"Snowpiercer" is messily brilliant

When I first saw “Snowpiercer” close to 5 months ago I honestly was stunned. Here was a unique, mesmerizing vision from Bong Joon-Ho, a South Korean filmmaker who had made the riveting “Mother” and turned the monster movie up on its heels with “The Host”. He has never really adhered to a particular formula, except that he has made movies that are generally very hard to place into a particular category. He is of course an “auteur” in the truest sense of the word. He has garnered quite a cult following over the last few years, which gave him a free ticketed chance at making a film within the American studio system. Let me tell you, he seized his chance. This is one hell of a crazy ride he’s given us with “Snowpiercer”, a film of blazing originality that rides by on its own free will taking chance after chance after chance until it stumbles down near its end.

Much has been said about how Harvey Weinstein wanted “Snowpiercer” edited down from its original 126 minute cut and, having watched the film twice now, I can understand why the big boss was so adamant at editing it down a little. That 126 minute cut was eventually released. As incredible as the first 100 or so minutes are, the film starts to lose a bit of its momentum once it reaches its final act. Not that big of a deal in my opinion, given that what came before it was such a brilliant and uniquely dystopian vision of the future. I found “Snowpiercer” emulated shades of brilliance reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s masterful “Brazil” or Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children Of Men”, two movies that are of course slightly better than Bong Joon-Ho’s, but can you name me any science fiction movies released in the last 30 years that can be considered in the same league as those? I highly doubt it and if you do, you can probably count them in one hand.

The film takes place in 2031 where a failed global-warming experiment has frozen all of Earth and wiped out all life. The only survivors are the passengers on a train that is on a never-ending ride. The train has been running for 17 straight years and a social class system has developed as the passengers of the rear end live in extremely poor conditions and those in the front view… well you get the point, right? However, our main protagonist, played by an impressive Chris Evans, tries to start a rebellion to push his way across the many different levels of the train. That’s where the dirty fun starts and you get to see every social class represented within each individual section of the train. The mystery of this ride is what keeps pulling us in – I had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised by how unpredictable the journey was.

Just like Bong Joon-Ho’s past films, some scenes veer on the borderline ridiculous but he somehow manages to balance those moments really well with the more dramatic ones. There’s an incredible action scene that he has set up between the rebels and the guards, who are awaiting them with axes. The bloody and violent confrontation begins, only to be interrupted as the train is approaching a bridge. The fighting stops for a few seconds only for the violence and mayhem to continue. There are several moments like this where Bong perfectly balances these gorgeously crafted choreographed scenes with moments of quirky comedy and a real twisted sense of humor. The best example of this type of humor comes from a character played by Tilda Swinton (great as usual) who is so over the top hilarious but bewilderingly evil, lunacy only Tilda Swinton could pull off on screen, as she is quite possibly the greatest working actress around at the moment.

I really loved a classroom scene that felt completely out of place compared to the working-class part of the train, but that is shot with such vibrant and persistent colors that you’d think you were in a deranged science fiction film directed by Wes Anderson. It goes on and on, one surprise after another, one diabolically set-up scene after another. The influences are there but none more so than Terry Gilliam, who’s futuristic vision in “Brazil” and “12 Monkeys” made a movie such as “Snowpiercer” possible. The gifted South Korean director takes Gilliam’s influence and infuses it with his own unique brand of social disorder. It’s an impressive feat that will likely get talked about for years to come and will unremarkably garner a massive cult following in the process.