Snowpiercer (2013)
July 19, 2014 6:30 AM - Subscribe

Set in a future where a failed climate-change experiment kills all life on the planet except for a lucky few who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system emerges. Chris Evans is almost unrecognizable as the hero and Tilda Swinton, John Hurt and a third very famous actor have a lot fun hamming up their roles.

The US finally got a chance to see this movie almost a year after it came out in Asia and in its full length having escaped the wrath of Harvey Scissorhands. Of course it's in such limited release that it's only in one theater in my city but we did manage to catch it this week.

I'd say that it's one of my favorite movies of the year; Joon-ho Bong is a really interesting director and he's managed to overcome a pretty silly premise and create a very satisfying movie.
posted by octothorpe (103 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's also available for rent on iTunes and Amazon Video if you can't make it to your local arthouse theater.
posted by mathowie at 6:33 AM on July 19, 2014


Ok I saw this a little while back so my recollection may not be perfect. The movie itself was fun, great concept and the visual aspect worked really well, but the dialogue was shamefully bad.

This is something I noticed with D-war as well, several years ago. I think that general idea of Korean movie dialogue as compared to American dialogue is so blunt that it takes me out of the film experience. There really isnt a need to vocally explain everything in the movie, there are pictures too!

Still, it was an engaging film and I enjoyed it.
posted by Literaryhero at 8:04 AM on July 19, 2014


Saw this a few nights ago at our local indie/rep cinema. Thought it was fun, bizarre, visually stunning, and delightfully self-aware of it's use own of ridiculously blatant (but effective) allegory. I was very pleasantly surprised and thoroughly entertained. I'm now really interested in taking a look at the French graphic novels on which it was based. Has anyone read them?
posted by Dorinda at 8:21 AM on July 19, 2014


I was really looking forward to this, and the visuals and action were great, but in the end I couldn't really get over the ridiculousness of the setup. It felt like going through a D&D module. "You open the door and in the next room are 40 orcs! You open the next door and that room is empty except for a sushi counter!" Any given minute of it was pretty fun, though.
posted by dfan at 8:26 AM on July 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


OMGSOAWESOMEHOLYCRAPWOWWOWWOWOWOWOW PEWPEWPOW PRGKUUHHH BLAM AHSHIT AND 99% AND KANG-HOSONG OCTAVIASPENCER TILDASWINTON DENTURES SUPERTRAIN CLASSSTRUGGLE SPLOSIONS NIGHTVISION HATCHETATTACK PROTEINBLOCKS TRANSLATORS JOHNFRIGGINGHURTTHEWARDOCTORYALL IKNOWWHATPEOPLETASTELIKE...
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:39 AM on July 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


TL;DR: I greatly enjoyed this film.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:40 AM on July 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Totally, dfan. I felt like overall it was mildly interesting at best, and the world it creates doesn't hold up to even a mild degree of logical examination. I was also preoccupied wondering the entire time why they bothered to keep the lackeys at the back of the train alive at all. Did they serve some purpose that I missed? Other than harvesting the occasional child to run the mechanism at the front, I guess.
posted by something something at 10:23 AM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Having not paid much attention to the credits, it was at least two thirds of the way through the movie before I realized the lead was Chris Evans! He did a superb job, and I was really blown away by how understated his performance was.
posted by valkane at 10:25 AM on July 19, 2014


I should be studying for the bar exam but I had to watch Snowpiercer before it left the theater, so I took a break last week and caught it at the local. It was definitely worth it.

It's an incredible movie. The score feels lifted from a late Hitchcock; the set design feels very Ralph Macquarie-meets-Terry Gilliam, and the script is really well-constructed. It's brutal and bleak, and I don't know that I have the stomach to watch it a second time, but it's really well done in the main.

I don't intend to write a full-on review, but one observation sticks with me and I want to write it down. There's a wonderful piece of parallelism at the end of the film that really nails the troubling moral ambiguity of the story by bringing together two scenes that, on the surface, have nearly nothing to do to one another.

Spoilers follow. (Am I supposed to put that?)

The first comes early on in the second act, when the lower-class revolt has made its way forward into the car where their protein bars are made. The protein bars are an important symbol, early in the movie, of the privation and social control which the lower class is subjected to. They burst into the food-machine car and find there one of their own who had been kidnapped by the police and forced to work the food machine. He is running around, a slave to the machine; it is clear he knows he will be punished if he does not keep it running. He says, "it used to be automated, but those parts went extinct, so now we do it manually."

Immediately after he says that line, Curtis looks inside the machine and is disgusted to learn that the protein bars that are all the food he has know for the past 17 years was made of crushed cockroaches.

We proceed forward, engaged in a brutal revolution making its way up the train, and also looking for two children who were taken by the police at the beginning of the film. We learn that they have been taken to Wilford, the engineer and architect of the Train and its society, and we learn that Wilford "likes children" in a way that is not at all reassuring.

After much brutality and bleakness, we arrive at the engine room at the front of the train; we have not found the two missing children.

Curtis tells the story of how, in the early days of the train, things were so bad that the humans in the tail section resorted to cannibalism; he say that what he hates about himself is that he knows how people taste; he knows that babies taste the best. It is horrifying.

In the second scene, Curtis is in the engine room, and Winford is cooking some kind of meat, and is trying to convince him to assume leadership not only of the lower-class revolt he's been leading but of the entire train. It's the conversation that The Matrix sequels wish they'd had. And we get to the point where the terrible, inevitable logic of what Ed Harris is saying starts to penetrate not only Chris Evans' brain but our own. We can feel the reversal, we can see how, all along, this has been a story about how the revolutionaries can be just as brutal as their oppressors, and how that story will culminate in the revolution becoming the oppression and being co-opted by it. The structure of the train demands it. Okay. We are also nearly sure that the meat Wilford is cooking is the remains of the children, as it seems there is no place else they could be.

