Snowpiercer to Society: “Go Fuck Yourself!”

yvtnubce4od6zdrect4e Snowpiercer is the sort of movie that will linger and nag at the back of my brain for awhile, which is never a bad thing, especially in science fiction. It carries a great deal of righteous fury and bitterness, not just at the rich, but at everyone that participates in such a broken social system as ours. It’s probably as bleak a movie as there has been this year, with plenty thrills and stunning visuals to draw you in and keep you arrested while it makes its arguments. This is exactly the sort of movie I want to see from Bong Joon-ho, exactly the sort of movie we need more of… and exactly the sort of movie the industry won’t touch with a ten-foot pole.

My girlfriend pointed out to me today that there’s actually some thematic overlap between Snowpiercer and Noah, and that is true: both stories grapple with the inherent flaws of man and consider the idea that maybe it’s better to blow the whole thing up and start over. However in Snowpiercer’s case, that point is made in a more nuanced way by juxtaposing it with the usual class struggle of rich vs poor. For most of the film, we see Curtis (Chris Evans), Edgar (Jamie Bell), Gilliam (John Hurt) and Tanya (Octavia Spencer) fighting for their freedom and equality against the forces of the front, led by Mason (Tilda Swinton). The whole affair is largely presented as a fight between the righteous and abused lower class against the entitled and dictatorial upper class, at least initially.

However, in the gut-wrenching climax, a conversation between Curtis and Namgoong (Song Kang-ho) reveals that in their desperation, the people from the tail are just as awful and self-interested as the people in the front, having done terrible things for the sake of their own survival. While the reason for that desperation may be unfair and external, it certainly doesn’t justify their awful behavior in the past, and reminds us that even the most righteous people can be capable of great wrong. Furthermore, in seeing Curtis being tempted by Wilford (Ed Harris), we’re reminded of the possibility that the poor aren’t necessarily fighting inequality, but that they are fighting to be the rich ones, and that it’s possible for them to turn into the same entitled monsters that they are fighting.

Meanwhile, in Namgoong and his daughter Yona (Ko Ah-sung), we are presented with the alternative: to blow up the whole train and start over on more even footing, rather than continuing to fight the same cyclical battle between the haves and have-nots (as the film also points out, such a fight is often rigged anyway). Even though blowing up the train means risking life itself, maybe there’s no point in continuing if the life we have results in such awfulness. Now whether that argument is right or wrong, Snowpiercer certainly makes its case in a compelling fashion, enough to make you really consider the idea from all angles. Are the systems around us so necessary that we have to keep them up regardless of the resulting inequalities? Or can we as people survive a social cataclysm and really work towards something better, even with the ensuing growing pains?

Suffice it to say that these are only my most initial thoughts on Bong Joon-ho’s latest. There’s a lot to dissect here and I’m sure I’ll revisit it to do so. From a legit piece of scifi, not much more you could ask for… though the great acting, gorgeous visuals and exciting action are certainly appreciated as well. It might not have been the perfect movie to watch on my birthday, but I’m glad I saw it and ecstatic to see it live up to my lofty expectations. Go see it. Like, now.

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