the poor and using them for labor to sustain the train. From here the story unfolds as the main character Curtis (Chris Evans) plots rebellion with his mentor Gilliam (John Hurt) and second in command Edgar (Jamie Bell). From here the story unfolds as they rebellion ignites.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack does a great job of capturing the tension and the stakes throughout the film. From the first attack to get out of the back of the train…to the moments with the rich in the night club or high society…Marco Beltrami did a great job composing this score.

The Action – Bong Joon-ho knows how to film action and there are a lot of great sequences…from the first fight to get out of the back car, to being stalked in the sauna and the surprise attack the wealthy do on the poor where we learn guns weren’t destroyed and the bullets still exist. The action has purpose too as it drives the characters forward and kills many of them.

The Cinematography – This is a very beautiful movie. A lot of the scenes are cast in shadow which sticks with how dark the theme is. We learn of the evil the wealthy do to the poor and what the poor did to themselves when they first boarded the train. There are no heroes in this world and how the film is filmed captures this stark reality. Hong Kyung-pyo did a good job.

The Characters – There were many good characters in this. I’ll go into depth on who and why.

Mason – Mason is the Minister and primary antagonist until we meet Wilford the religious leader of the train (and the one manipulating everything). Mason is crafty and cowardly and makes a great antagonist. Tilda Swinton makes her weasily and viscous as well as a true believer in Wilford and the Holy Engine. She’s a character I would not have minded sticking around till the end, but she is killed by Curtis in revenge when she facilitates an ambush done by the rich’s thugs.

Tanya – Tanya is the closest we get to a good person as we see her caring for others as well her young son before Wilford’s second takes him away. She fights hard and is there to remind Curtis to keep going on and to lead when he loses his second in command. Her death is powerful for this reason as she never finds her son before she is killed by one of the more powerful thugs in the sauna. Octavia Spencer is wonderful.

Namgoong Minsu – Is one of the addicts who they first rescue who helps them open up the doors to the different cars as long as they provide him with Kronole for his addiction and rescue his daughter as well. He is a compelling character as he notices how the world is changing outside and that the ice melting. He knows they don’t need the train, but because his addiction makes him so selfish he is never listened to. He does make possible his daughters escape as a group attacks and they use the Kronole to make a bomb that destroys the train leaving her and Tanya’s son to find or create a new world. He is compelling character and Kang-ho Song does a good job.

Yona – Yona can see what’s coming which gives her the best bet for surviving at the end. She does manage to survive and rescues Tanya’s son with Curtis as well as getting the chance to hold her father one last time before the bomb goes off. She is an interesting character and I wish we’d gotten more time with her. She’s as smart as her father at hacking the doors. Ah-sung Ko did a great job.

Wilford – The man who accepts the status quo even though it’s unjust and upholds it through terror. Ed Harris makes him personable which makes him all the more frightening. He sees himself as being alone and that all people are expendable. He tries to get Curtis to take his place but fails as Curtis sees through the illusion when Yona arrives and he realizes what he’d become and endorse by being the leader. When the train is destroyed Wilford accepts it and respects those who beat him.

Gilliam – Is the one who worked with Wilford we learn and was using people and rebellions to keep the population balanced. He changes in the end though as he helps Curtis get beyond the halfway mark which leads to him getting killed. John Hurt does an amazing job as the heroic manipulator as we learn he gave his body to the poor to eat so they wouldn’t eat the children anymore. You really get why he’s respected so, which makes the betrayal felt.

Curtis – Chris Evans must be one of the best male actors in Hollywood now…I was impressed. This was “Winter Soldier” level acting and he played the anti-hero role so well. From the reason he trusted Gilliam (his guilt at having eaten people and known the young taste better) and his constant struggle to get his humanity back. He finds it in the end by destroying the unjust system and helping Yona and Tanya’s son escape. His complexity is part of what drives the story as he captures Mason but lets Edgar die in the process.

The Ending – The ending has a point and is all the stronger for it. It takes the corrupt system being destroyed for the children to have a life and it takes leaving the system to create a new one where freedom is found. Bong Joon-ho is truly a great storyteller. You felt the cost of revolution as so many innocents on both sides died even though the victimized poor were in the right.

Okay: Edgar – He’s just an angry rebellious guy. His character doesn’t have much depth but at least adds more dimension to Curtis.

The Thugs – There are a few powerful thugs but none of them really have personality. This I think takes away as we don’t know they serve the system. They are good action moments but they have no personality beyond cruelty.

     This is a movie I’d highly recommend. I want to check out this director’s other work now as the story was unique and powerful and had a point. From the reasons the poor rebelled, from how desperation can ruin the best of people but a single person living by example can change things…as well as the cost of change. It takes so many deaths for the train to finally stop and for people to notice that the train wasn’t needed anymore. Even Curtis misses the fact that the world is melting outside and life is coming back…because for so long the train is all he’s known. It is for this reason Wilford is able to manipulate him so well. Not only does it have a point but the music, characters and story are rich and rewarding. I highly recommend this film.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

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