At this point Yona attempts to break the spell Wilford is casting on Curtis, so she opens one of the panels in the floor and shows Curtis the machinery of the engine room. There is a small child crouched in the machinery, frantically working. He is a slave to the machine just as was the man in the food room.

Wilford kind of shrugs and says, "it used to be automated but those parts went obsolete so now we have to do it manually."

That's it. Thats the line that ties this scene to the first scene, and it's the parallel between these scenes that really sticks the terrible moral ambiguity of this movie. By evoking the food-machine scene, we are expecting to learn something awful about the food Wilford (and Curtis?) just ate. We are expecting cannibalism; we have been trained and guided to cannibalism as the logical conclusion.

Instead, we get child labor. The same line, but now the horrifying thing that Curtis sees when he looks into the machine isn't about food. It's almost a relief to find that the horror under the floor is just children crammed into a tiny space and working a dangerous job for, apparently, hours on end. I don't mean, at all, to minimize the horrors of child labor. I just mean that the film has so well raised the specter of eating the children that by comparison, child labor doesn't seem so bad. We are relieved to find them alive.

And it's the connection between these two scenes that, to me, really nails the troubling moral ambiguity at the heart of the story. It is that connection and juxtaposition that leaves us, the viewers, more likely, not less likely, to see things from Wilford's point of view, and to ask what really is even to be gained by all this bloodshed and revolution. We're still on a train. It's still frozen outside. The child labor is a necessary sacrifice to keeping the train running, and after all, it's not like we're eating them, is it?

TL;DR, it's all just an elaborate adaptation of The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.
posted by gauche at 11:19 AM on July 19, 2014 [24 favorites]


I really like that observation, but I never once considered that the steak was anything other than a beefsteak.
posted by dogwalker at 11:37 AM on July 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


%n: "I was really looking forward to this, and the visuals and action were great, but in the end I couldn't really get over the ridiculousness of the setup. It felt like going through a D&D module. "You open the door and in the next room are 40 orcs! You open the next door and that room is empty except for a sushi counter!" Any given minute of it was pretty fun, though."

I loved that aspect and I loved that it got more and more outlandish as it went on. It started off almost believable or close enough that you could suspend disbelief but by the time you got to the overhead aquarium with sushi bar, it had gone so far over the top that I had to just laugh.
posted by octothorpe at 12:16 PM on July 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


I was also preoccupied wondering the entire time why they bothered to keep the lackeys at the back of the train alive at all. Did they serve some purpose that I missed? Other than harvesting the occasional child to run the mechanism at the front, I guess.

Besides just child harvesting, in the speechifying at the end of the film you get the idea that Wilford is trying to maintain the perfect ecosystem, a perfect capsule representation of life on earth, which not only means preserving the flora and fauna he finds significant (trees, sushi) but also the class structure as he understands it, humanity in its "natural" state. In other words, a megalomaniacal Noah / Ark scenario in the midst of a natural disaster of Biblical proportions. Preserving a core sample of the socioeconomic strata.

So perhaps it's purely ideological; perhaps he foresees a future where more and more tasks on the train will have to be "performed manually," perhaps both of these possibilities inform and reinforce each other in his worldview. Perhaps they're inseparable, and there is an implied historical materialism. Curtis's moral ambiguity and mental struggle at the end of the film underscore this interrelation of ideology with status and material conditions (as well as perceived self-worth and innate "fitness"). I think it poses an interesting epistemological question.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:25 PM on July 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


I really like that observation, but I never once considered that the steak was anything other than a beefsteak.

I spent that whole scene thinking, "okay, front of the train, we're gonna find the kids now. He's cooking something -- gee, that's a low angle, they sure are keeping us from seeing what's on the grill. Wait, why did Curtis just tell us that story about eating children? Of course, Wilford is cooking meat. Is Curtis going to eat the meat? He knows what children taste like. He's not eating the meat. He can't eat the meat because this is a movie and we can't have the hero eat a child onscreen. Fuck. Now he's in the engine. There's no other place for children to be. Where are the children? Wilford must be eating the children. That's why we didn't see Curtis eat. The message of this story is going to be that Wilford at the head of the train is no better than the people at the end. They all eat children. Fuck, this is bleak. Oh, good, the children are alive. Maybe the train is not so bad after all. Wilford's not a monster. I guess I can kind of see where he's coming from."

It could just be me, but I really felt like they were pushing the cannibalism angle on me pretty hard at the end.
posted by gauche at 1:03 PM on July 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


Also, this analysis is really good (unrelated to my own theories).
posted by gauche at 1:06 PM on July 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


First of all, the lighting in this movie alone should win it an Oscar, but because of the release fuckarow perpetrated by the Weinsteins, I think it's probably ineligible at this point.

Chris Evans is fucking phenomenal; I hope he doesn't retire from acting, but if he does, he's already given one of the best performances of his career.

I appreciated the gender-neutralization of Mason (using epithets like "sir" reminded me this was a position, not a Human Being); Tilda Swinton was superb, as always.

Um, spoilers?:

That arm-motion she makes during the arm cryo-punishment scene - forward, fist, twist, then back again - is very similar to the motions Timmy is using while housed in the engine's interior. Makes one wonder if Mason was referencing that motion specifically, or if it's a metaphor for the class system and train movement being an endlessly reciprocal cycle.

Also, fucking hell at the influences, which were not especially derivative or reductive: Metropolis, Brazil (Gilliam, really??!), Blade Runner, Aliens, Bioshock. Gore Verbinski should just fucking give up, man - we already have the Bioshock movie we need and deserve.

Plus countless others I'm sure you all noticed, but am forgetting here just now...

This Ayn Randian nightmare finally ends thanks to two men with ice-blue eyes, Teutonic features, and paranoid, yet clever minds looking in the same direction and seeing two totally divergent futures; Nam has proven that there's no way to subvert the system. The only way out is to escape it. (Personally, I took the polar bear as a positive sign at the end. If life of any kind can withstand outdoor temps, that's proof. The Inuit woman is almost certainly Yona's mother, and her precog abilities will help her survive whatever threats come her and Timmy's way.)

