Snowpiercer (2013)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Snowpiercer</strong> (2013)

(Video on Demand, July 2013) Madness awaits those who try to interpret Snowpiercer as a completely realistic “vision of the future”: Its central premise (a train running into an infinite loop after a world-wide disaster, carrying what remains of humanity) is so deliriously impossible that a heap full of disbelief suspension salt is required before the film even begins. But moving on, since one big deviation from reality is what is required for nearly all SF movies… Snowpiercer‘s saving grace is that it’s well-directed and imaginatively justified: Director Joon-ho Bong brings visual inventiveness and slick action directing to the mix. It sort of helps, in this fable-like story, that the narrative structure looks so simple: An uprising of oppressed passengers starts at the back of the train, and makes its way forward –we know the story will reveal its final mysteries and conclude once the front has been reached. Chris Evans is solid as the protagonist, but an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton steals the show as an unhinged matron bureaucrat trying to perpetuate the train’s social order, with good supporting performances by Ed Harris, John Hurt, Ah-sung Ko and Kang-ho Song. Occasionally as visually warped as Terry Gilliam’s best films, Snowpiercer has a number of set-pieces that linger in mind: The darkened-tunnel action scene, the wildly impossible loop shoot-out, the demented classroom sequence… It almost doesn’t matter that the premise makes no sense (and that the ending, far from being triumphant, boils down to “and now their troubles really begin.”) when the rest of the film is so richly imagined and well-handled. Unlike a film like Elysium, which so clearly attempts to be realistic that it disappoints when it’s not entirely consistent, Snowpiercer carries with it an ember of madness (Swinton’s first big speech, for instance) that makes it easier to consider without perfect coherency. I’m not entirely convinced that it’s a great SF movie, but it’s enjoyable and original enough. (And if nothing else, it’s quite a bit more satisfying than the original French graphic novel, which purposefully seeks to end without satisfaction.)

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