Παρασκευή, 18 Ιουλίου 2014

Snowpiercer (2014)

I didn't know much about this movie. I only knew these:

  • A trailer that could look like an action movie tralier, albeit a bit of Terry-Gilliam-esque aesthetics (at points) and a bit of an amazing and grotesque Tilda Swinton, contributing something like a class wars dynamic with one line: ''Know your place''. Creepy and nice. 

  • An international production, adaptation of an old existential French graphic novel, given to Joon-Ho Bong. The director from Korea had previously offered ''the Host'', which I really enjoyed. 
  • Chris Evans starring. Chris Evans aka ''meh''Captain America. However, if you've seen Puncture (2011) you'd already know Chris Evans can really deliver,at least for parts requiring from him something more than just looking good. (I think the beard makes him look even better)
  • Finally, I knew that it was propably ''good'', since I had ran accross several positive reviews from critics around international festivals during 2013. 

All the above sum up to this: I was unprepared for Snowpiercer. I strongly believe that this contributed to the overall film experience, so, since the rest is full of SPOILERS, go no further. Find the movie, watch it first. Then come back here and we will talk about it.

I really mean that, do not read if you haven't seen the movie! 

You've been warned. 


I'd say the main plot is rather simple: Against global warming (that we induced), we make a new mistake over the old one with some kind of greenhouse-control gas that induced a rapid Ice Age, obliterating life all around our planet. Almost all life, since there is this train (with some kind of renewable never-ending engine) that keeps choo-chooing around the planet (one round annualy), made by this Wilford guy. So the last survivors are stacked inside this train, going round our lifeless planet. Our movie starts on the 17th year of the train's journey.

I know, until now it may sound like another ''eco-friendly-yadda-yadda'' kind of blockbuster, with the train as a metaphor of humanity. And it would be, but both the creators of the original graphic novel and Bong are actually being literal about it: If our train is our ''humanity miniature'', this miniature is far away from all stereotypes that all cinematic ''miniatures'' have provided. This miniature is actually a truthfull copy of the old big picture: The world is still unequal, class struggle is present although now unequality is on the horizontal axis and not the vertical of the old financial pyramid. Within the tail of the train live the rugged, dirty, poor, the wretched of the end of the world. In the front live the privileged, the 1%. The class struggle element is evident from the very beggining: ''Know your place'' shouts Tilda, representative of Authority and Balance, ''soon it will be our time'' whispers Evans, carefully plotting the wretched's uprising against Authority, who brutally tortures anyone who dares to question the way things are. 

And that is our story: The way from the tail to the front, to the engine, wagon to wagon, step by step, confrontation after confrontation. Chris Evans is the unwilling leader, Jamie Bell is his loyal sidekick, John Hurt (tailored for such parts you may think) the wise, old, ''ideological'' mentor and Kang Ho Song the unexpected ally from ''the other side''. Against them are not only Wilford's closed doors, but all the violence and hatred of the ''fronts''.

You may say ''I've seen this before'' but not really. This is of the 1984 and Animal Farm tradition, this could be a dream of Terry Gilliam after reading the existential dead-ends from Camus and exploring Althusser's work. This is a bit far from the ''sci-fi action'' that presents itself for the US opening- Here's hoping it won't adapt this version through cuts, but even if it does, do seek for the uncut version.

The existential pessimism of the original sets up the scene: The bloody path of the wretched, even if they manage to overcome the hordes of the Authority and Balance police forces, even if they manage to break Wilford's door and ''take the engine'', will never be able to change what has already been done: The world would be still frozen. Kang Ho Song, while helping them to open the door to each wagon, looks like he is the only one that is aware of this limit. For him, the end of the way is not the reversal of the trains' balance, the victory of the Wretched that Chris Evans supports, but the literal suicide against the existential dead-end of their situation. For him, it's stime to stop the engine, not merely take it over. So, as Chris Evans fells on his knees, defeated, against Wilford in the final act (Ed Harris, such a fine choice for a 20min part), he has other plans. Wilford suggests to Evans that he (and he as an individual) may as well take the engine-  it's not a matter of ownership after all. Wilford is cynical but thruthfull: Hadn't it been for this chaotic unequality, hadn't it been for the distance (in all sorts) between the front and the tail, hadn't it been for the brutal exploitation of the Wrethed, humanity would cease to exist because the train would stop running. And the train is humanity's last hope. ''It's all part of a plan'', says Wilford. ''Good job reaching the engine, you might as well take it, but don't even think of changing the way things are''. This is an interesting turn of events in so many different ways.

That part, the last confrontation, was crucial. When it started all that Matrix-Architect meets the Chosen One and all the ''i knew you'd come'' yadda yadda (that bit ruined the Matrix for me), I was afraid for another interpretation of the futility of all resistance, another Orwell-sort ''End of History'' declaration like the Fukoyama one- this could make the whole movie fall apart to another anti-left babbling. But that was also the point where the movie suprised me: Sometimes, the answer may be that the question is wrong. The ''last hope for humanity'', humanity's miniature based upon exploitation of human from human, the train and its magical engine cannot bear any hope or positive outcomes. The final scene shows a girl staring at a polar bear, and it makes the point: This, the girl and the polar bear is more hopeful than the almost creepy perfection of Wilford's engine. The way it looks is creepy because of what it represents. Like Wilford himself. When Chris Evans sees the horror of the truth of the engine (the last horror of many he encounters during his way to the front, but the most crucial one), is the moment of awakening the moment of realization of the truth above all contradictions caused by the bourgeoise. At that point, Evans and his Korean buddy Song will literally derail Wilford's narration of hope and humanity and claim their right for a brand new narration and meaning for their existence.

''Nice'' are the last words of a suprised and broken Wilford, moments before his narration is blown to pieces and his disgusting world (our world) stops his ridiculous effort to ''survive''. This is the typical death since the actual death was 17 years ago. Snowpiercer is humanity in between two deaths - the wretched put justice against Wilfords Order, and their assault forward is an overdue sacrifice, a willingful suicide. The violent and unforgiving assault of Reality (in this case, ice) is the only that can blow the whistle inside the mechanical arc.

This reversal is prepared by Bong throughout the film: the extreme and rugged version of his Wretched (that feed on..cockroaches) looks far more warm and human than the colorfoul but far from regular creepy ''school'' of the train (Allisson Pill, sweet and scary), far more friendly than the zombie hordes of the privileged in the A-Class, that look like hypnotized, bored on their wealth, only to become furious and mad at the thought that they might lose their benefits.

This is the kind of movie that stands out from the pile of overused cliches of mainstream adventures and action films. Even its flaws (mostly script-wise, and some unused and unexplained metaphysical stuff, add some digital coldness of the cold exterior) are irrelevant in front of the big picture and the creativity of its direction. Note the confrontation between the wretched and the fascist-like Guards -pure cinematic magic, an anthology scene.

The multicoloured, multilanguage cast delivers even with some convenient tricks (a translation device, ok) from both sides. Vlad Ivanov especially delivers a creepy, silent performance as a grotesque unstoppable terminator. Every wagon of the train is a narrative and aesthetic suprise.

All in all, Bong answers another important question: How can a movie be made in order to combine popularity and still be thoughtfull and artistic. Beautiful, quality cinema for the masses- yes, it can be done. (Rumors though have it that the US version will have some alterations...Bong is rumored to be furious)

However, beside box-office measurements, Snowpiercer is one of the most beautifully crafted moments of cinema in the past years, in tired and cliche-overloaded genre. Cinema at its best. Do not miss this one!


(written in January 2014)

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