It's All The King's Men by rail, and I can't stop thinking about it. I can't stop analyzing it. Excellent international cast, totally didn't seem like it as done to meet a quota or boost marketing appeal or relatability. The train is a metaphor for society, and of course the cast is multinational. How did they all get on board? WHO THE FUCK CARES? This is where we are; this is who we are. This is what's left.

The only question left (and maybe the only story left to tell, or has always been the ONLY story to tell) is this: Are you alone, or part of a group? And if you're part of a group, that becomes the beginnings of society - so, what kind of society are we creating here?

Was there ever a choice in society-building that didn't require some vicious, barbaric sacrifices along the way? This movie is ostensibly set in the future, but it's very, very much about what's happening in the world right now.

It feels like a reinterpretation of that classic sci-fi blueprint, a "Metropolis of the 21st century," if you will. And yet, nearly every frame, paused on its own, reminds you very strongly that it's sourced from graphic novels, and stays true to that visual repertoire.

The colors, wardrobe, casting, acting, cinematography, lighting, pacing, humor, violence - utterly superb. I know it won't be everyone's cup of tea, but for for me, it's transcendent.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 1:08 PM on July 19, 2014 [9 favorites]


Personally, I took the polar bear as a positive sign at the end. If life of any kind can withstand outdoor temps, that's proof.

Yeah. The survival of an apex predator means a whole pyramid of life underneath has survived. And the polar bear is, I think, a nod back to the reality of global warming in the universe outside the film, in which this planet is our own train.
posted by gauche at 1:15 PM on July 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


I felt like the end shied away from the allegory the whole film built up. The train is our consumerist, capitalist, classist society. What happens when the revolution happens and the oppressed have to make the hard choices? Surprise! It was all planned, you were groomed for this, and your mentor was a collaborator from the beginning. Everything has to be destroyed and maybe somebody lucky enough survives. It felt like a BSG-level cop out to me. But maybe examining what happens after a revolution, Zhivago style, is too last-century.
posted by rikschell at 1:16 PM on July 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


I took the polar bear to mean that the whole belief in a barren outside was a lie. Clearly if polar bears can survive, so can a lot of other things. Everyone is on the train because they believe they have no choice and that the train is the only option, but it's all a lie created to keep them on the train.

I have one question I was hoping someone could clarify. It's been a little while since I saw the movie, so I hope I'm remembering it as it was shown. At a certain point the gang arrives at the car where the protein blocks are produced. Curtis sees what the blocks are made of and is shocked and angry. Why? I don't understand why he would be so horrified by the idea of eating insects, especially when there's not much else on the menu and especially when it stops people from resorting to cannibalism.
posted by bjrn at 1:41 PM on July 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


The film isn't critiquing an oppressive hierarchy overthrown by revolution; it's critiquing a system within which both hierarchy and revolution operate. The revolution is just as brutal as the hierarchy it is resisting -- it has to be -- but that brutality, within the train, would only replicate the oppression. Curtis forces Mason to eat the protein bars instead of the sushi. He is as single-minded in his quest to kill Wilford as Franco is to kill Curtis. The party-goers, from whom Nam has stolen all that drug, are, when they mass up to get their drug back, indistinguishable from the original revolution, moving forward up the train, armed with melee weapons, to take back something of value taken from them.

I think the explosion is kind of a cop-out, too, but I'm not sure I can think of a better choice. Curtis kills Wilford, seizes control, and practices non-violence and cooperation?

I don't think the film is a full political critique; I think it's a negative critique of how power structures perpetuate themselves by co-opting the very revolutions intended to break them because the structure is not a thing the resistance is able to fight while also resisting the oppression that is merely the structure's most obvious symptom.
posted by gauche at 1:50 PM on July 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


I love how the train represents the stupidest, least defensible idea of a class structure possible. The back two or three cars have about a thousand people living in them, and then, up in the front, there is an entire car devoted to just sitting in little pools and watching the surroundings go by. There is a car just devoted to steam baths. And there are two cars devoted to druggy raves.

It's a perfect balance as imagined by the 2 percent, whi cannot conceive that their insane resource hogging might be out of whacck. No, of course the back eats insects while the front makes steak. Of course everybody in the back uses discarded barrels for everything while the front has tailors making bespoke suits.

Tilda Swinton was the perfect middle-level manager. She was religiously devoted to whoever was in charge at that moment. There was no place on the train where she really fit in. Her uniform was sort of shabby, with medals that actually looked made of felt and sewn on. She had terrible teeth -- and even those were false! I feel like when she pulls them out, she is briefly saying "you see! I'm more like you than them!"

It's not a film for people who want a well-made future. The characters here are living in a metaphor, and it's a metaphor the filmmaker himself knows is a bit silly and a bit overblown, and highlights this fact. It's the first film I have seen since Kubrick that drips with this sort of acid satire, and I utterly loved it.
posted by maxsparber at 5:27 PM on July 19, 2014 [17 favorites]


Gauche, I like your point, but I think it's WAY more nuanced than the film could get to. Which I guess is my beef, really. The movie seems like it's got a lot more on its mind than your typical action-fest. But it ends up adding up to less than the sum of its parts. It makes you think, and you can get a good discussion going riffing off it, but not so much due to what the movie earns.

For instance, the movie earns the point that the revolution is brutal and ends up killing off a large portion of the humanity it seeks to save. But Gilliam collaborating with Wilford seems like a twist that breaks any kind of allegory. Because what if Gilliam weren't a collaborator. It just seemed to me like a sloppy cheat to throw the main plot off the rails (literally). It may just as well have been Wilford revealing that the engine had been a bomb ALL ALONG.

