Saturday, October 26, 2013

설국열차 (Snowpiercer)

An experiment gone awry prompts a new ice age which deems the planet inhabitable. The remaining survivors are aboard the Snowpiercer, a train circling the globe and powered by a perpetual-motion mechanism. The train is owned by a wealthy entrepreneur named Wilford (Ed Harris) who was ridiculed for coming up with a modern day Noah’s Ark back in the day, not knowing that his creation would end up to be the salvation of the human race. Since the train is private property, a hierarchy among its passengers exists, with the poor residents occupying the tail end of the train while the chosen few in the elite circle enjoy a life of splendor at the front. From time to time, Mason (Tilda Swinton), Wilford’s right hand, visits the occupants of the tail to make sure that their subjugation is in place. Years of deprivation and unequal treatment have taken its toll, though, and a rebellion is about to begin. Led by Curtis (Chris Evans) and his wingman Edgar (Jamie Bell), will the proletariat be able to succeed in taking over the train?

Sorry, but I am with Wilford on this one. First of all, the train is private property. It is not as if people were forced to board it. Well yes, by circumstance, but the scenario could have easily been one where the owner only selects a chosen few to hop aboard to ensure the survival of our species. Yes, there is oppression, but the situation here is not similar to the current nation-state where one has rights based on the country where he is born. In effect, if you boarded the train and are relegated to the back portion with limited resources, then that is your problem. Or you could always construct your own train.

Even so, this film is a good social experiment of sorts, demonstrating a what-if scenario which allows us to marvel on the ingenuity of the human spirit. You would then notice how the situation is basically just a repeat of every single event in history. There is the elite class, and that which they oppress. It is a never ending cycle. One group subjugates the other until everything boils over and reaches that point where the deprived end up rebelling, taking over, and eventually becoming the new oppressors. Perhaps this is just how human beings are programmed to function. Come to think of it, it is still the status quo. It’s just not that obvious because the oppressors have found a way to continuously oppress the oppressed with worthwhile distractions, while they laugh their way to the bank. Ahem, fucking politicians.

The film was produced and directed by Koreans, which explains the Korean actor and the vital role that he plays in the plot’s development. Adapted from a French graphic novel, the movie seems to have been made in good taste and in accordance to the original material given the lack of backlash from diehard fans. In fact, most of the feedback has been positive. The film just hit a rough spot with regard to distribution in North America, but it has since gained some following among various groups.

As for other filmmaking aspects, it is the set design which impresses the most. How would you effectively maximize the use of the limited space of every train car without coming up with an end product which is hard to watch and contrived? Snowpiercer does not have that problem. What happens is you even get all excited waiting for the next car as Curtis’ crew gets closer and closer to the front.

The surprise is in the end, though. Watching the first hour of the film almost serves as a way to prime you to root for the underdogs, but once Curtis and Wilford finally meet, the reasons behind all the events are explained in a manner which is easy to follow. In the end, you begin to question your own beliefs and think again as the line between the ideal and the real are blurred, leaving you to decide which path would be the better option. This is what happens to Curtis, and this is what is going to happen to you too. The film is cool like that. 

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