Mason: Know your place. Keep your place. Be a shoe.
South Korean writer/director, Bong Joon-Ho’s first primarily English film, SNOWPIERCER, is a film in a constant state of urgency. From the moment it opens, with a slew of overheard news reports alerting us that we have finally hit the global warming wall and that action must be taken immediately if humanity is to survive, Joon-Ho does everything he can to hook the viewer with something new and exhilarating in every scene that follows, building the intensity with every layer he adds. He is a colourful, inventive director and if his vision speaks to your personal sense of excitement and awe, then you will likely find SNOWPIERCER to be the thrill ride it is so obviously meant to be. If you’re like me though and you find his tone awkward and excessive from the start, then SNOWPIERCER will drag you along through one extravagance after the next until you get to the end of the line whether you like it or not.
To solve the global warming problem, today’s brightest scientists send rockets into the atmosphere containing some form of coolant to bring down the increased climate and instead, they send us to our deaths. Somehow, no one in the scientific community foresaw that doing this would actually plunge the world into a new ice age, essentially wiping out the entire planetary population. As ridiculous as that scenario is, I look past it to see what is next in store. The final remaining humans all live on a train that travels at high enough of a speed to not freeze over and that takes a full year to go across the entire planet. With the entire world frozen over, traversing the oceans by train is totally doable, although I’m not sure when these tracks were built. Apparently it was when it was just cold enough to freeze an ocean but not cold enough to kill a man. Anyway. the passengers of this train have been sectioned off into a tiered class system and I’m sure at this point that there has to be some deeper meaning or poignant point to be made about class division. Then Tilda Swinton shows up with an exaggerated overbite, comically thick glasses and talks to people about being a shoe and I’m lost all over again. It isn’t that its hard to follow; its just very hard to know whether you should be taking any of it seriously, which I feel one should when the topic is as serious as class division.
SNOWPIERCER oscillates from this point forward between farce and fighting, as Chris Evans leads a group from the tail end of the train toward the front of the train in a revolution to topple the regime that treats them as subhuman. Evans does this reluctantly of course, as this is what true leaders must do at first before discovering their natural ability to lead. With each new train car he and his band of followers, including Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer and John Hurt, attack, comes a new challenge and more carnage, some of which is actually quite exciting to watch, some of which is extremely contrived. All of it though is undermined by the film’s unfocused tone and inability to commit to any actual grander purpose. Although I’m not certain that I was even supposed to be trying to, I just could not take SNOWPIERCER seriously. I was eventually lulled into the film’s rhythm, but in the end, it just felt like a fancy ride going nowhere fast.