Snowpiercer: Movie Review

snowpiercer_stand_up_rightsSnowpiercer is a 2013 film directed by Bong Joon-ho based on a French graphic novel published a few years earlier entitled Le Transperceneige, by Jean-Marc Rochette. It’s a science fiction movie with an exceptional cast: in addition to Chris Evans, there are, among others, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, and Ed Harris. And what’s Snowpiercer about?

It could be described as a story set in a dystopian future where the last survivors of the human race live on board a train traveling non-stop at high speed through the now frozen world. The train was built by a man named Wilford, a visionary who was initially mocked but who demonstrated that he had the right intuition: thanks to him and to this modern Noah’s ark, humanity has not become extinct (the film begins 17 years after the environmental disaster). In the last wagons, we follow Curtis (Chris Evans) who’s planning a revolution with his friend Edgar (Jamie Bell) and with the blessing of old Gilliam (John Hurt). The plan is simple: get to the first cars by force and take over the engine to command the train. In order to do so, they need the help of Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song) who designed most of the train and is now in detention.

So, this is a way of describing Snowpiercer: a science fiction action film set in a hypothetical future where an attempt to solve the problem of global warming has almost completely extinguished life on planet Earth.

Another equally fair way of describing Snowpiercer is as follows. It’s a film in which humanity (the passengers of the train) lives in a condition of tremendous inequality and in which the problems related to overpopulation are causing a collapse of the Earth’s ecosystem (the train). A revolution from below made by the poorest and most marginalized ones will prove to be something unexpected in the spectacular, and not too pessimistic, finale (that reminded me of Miyazaki’s Nausicaa – the graphic novel, not the feature film). On the other hand, like Neil Gaiman always says, science fiction has never really been about the future, but about the present! Gene Roddenberry talked about contemporary USA with his anti-racist and pacifist Star Trek, for Terry Pratchett the Discworld was nothing more than an excuse to comment on what was going on in our World, and so also Bong Joon-ho uses this story to talk about environment issues and class struggle (the latter is a topic dear to him, see also Parasite, 2019). And, incidentally, he made a great movie!

Snowpiercer has divinely shot action scenes (avoiding quick cuts and with the camera following the characters to make the viewer understand what’s going on); a plot with several twists that work well from start to finish (each new wagon is a story in itself); multifaceted and interesting protagonists and antagonists (just think of Curtis’ stormy past); intelligent and well-constructed messages (the metaphors I mentioned above are not the only ones in the movie: the sushi eaten twice a year is another parallel, this time with the periodic revolutions on the train); and great acting performances (to name one, Tilda Swinton is super)! If that’s not enough to convince you to watch this movie, I don’t know what else to tell you… ciao!

PS: the drawings made by one of the characters in the film depicting the various passengers on the train are made by the author of the graphic novel Jean-Marc Rochette!

PPS: the name of the John Hurt’s character is not random, but a tribute to the legendary Terry Gilliam who made at least three films with dystopian futures (Brazil in 1985, 12 Monkeys in 1995, and The Zero Theorem in 2013).


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