But maybe I just don't want to accept that the real message of the movie is we're all fucked and the only dim hope for survival is to luck into getting pulled along by forces larger than yourself and randomly not get fucked up.
posted by rikschell at 5:49 PM on July 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


I wasn't thinking about this during my first watch, but is there any chance that Gilliam wasn't collaborating with Wilford, and for some reason of brainwashing Wilford was only trying to convince Curtis that he was? I don't remember if there was hard evidence that Gilliam was a collaborator or not. (If he was colluding, why shoot him? They say he had to die, whether because he fucked up or because they needed to put a fire in Curtis's belly or both, but as a piece of evidence that actually leads me to believe that Gilliam wasn't colluding and they were retroactively spinning events with Gilliam dead and unable to testify. Seems easier to convince Curtis of the moral relativism of the front vs. back, if he believes that Gilliam was in on it the whole time, and that self-dismemberment was a joke instead of true moral heroism.)

It reminds me slightly of Eyes Wide Shut (not in execution, which in EWS was excellent, but in effect), in the sort of "What if I were to tell you, even go out of my way to convince you with a bit of a show, that your hero was actually one of us? Makes it much easier to accept your new role at the front of the train... "

Buuuut I'm probably forgetting something. (Why they would offer Curtis leadership of the train would then be basically an impromptu decision which makes it fairly implausible and uninteresting.)
posted by stoneandstar at 7:07 PM on July 19, 2014


Wilford quotes Gilliam's conversation with Curtis. It's possible he overheard that conversation through some other means like having bugged the train, but I took that to mean there was collaboration.

But Gilliam also tells Curtis to cut out Wilford's tongue and not let him speak, so I read that in turn to mean that Gilliam had his own secret intentions for Curtis outside of his collaboration with Wilford.

I grant you, there are other ways to interpret it.
posted by gauche at 7:35 PM on July 19, 2014 [2 favorites]




oh god thank you all so fucking much, very seriously so much, for mentioning that bug eating is a big plot point because now i do not have to watch this movie and be fucking heinously traumatized by it

bless your cows
posted by elizardbits at 9:29 PM on July 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


I just watched this tonight on direct tv on demand and I loved it. The casting was great, the ridiculousness of all the different themes for every car, the gelatinous protein bars, the CHAN, WE NEED FIRE! - all of it was just so fucking great. I didn't even recognize Tilda Swinton in that hideous Mason (I also loved that they called her "sir"). What a great movie. I think I might go watch it again now.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:45 PM on July 19, 2014


I really loved this film, and I think the character that really made me get on the same vibe as the movie was Tilda Swinton's character. She was menacing, dictatorial, and hilarious. The hilariousness was not inherent in the reality of the movie (usually), but in the movie making. Once I grabbed on to that, I was able to enjoy it as both an ugly, ugly dystopian future film and a sly comedic action movie. I also kept thinking of Bioshock and how Ken Levine seemed to be going for a similar effect (though a different message).
posted by humans are superior! at 12:48 AM on July 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Here is a long, excellent tumblr post that explains how Snowpiercer is an excellent allegory for capitalism.
posted by desjardins at 1:40 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I loved the movie in general, but for some reason the polar bear wrecked the ending for me. It's not as if the story were plausible up to that point, but why would a polar bear be climbing a mountain? That is the stupidest goddamn thing. THERE IS NOTHING TO EAT UP THERE. The first thing to melt would be the seas, which is where seals live, which is what polar bears eat.

(I am a pain in the ass to watch movies with.)

I submit this improvement: instead of a polar bear, show a Yeti. That would 1) make sense, since Yetis live on mountains; 2) be a real WTF moment for the audience; and 3) set up a fucking AWESOME sequel.
posted by desjardins at 1:53 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


why would a polar bear be climbing a mountain?

Maybe it was looking for humans to eat. And then it saw some!
posted by the webmistress at 2:06 PM on July 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


I really like that observation, but I never once considered that the steak was anything other than a beefsteak.

SPOILERS

Considering that we saw fish and poultry but no vast herds of cows on the walk up front, I just couldn't figure in beefsteak. Of course, both freshwater and saltwater fish were grown together in one tank, and we never saw the poultry farms just the carcasses, so it's possible they had another unseen section with the pastures.

This movie pissed me off for many reasons. The Martin-esque "lets just kill all the players before they get to the front". The suspension of belief required to deal with the very possibility that what was required to keep humanity alive was A FREAKING TRAIN THAT NEVER STOPPED, because of all the arcology's possible that one makes the least amount of sense. Shit, the train is starting to fall apart, but the tracks and bridges that are exposed to the elements? Those are just OK, except for the occasional need to blast through a large pile of snow at speed. Oh hey, those of us in the back ate each other until Wilford had grown enough roaches to grind into food. Let's throw in an unkillable bad guy who's willing to shoot through the windows as the train rounds a curve with laser-like accuracy UNTIL IT MATTERS. Geez, compared to this steaming pile Sharknado is freaking Cosmos. I cashed in credits on Vudu to watch so it didn't really cost me anything, but I'm still mad 'cause I coulda used those credits for something better.
posted by Runes at 2:26 PM on July 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


Considering that we saw fish and poultry but no vast herds of cows on the walk up front, I just couldn't figure in beefsteak.

They do pass through a car that looks like a butcher shop, and has meethooks hung with sides of beef, somehow. Once I realized that this film takes place entirely in an allegorical train, instead of a real one, I started to read everything that seemed nonsensical as parodic, and it worked.
posted by maxsparber at 3:11 PM on July 20, 2014 [8 favorites]


I read somewhere that the train has 1001 cars (maybe in the graphic novel version), so I just assumed that there were several cars that somehow served as factory farms for cattle.

