Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Movie Review - Snowpiercer

My daughter and I started hearing about this movie sometime last year. It was made by a Korean director, using American and British leads from a French graphic novel. Quite an international production. What we were hearing was that the film had finally found an American distributor, but they wanted some 20 minutes cut from the film. The director refused. Finally the distributor agreed to release the movie uncut and it opened to a very limited release, just 5 theaters, a couple of weeks ago. Last week the film got more wildly distributed but is still hard to find. It is only playing in 3 theaters in the Houston area, fortunately one near us. We went to see it Monday afternoon. It is excellent.

Here's the premise. In an attempt to reverse global warming, nations band together to release some chemical into the upper atmosphere. It is never explained how this was supposed to work but something went wrong. It plunged the earth into world-wide ice age. Now, 18 years later, all of remaining humanity is crowded into a enormous train which travels a tortuous path around the globe, taking a year for one complete circumnavigation. I will freely admit that the premise sounds pretty ridiculous and movie doesn't spend too much time on how all this came to pass.

What the movie is really about is social injustice, how an upper class can brutally maintain control over the lower classes by having complete control over the food and water supply, and a social experiment so outrageous you wonder how a human being could have thought of it.

Of course the upper class have control over the front of the train and the sacred engine that pulls it and supplies it's power. The lower classes live in terrible over crowded conditions in the back of the train. It's never clear how long the train is but it's pretty long. In the front of the train are the people who live there, a section that recycles water, sections were food is produced, fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. We only see a small part of this. The people in the front eat the food produced. The people in the back eat slimy black 'protein bars'.

John Hurt plays Gillium, the aged leader of the back of the train who only has one arm and one leg. His second is Curtis. Curtis, played by Chris Evans (that's Captain America to you), was 17 when the train began it's journey. Now he leads a very desperate people to reach Wilford (Ed Harris) at the front of the train. Wilford invented the train and is responsible for the social division on the train and has a lot to answer for.

The journey through the train is both brutal and wondrous. In some cars they fight pitched battles with pipes and the occasional ax as weapons against soldiers with guns. In others they encounter stuff they never imagined, like a car made out as an aquarium which they pass through in a tunnel down the center.

There are a number of plot twists throughout the movie that my daughter and I did not see coming. In the final showdown between Curtis and Wilford, Curtis (and we) learn that pretty much everything he (and we) thought he knew about his years on the train is wrong. Chris Evans is pretty good in this by the way. He had to do a lot more acting in this movie than as Captain America.

I highly recommend this movie, even if you have to go out of your way to find it. A lot of things aren't explained but ultimately, these things don't matter. What matters is the story of a downtrodden people trying to throw off oppression only to learn that the deck was stacked against them even more than they knew. I would not take the kiddies to see this. There are some very bloody scenes and foul language which give it it's R rating. On the other hand, there is no sex or nudity.

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