SNOWPIERCER: FILM REVIEW
The train is a classic film setting, but no other film turns the train into the living and breathing world that Snowpiercer does. In Snowpiercer, director Bong Joon-ho transforms a speeding train into an entire ecosystem divided up by classes. The lowest class occupies the back of the train, and the cars get fancier and more hospitable as they approach the front. Our protagonist, Curtis, is a leader at the back of the train who recognizes the unfairness of the system and vows to free his people and make the world more just.
Minister Mason, played by Tilda Swinton, states toward the beginning of the film, “In the beginning order was prescribed by your ticket. First-class, economy and freeloaders by you.” This evocation of the bible is intentional. In this world, concealed within the walls of the train, the engine becomes a God. The entire system of classes is preordained by “the engine" and the class system, although perpetuated by passengers, is depicted as being larger than life. This is what makes Curtis’ desire to leave the tail of the train so controversial.
It's established early in the film that if the engine fails, everyone on the train will freeze to death. So, the idea of the engine being some type of God is a terrifying force driving the actions of every character in the story. Even the characters who do not believe the engine is a supernatural force never seem quite sure of what the engine represents. The upper classes completely control the power of the engine and therefore get the power to decide who is favored by the will of the train.
Importantly, within the world of the film, there is no class allyship. As Curtis moves through the train, even those who appear to be helpless continue to support and rely on the system of illogical oppression that governs their world. This system strips the humanity away from the upper classes, they become tools of a system designed to keep others down. The rich are willing to kill themselves to ensure that they maintain systematic power over the poor. The film is absolutely unrelenting in its desire to drive the point home that this system of class oppression helps absolutely nobody.
This feeling of dark desperation is echoed by Snowpiercer's color palate. Even the lighter colors in the film are tinted with ugly grays and even at the front of the train, where upper-class live is absolutely hideous. This grey tint seeps into the souls of everyone on board; even the most developed characters are deeply flawed and broken. Even Curtis has to live with the constant guilt of his past mistakes and the people who he had to let go.
Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton, who play Curtis and Minister Mason respectively, give career-defining performances. Evans drops the macho attitude that defines him in previous roles and shows real fear and vulnerability. It’s as if Bong Joon-ho wanted to take the character of Captain America and take away his infallibility. Tilda Swinton completely transforms into her role as Minister Mason. Her facial tics, her voice, and even her movements make her seem alien. Both of them become figures that are larger than just the train; they become representations of class around the world.
Everything in Snowpiercer, from the performances to the pacing, to the sound design is tight. It is a powerful film that makes you question the world as we see it today.