I mean, I've already accepted that something was created and unleashed on the planet to solve global warming but also had the effect of wiping out all life on earth so why not.
posted by triggerfinger at 3:20 PM on July 20, 2014


I'm sincerely fascinated by anyone who'd want to take this literally and pick it apart for ostensible failures in logic. You might just as well start a Wizard of Oz thread and complain about the evolutionary unlikeliness of flying monkeys.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:48 PM on July 20, 2014 [17 favorites]


I'm sincerely fascinated by anyone who'd want to take this literally and pick it apart for ostensible failures in logic

When a story requires you to continually suspend all belief and abandons all logic then it is no longer telling a story but simply throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks. By the end Curtis could reveal that he had the power of Grayskull or could manipulate space and time.
posted by Runes at 4:07 PM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's an allegory. It didn't fail at logic; it opted for a storytelling paradigm that didn't value it in the traditional manner.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:23 PM on July 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


I really liked that the hero wasn't rescuing a woman and that none of the characters were sexualized in any way. It is SO refreshing to have an action movie without either the damsel-in-distress or the strong-but-sexy female character. It's also refreshing that the Handsome White Hero with the POC sidekicks doesn't actually save the day and doesn't even survive. The only survivors (apparently) are POC! Has that... ever happened (in an English-language movie)?

elizardbits - I really think you would like this movie. The bug thing lasts literally one second. Of course, if you have read this comment then I've just spoiled the whole thing for you. Sorry.
posted by desjardins at 5:09 PM on July 20, 2014 [17 favorites]


When a story requires you to continually suspend all belief and abandons all logic then it is no longer telling a story but simply throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks.

This film did not do that. It is as internally consistent as City of Lost Children or Alice in Wonderland, neither of which we expect to play by the rules of conventional storytelling.
posted by maxsparber at 5:13 PM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


I really think you would like this movie

I would be freaked out the entire movie waiting for that one second which would then ruin the rest of the movie for me because I would be vomiting as violently as I want to do right now just thinking about it so no, there is no possible way in which I could ever enjoy it, alas.
posted by elizardbits at 5:18 PM on July 20, 2014


The tumblr linked by desjardins upthread is really good and well worth reading.
posted by triggerfinger at 5:20 PM on July 20, 2014


Snowpiercer is the kind of movie I'm always hoping to see. Only it's real. And it's spectacular.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:24 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I can't think of another blockbuster movie that so brazenly agitates for the destruction of the entire white western capitalist enterprise as we know it. I'm kind of floored by how ballsy that is, and how it ended up being greenlit at all. That is the correct way to parse the ending, right? Please tell me it is, because I love it, and I hope this gets shown in every theater in America.
posted by naju at 6:00 PM on July 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


Runes: "When a story requires you to continually suspend all belief and abandons all logic then it is no longer telling a story but simply throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks. By the end Curtis could reveal that he had the power of Grayskull or could manipulate space and time."

And it might have been awesome. What in god's name does realism have to do with good storytelling? The ridiculousness of this movie was absolutely the best part of it - and it's often the best part of movies. I mean, were you the guy watching Star Wars who complained that faster-than-light travel is totally unrealistic and that nobody would farm moisture on a desert planet anyway?

The other great thing about this movie is that it was obvious before you watched it that it was going to be utterly ridiculous. A perpetual-motion train saves people from icy armageddon? Did you seriously read the premise and think to yourself that this was going to be an utterly realistic drama?

Maybe you aren't familiar with Min-Sik Choi's other work - the Korean junkie guy in Snowpiercer, I mean. He was awesome in this movie, just a joy to watch, but he's been great before. In Oldboy, for example, he played a guy who was locked in a room for fifteen years for no apparent reason. I would recommend it, but it's totally unrealistic - you could never pull off locking someone in a room for fifteen years, that's ridiculous.
posted by koeselitz at 11:22 PM on July 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Did anyone else see similarities with Apocalypse Now, especially with the Redux cut? The way that it started out almost believable and slowly got more and more outlandish as the journey went on, made me think of the later parts of Copala's movie with the dreamlike French Plantation and the stranded playboy bunnies and then the confrontation with the crazy boss at the end.
posted by octothorpe at 3:58 AM on July 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


I haven't seen the Redux cut, but yeah. Starts sane-ish, descends into madness, and then you get to meet the head of the personality cult at the end and behold the horror of existence.

Was there a point to the fish gutting other than the cliche, and possibly also wasting food in front of them? It was so random I feel like I missed something there.
posted by middleclasstool at 4:22 AM on July 21, 2014


Kosselitz, that was Kang-ho Song in this movie, not Min-Sik Choi. I had to iMDb that when I first saw this though because I made the same mistake.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:20 AM on July 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


According to one of the IMDB threads (I know), the point of gutting the fish was to "blood" the axe blades. Supposedly, it keeps the axe from getting lodged in an opponent's carcass if you're in a melee-type situation. I don't know if it's true, but it sort of makes sense that IMDB's user base would include people with axe-fighting experience.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:47 AM on July 21, 2014 [8 favorites]


The other great thing about this movie is that it was obvious before you watched it that it was going to be utterly ridiculous.

Haven't watched it (yes, I'm the Guy Who Doesn't Care About Spoilers and went ahead and read this thread), but this was not my impression. I feel like I saw an article or 2 about it a year or more back? Maybe I'm remembering it wrong. The way I remembered it being talked about made it seem like it would be a grim sci-fi dystopia-type thing. I didn't really see anything about "perpetual motion" in the odds and ends I saw. I gathered there was a train people were stuck on, set in some terrible wintery future, and something went wrong. I didn't really see it pitched as a kind of fantasy in line with City of Lost Children or Alice in Wonderland, so this is all a bit surprising to me. I'll probably still check it out though.

