Science Fiction is by far and large my favorite movie genre. I love films that take the issues of our time and put them in a different setting than what we know, showing how these themes would apply to a different world. You could make the argument that the most enjoyable sci-fi films are action-adventures such as Star Wars or The Avengers that keep our adrenaline pumping through the entire running time. Other types of sci-fi films, a kind that I have only dug into within the past few years, are the kinds of films that take human stories and place them in a sci-fi environment. Movies such as Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Moon certainly make us use our brains much more than films such as Total Recall. Despite the undeniable high quality of these films, they aren’t always exciting to watch, as their slow pace can make distraction-prone viewers fidget in their seats. Director Bong Joon-ho’s latest film Snowpiercer, starring Chris Evans, is a combination of both the action-packed and dramatic styles of sci-fi, and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think that it’s the greatest film that I’ve seen all year.
Snowpiercer is a post-apocalyptic film in which the world has been frozen over by global warming (don’t worry, that’s not the message here at all) and the final remnants of humanity ride aboard the Snowpiercer, a train with a self-sustaining engine that gives off energy to protect its passengers from the cold. Chris Evans plays Curtis, a poor 34-year-old man who lives in the back of the train where he and the other less fortunate passengers are herded around and fed horrible-tasting protein blocks while the rich live toward the front of the train. Curtis, along with many of the other rear passengers, organize a revolt to take control of the train. The conflict that ensues is a high-intensity war between the poor and the privileged aboard the train, creating one of the most inventive tales of our time.
Snowpiercer is the kind of film that we only get every few years. I don’t believe that we’ve had a sci-fi this relevant to our society since District 9 in 2009. Snowpiercer, without a doubt, has a clear message behind it about wealth inequality, but it isn’t as heavy-handed as last summer’s Elysium. There are aspects of this train society that aren’t necessarily supposed to mirror our own class divisions in America, but rather act as a warning of what could come in the future. There are also several parts of the movie that remind us of tragic events from the last century such as the Holocaust and the US Internment of Japanese Americans. Strangely enough, these themes also lead to some of the more humorous parts of the film, as most of the comic relief in the movie is delivered in the form of satire. There were many times during the screening that I attended that people in the theater erupted in an uncomfortable laughter, both because of the absurdity of the situations onscreen and because the material used hits a bit close to home.
Themes and social metaphors aside, Snowpiercer is impeccably made. The direction of the film is top-notch, and made me want to check out other films by Bong. The world and atmosphere created onboard the train is undeniably dark while the frozen wasteland outside seems to have a strange beauty to it. There are several scenes in which we see the passengers peer out of the train’s windows to get a glimpse of the icy world outside. These were some of my favorite scenes in the film, as we see huge ships, buildings, and planes frozen over in this hostile wilderness. The actions scenes are some of my favorites that I’ve ever seen in a film. There is an early battle in which Curtis is mowing down soldiers from the front of the train with a hatchet that he gleaned from one of their own, and the camerawork in this scene really lets the viewer get a feel for the violence occurring. The plot, although basic at first, becomes far more intricate as the film progresses, and I believe that it’s one of the most creative stories that I’ve seen onscreen in a very long time. I should advise that the ending is much darker than I anticipated, and that this movie is not for the faint of heart.
The acting is absolutely fantastic, and I’d expect no less from this topnotch cast. I was so excited to see how Chris Evans would do outside of a comic book movie, and he shows that he is much more than a one-trick pony. There are other sci-fi favorites in this movie, as well. Tilda Swinton gives a darkly humorous performance as Minister Mason, a front passenger who uses condescending speeches to lower the aspirations of the back passengers. John Hurt plays Gilliam, the leader of the rear passengers and Curtis’ mentor, and the aging Englishman delivers as strong of a performance as he ever has. There are several other familiar faces in the film, but I believe that their appearances should be discovered as they occur, much like Kevin Spacey’s performance in Se7en.
We need more films like Snowpiercer. This is a powerful story based on an obscure graphic novel that gets absolutely everything right. The action is exciting, the plot and characters seem both real and believable, and the entire work is one of the most creative and powerful films of our generation. Even though I don’t necessarily agree with all of the messages in Snowpiercer, I believe that the situations and conflicts in the film can open the floor to many discussions that we need to have in our society. With that in mind, I can say without a doubt that Snowpiercer is one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made. It feels strange to say that about a new movie, especially for one that was given such a limited release, but I truly believe that Bong’s work on Snowpiercer places him among the likes of genre greats such as Ridley Scott and James Cameron. Snowpiercer is a prime example that not every sci-fi idea has been used, and that if more production companies look beyond comic books and reboots for story ideas, we will be treated to creative movies that impact us on more than just a surface level.