I haven’t been really watching movies beyond Marvel properties lately, but with some time that I decided not to spend on actual work, I decided to clear a little of my movie backlog.
Snowpiercer proved a good decision.
The premise goes that humanity screwed up, and what is left of it has to stay on a train that runs around the world. But instead of focusing on the disaster that led to this situation, instead of a hopeful, forward-looking film, Snowpiercer decides to explore the darker side of the human condition.
Initially, the film focuses on a simple, but good premise; the fight against the class system, imposed upon the weak and poor by the rich. And so they fight against the odds to go further and further forwards, the members of the Tail Section dropping by droves.
We see Curtis playing the role of the reluctant leader and antihero. We see both his intelligence, his leadership, and hints of the person he really is, especially when he let Edgar die in favour of catching Minister Mason. It’s not the norm for a hero to abandon his sidekick for the greater good, yet we see that very thing happening here.
Then they continued on, and on. We see indoctrination of children, a tactic used by so many oppressive regimes around the world. We see wealth and decadence, a reflection of not just what can humanity be, but what humanity is now. We may not have literal castes in most countries, but segregation by wealth is something real in society today.
Then we get the plot twist; the truth behind why Curtis thinks lowly of himself, and the sort of person he truly is. But just as we know instinctively that heroes sacrifice themselves for the greater good, we also know that most people are wired to look out for themselves. The film begs the audience to think deeper, to look at ourselves and ask: are we heroes, or are we just like Curtis? Can we live with the hypocrisy and criticise him, or live with the thought that we are ultimately only looking out for ourselves?
The twists don’t stop coming. We find out the truth behind the revolts, behind the order of the train, and one thought lingers: what about the children taken at the beginning? When the reveal arrives, you suddenly feel horrified. You realise that Minister Mason isn’t just a bully, but also a victim. You realise that if you choose to save a child, you may doom the rest of humanity. You realise that the world doesn’t abide by the concept of heroes and villains, of right and wrong.
And when it all comes to an end, we see a polar bear. Life managed to survive outside the train, contrary to present knowledge. But how many people survived the crash? What resources do they have? Stranded in the mountains, can they survive? In the end, is humanity still doomed?
It’s not often you find a film where I gush about the plot more than the characters. But Snowpiercer has a wonderful story to tell, one that really dives into difficult subjects and prods us to reflect and evaluate on life, on morality, and on ourselves.
That’s not to say the performances and characters weren’t any good. Chris Evans was brilliant as the brooding, tortured antihero struggling with his inner demons. The late John Hurt and Ed Harris put in good stints as Gilliam and Wilford, and I didn’t recognise the wonderful Tilda Swinton as Minister Mason at all. And all these characters straddle the line between protagonist and antagonist, of good and evil, and are oh so very human.
What a film.