I don't really like these suspension-of-disbelief arguments. If you can suspend disbelief in one thing, it doesn't mean you should be able to accept everything else, too. I'm OK with accepting a few big crazy things at the outset of a movie and throughout if they make sense (most of my favorite movies are sci-fi/fantasy and horror FFS), but not just anything, and sometimes things happen that are unnecessarily distracting or don't make sense by the film's own logic and that's totally OK to call out. A train does seem like an odd choice for a setting in the scenario described. I hope I'm able to get past it because it sounds like an interesting enough movie.
posted by Hoopo at 9:44 AM on July 21, 2014


The humor's so acidic that a good portion of the audience will just take it for serious grim dystopia. But nearly every scene has some delightfully insane spectacle. It's most apparent in Tilda's character and the classroom scene, but it's everywhere if you look. Sorta like Southland Tales if that weren't a trainwreck. It's a popcorn flick for absurdists.
posted by naju at 10:07 AM on July 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think the main reason I went to see it was it's a sci-fi action movie that's not a sequel, something that Hollywood doesn't seem capable of making anymore. Oh, and also I'd read about how Harvey Weinstein basically tried to kill this movie, so I figured paying to see it in a theater was the best way of giving him the finger.

I really enjoyed it. Tilda Swinton MADE this movie for me. That one shrug she gives during a fight scene is just too perfect for words.

Yes, the movie teeters on the edge of being totally ridiculous but I don't think it really falls over that edge, except maybe the bit about babies. (That speech is otherwise really good - interesting backstory details for the hero character, where his rage and conflict come from.. but... I mean, I can buy that things started off so bad that those worst off had to resort to extremes, but babies? Wouldn't the instinct be to stick to the older/weaker? Leave the babies alone as a species preservation thing? So yeah, that's the one line that had me going "ok wait a minute." Kudos to Chris Evans for how he delivers it, though.)

I'll take this over "Transformer Apes Stealing Cars XIII" any day.
posted by dnash at 11:45 AM on July 21, 2014


I don't really like these suspension-of-disbelief arguments. If you can suspend disbelief in one thing, it doesn't mean you should be able to accept everything else, too.

I don't think anyone's arguing differently. But it becomes clear in the first half of the movie that this is not intended as realistic SF but is strictly an allegorical story. You get a glimpse of that with Swinton's first appearance, then in the slaughter over the bridge (in which a man calls for fire in the middle of a very noisy fight and is heard four train cars away) in the gorgeous absurdity of the fish car, and if that didn't drive it home enough, then in a completely over-the-top scene in a schoolroom full of singing and chanting children and a teacher with a fully automatic weapon. Indeed, the very car-to-car series of microcosms pretty well drives that point home.

With allegorical tales, it's sort of beside the point to criticize them for not being realistic, which I think everyone agrees on. Suspension of disbelief simply is not a factor in such stories, as long as they're thematically and philosophically coherent. I think the main divide here is along the lines of whether it's okay to make things look sort of like a straightforward dystopian tale at the start and then take a hard left into allegory and satire and caricature.

Me, I was okay with it. Delighted, even, but then to me the entire setup for the film doesn't bear much scrutiny for standards of "realism", so I was totally ready to throw that stuff out the window. But I can see why some people didn't see it coming, didn't get what they wanted or expected, and didn't like that very much.
posted by middleclasstool at 11:50 AM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]




TL;DR, it's all just an elaborate adaptation of The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.

i kind of thought of it as as a (pre-)distillation of _wool_ :P

Smash Silo 1 the Engine - "Making a break for freedom brings with it great risks, of course, and Snowpiercer doesn't shy from this, either. The political scientist Adam Przeworski once proposed that the transition out of capitalism might inevitably entail an intermediate period of great hardship: 'To reach higher peaks one must traverse a valley'. And one can't know for sure that the higher peaks will ever be attained; catastrophe is also a possibility, the common ruin of the contending classes."

Sci-fi movie Snowpiercer is one of the most political films of the year - "Yet suggesting that Snowpiercer is solely a critique of calcified social class systems and conservative economic policies limits the film's far more complicated ultimate message, one that Bong and co-writer Kelly Masterson layer in fairly early on in the story. Around the film's midpoint... Snowpiercer is simultaneously critiquing progressives who throw everything they have into making sure the lives they live are more righteous than their neighbors' lives, but ignore the problems anyone with less money than themselves has to deal with."

"Snowpiercer" Should Have Been The Breakout Blockbuster Of The Summer - "Snowpiercer is the first film I've seen since District 9 that takes the tropes of the blockbuster and transforms them into something so compelling that days after seeing it, you stop can't thinking about it. It turns moviegoers into proselytizers: Once you've seen it, you can't shut the fuck up."

Harvey Weinstein Explains How 'Snowpiercer' Became a Gamechanger, We Crunch Theater vs. VOD Numbers - "Weinstein's decision to open an action picture with major movie stars via autonomous subsidiary RADiUS with a video-on-demand release two weeks after its theatrical opening is rippling through the film community... 'Snowpiercer' marks a tipping point in the movie industry's shift from analog to digital. Why? It marks the most commercial movie to ever open in theaters and quickly go to VOD."

Two New Sci-Fi Flicks - "[Transformers:] a blockbuster movie about the obsolescence of blockbuster movies. (The movie practically opens in a decaying movie theater that Our Hero, an inventor, is picking over, looking for parts for his inventions. And it actually opens with the extinction of the dinosaurs)... Snowpiercer, on the other hand, is... one of those movies that, while watching it, all I could think about were other, similar-but-better movies that I'd rather be watching, like Brazil or Resident Evil: Retribution... and thinking of [Eastern Promises] reminded me of Cronenberg's Cosmopolis, a better takedown of 'the 1%' which also features a character on a linear journey through a sci-fi allegory."

re: "influences, which were not especially derivative or reductive"

6 Sci-Fi Classics That Influenced Snowpiercer - "Snowpiercer is more than merely a 'Spielbergian' future fable. Rather, it's a saga indebted to countless classics of the genre. Though adapted from a 1982 French graphic novel, its real roots can be traced back to many illustrious science-fiction predecessors, mostly other films, though also, in one particular case, a video game. Paying clever homage, the movie calls attention to its inspirations (sometimes self-consciously) while nonetheless combining them into something uniquely novel and thrilling."

