Movie Review: Snowpiercer
At this year’s Oscars, Bong Joon Ho’s film Parasite won Best Picture. It got a lot of attention for being both the first foreign language film to win the award and a masterfully made thriller. But perhaps the most remarkable thing about the film is its depiction of class war, a subject rarely tackled in major motion pictures. That is, unless you’re a big Bong Joon Ho fan and have seen his other anti-capitalist films, the best of which is 2013’s Snowpiercer.
Snowpiercer is a dystopian/sci-fi/action movie. It takes place in the year 2031, and 17 years ago the tech sector failed to save the planet from climate change. A chemical intended to cool off the planet has frozen it solid, killing all life upon it. A futuristic train has since then circled the planet ceaselessly with the last few thousand human beings onboard.
The film’s central allegory is extremely blunt. Those in the tail section of the train are the oppressed lower class, the people in the front section are the oppressor ruling class, and at the front of the train is the thing driving it all, the “sacred engine.” A revolution is sparked when people from the front section wordlessly abduct two children from the tail section. The film follows the revolution as it relentlessly fights its way to the front of the train. Each car reveals not only new portions of the train’s oppressive physical structures, but new portions of the ruling class’s dehumanizing dogma and pitiless acrimony towards the tail section. A central tenet of the ruling class’s dogma to justify their dominance is that their engine is eternal and the laws that keep the man-made, Malthusian murder-machine running are derived from nature itself. Contradictions abound.
As for negative aspects of the film, sadly, it does fail the Bechdel test. There are five female characters and most fill “traditional” tropes (mother, teacher, daughter, secretary). And while the tail section is international, multi-generational, and multi-racial, the reluctant leader of the revolution is Captain America himself, actor Chris Evan, whose performance is a little, shall we say… mediocre.
However, Bong Joon Ho is a courageous director and writer when it comes to honoring the subject matter of his films and doing them justice. He certainly does not resort to cop-out, feel-good endings that please test audiences while betraying a film’s central message. Without going into spoilers, let’s just say Snowpiercer isn’t about the tail section negotiating a peace deal, or a policy reform that allows some small improvements to the tail section. Snowpiercer’s revolution is as violent as it is exhausted, as honest as it is conflicted, and as fabulously fantastical as it is rooted in the real. Simply put, it’s a must-watch for anyone who wants a good sci-fi action flick about a leftist fight for justice that tells a lot of truth and also asks a lot of hard questions.