SNOWPIERCER - TRIVIA: "1. All of the artist's drawings in the movie is drawn by Jean-Marc Rochette, the original illustrator of Snowpiercer (Le transperceneige)... 59. Role model for Tilda Swinton's Mason in Snowpiercer: 'I saw this image of a woman inside a British museum.' "

also btw here's a rough transcript fwiw...
posted by kliuless at 4:19 AM on July 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


oh and i also like how bong cast ed harris in control (as gene kranz! altho john hurt has a claim too ;)
posted by kliuless at 4:32 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Snowpiercer" Should Have Been The Breakout Blockbuster Of The Summer

It pisses me off that the movies that I want to see play in one theater for one or two weeks and the movies that I couldn't care less about play on fifty screens for weeks. I missed two that I wanted to see (Only Lovers Left Alive and Under the Skin) because they played for such a short time. It's not like those were terribly obscure movies, they got national reviews and attention and have major stars in them but unless it's a pre-sold blockbuster, it's not going to get the theater seats.
posted by octothorpe at 5:09 AM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


Harvey Weinstein Explains How 'Snowpiercer' Became a Gamechanger... Weinstein's decision to open an action picture with major movie stars via autonomous subsidiary RADiUS with a video-on-demand release two weeks after its theatrical opening is rippling through the film community

Is Weinstein taking credit for the movie's success now? That's rich. He's the one who forced it into extremely limited distribution and thought it had no chance whatsoever. The movie's doing well because it's really fucking good, and despite Weinstein, not because of.
posted by naju at 10:10 AM on July 22, 2014 [7 favorites]




Was there a point to the fish gutting other than the cliche, and possibly also wasting food in front of them? It was so random I feel like I missed something there.

Thematically speaking, it conflated the killing of the tail section passengers with the eating of the sushi twice every year. Both populations had to be culled in order to maintain a sustainable status quo.
posted by Uncle Ira at 9:39 AM on July 23, 2014 [7 favorites]


I saw this when it was released here in Korea a year back, and I was so underwhelmed by it that when it came out recently in the US and started getting the kind of praise it's receiving in this thread, I figured it must have been a completely new cut.

It seems not.

I'm an outlier, it seems, but I felt insulted by this movie. Like Runes, above, there were just way way too many things that if you stopped to think about for a split second were incoherent and just plain dumb. And when that stuff was layered on top of what I felt was subpar writing and barely serviceable performances from most of the cast, well.

I realize that the bar is so low these days, and that a lot of movies insist that we suspend our critical functions -- even Gravity, for example, which I loved, but which was nearly ruined for me by the glaring physics errors -- but they just came too fast and furious for me in this movie.

Even taking everything as allegory and parable, which I admit is a reasonable stance to take, the delivery of the Big Messages felt so hamhanded and... obvious, that I just couldn't bring myself enjoy it.

All that said, I don't begrudge people liking it, and I'm glad to see a Korean director get some deserved success in front of a wider audience, because there's a lot of great stuff coming out of the Korean film industry, and maybe this will open a door to wider interest.

On the other hand, a lot of the plothole nonsense and (in my opinion) emotional inauthenticity (the BABIES YUM! monologue made me laugh both times I saw it, which wasn't the intended effect I'm pretty sure) in this film is, I reckon, a common problem in many Korean films, for reasons I don't quite understand, so: shrug.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:09 PM on July 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


Catching up since I just got around to watching this tonight...

Excellent international cast, totally didn't seem like it as done to meet a quota or boost marketing appeal or relatability.

Really? I don't know, it still felt like sidekick-city to me. The only people to suffer any angst over Decision Making were the white male leaders or would-be leader. I was just rolling my eyes at the end when Curtis was all torn apart (literally!) because I really just don't give a fuck about another white man being groomed for leadership and freaking out about all the superhard moral choices that entails--how to protect EVERYBODY, which is obviously my god-given role?? I do give them credit for having a upset/grieving dad along with a mom, to help us feel for the kids!

Maybe it's that julybywomen has made me feel irritable and demanding. I'd like to see women portrayed not in #2 roles, not as people driven only by maternal instinct or clairvoyance (wtf). Swinton was amazing of course, but again her character was ultimately trivial, played for laughs. (What was up with her accent, by the way? It seemed all over the place and at one point lapsed into middle-American--was that intentional?)

It's also refreshing that the Handsome White Hero with the POC sidekicks doesn't actually save the day and doesn't even survive. The only survivors (apparently) are POC!

True enough but it felt like a postscript to me. The white heroes still sacrificed themselves to save the women and children (in one scene the women are literally pushed back behind men so the men can fight and protect them. Considering that one of the women sees through walls and the other is all-out for blood, this seemed silly).

Also the very end creeped me out (though I thought it was the best part of the movie) in the same way that Adam & Eve and their kids creep me out. There's hope there, but I guess Yona's going to have to have sex with the kid to keep humanity alive? I mean it's only a 12-year difference I suppose, hardly the most outlandish concept in the movie, but still weird to think about as they walk out hand-in-hand.

Question: in the theater release, was the Korean subtitled? It wasn't in the version I watched, and I feel like I missed a lot--like what Namgoong and Yona were up to with the explosives.
posted by torticat at 11:28 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Two other comments, not that they have any ultimate significance to the end of the movie:

The fact that Namgoong reserved a couple of smokes for ten years might suggest he's not quite the addict everyone thinks he is. Which might be supported by the fact that he stays pretty clear-headed to the end.

I took Gilliam's advice to Curtis to cut out Wilford's tongue as inoculation against anything Wilford said. I.e. I don't believe Gilliam was really in on the population-control plan. Why would a person give his own arm (and leg?) to save a baby and then cooperate in a plan to exterminate 74% of the tail? That makes no sense.
posted by torticat at 11:51 PM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Question: in the theater release, was the Korean subtitled? It wasn't in the version I watched, and I feel like I missed a lot--like what Namgoong and Yona were up to with the explosives.

Some of it was and a few lines weren't.
posted by octothorpe at 5:38 AM on July 24, 2014


I realize that the bar is so low these days, and that a lot of movies insist that we suspend our critical functions

Just because people enjoyed a film you didn't doesn't mean they disengaged their critical functions, as even a cursory glance at this thread would demonstrate.
posted by maxsparber at 6:01 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


That's more than a little insulting there, Stavros. it's OK if you don't like it but saying that the rest of us have had to turn off our brains to enjoy it isn't really cool.
posted by octothorpe at 6:30 AM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I liked it a lot more than I expected to and I've been finding myself thinking about it off and on since I watched it last night. Stray thoughts (spoilers!):

1. The scene where Nam shows Yona the escaped seven reminded me a lot of Hugh Howey's Wool series, and I was kind of hoping that maybe there were actually multiple other trains and that the twist would be that the icy barrenness of Outside was actually completely fabricated. I guess it turned out to be somewhat that in the end, but a theoretically livable world with only two surviving member isn't much of a livable world.

2. I liked the diverse cast a lot. It was still white men in charge and at the top, but they were also the main antagonists - even Curtis admits to having once been brutal and awful - and I kind of felt like maybe that in and of itself was a piece of social commentary. I love Nam just being kind of like "cool story, bro" about Curtis' manpain at the end and the general lack of fucks given, I love that there were ranking officials and foot-soldiers in this world that were Asian (*stares meaningfully at Firefly*), I love that Tanya wasn't just redshirted and wasn't the first to die, I love that there's an explicit effort to show that the train world doesn't just speak English (translators! in the prison car!). Maybe that's evidence of me having super low standards for big-budget-fare, but man, it was refreshing.

3. I kind of liked that Edgar died disillusioned with Curtis, and there wasn't some big Come To Jesus conversation between a wounded Edgar and a contrite Curtis about The Cause and Sacrifices and it was just left up to Chris Evans' considerable acting chops.

4. The monologuing at the end, both from Curtis and from Wilford, were a little silly. I also didn't understand the purpose of the final riot from the club-goers (were they angry about their Kronole being taken?) or why the enforcer guy came back for one final stand. That seemed at odds with the "quiet horror" theme that seemed to be the ending of the movie.

5. I did find the "perpetual motion machine" part of the train kind of silly, because there's no real reason why (if indeed perpetual motion has been perfected) the train would have to keep moving, and plenty of reasons why you wouldn't want the train to keep moving (degradation of the tracks, for one, being derailed by an avalanche, for another). Having said that, I STILL found the sociology of the train more realistic than the Hunger Games (which I love) - 3 revolutions in 18 years after unspecified kidnapping and violence done to kids occasional, for example, rather than zero revolutions in 74 years of annual ritualistic kid slaughter.

6. Jesus, Allison Pill. That was both hilarious and super upsetting.
posted by Phire at 9:01 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


why the enforcer guy came back for one final stand.

Believe it or not, he's essentially in a movie of his own. He's hunting down Yona because she killed his boyfriend. I wasn't clear on this in the first viewing, because the film is a little overwhelming, but on second viewing his character's story is very clearly delineated.
posted by maxsparber at 9:15 AM on July 24, 2014 [6 favorites]


I was pretty meh on this movie, and I don't understand the love it's getting. For the record, I adore Terry Gilliam-type absurdity as much as I love grim dystopian sci-fi. I think this film lurched too much from one to the other, painfully and poorly. Tilda Swinton's character and the classroom car scene were the best parts of the film, but they didn't mesh into the rest of the story at all.
posted by aabbbiee at 10:27 AM on July 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


I was pretty meh on this movie, and I don't understand the love it's getting.

Hm. I think I may have your answer, and it is that you're wrong about the meh thing.
posted by maxsparber at 10:50 AM on July 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


Just because people enjoyed a film you didn't doesn't mean they disengaged their critical functions, as even a cursory glance at this thread would demonstrate.

I suggested no such thing. What I do suggest is that Big Movies in general these days are more often dumb and ask us to also be dumb.

That's more than a little insulting there, Stavros. it's OK if you don't like it but saying that the rest of us have had to turn off our brains to enjoy it isn't really cool.

Nonsense. Again, I said no such thing. I suggest that the movie asked me to turn off my brain. About other people's brains, I have no opinion in this specific matter.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:20 PM on July 24, 2014


Or, more succinctly (if perhaps also inflammatory): this was a stupid fucking movie, but you don't have to be stupid to enjoy it. You just have to be able to get past the many things I was unable to get past.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:21 PM on July 24, 2014


There's nothing imflammatory about being wrong in public.
posted by maxsparber at 3:42 PM on July 24, 2014


Shrug. Life would be a lot more boring if everybody agreed about everything, and you know: de gustibus non est disputandum.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:22 PM on July 24, 2014


Also (and this should probably be it for me in this thread), I was listening yesterday to Guillermo del Toro on the Nerdist podcast talking about movies he hated originally that he eventually came around to appreciating a lot more, and that has indeed happened to me too, so maybe this movie will be one of those. I think what probably bothers me the most is how much I wanted to like it, and the contrast to how little I actually did. Time will tell.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:58 PM on July 24, 2014


I watched this movie relatively soon after having finished "The Bridge" by Ian Banks -- a book with a train bridge and the trains on it being the entirety of a world, which certainly allowed me to more easily be in the headspace to accept the silliness of a train going around the world being the answer to how to live post big freeze.

I think it's pretty clear pre-big freeze the Movie says that The World really did acknowledge that the train was a goofy fucking idea, and that the guy running the train had a few marbles loose. Once the big freeze happens and the train still basically works, it's an OK delaying tactic. But it's clear that the train is falling apart (they're doing so many things manually now) that it isn't really going to last forever. Wilford can't admit that, and anyone in the luxury cars probably can't admit it, but the sad thing is when those in steerage seem to think that sticking with the train is still the right way to go. And it's really unfortunate that the only way to get off that fucking ridiculous train is to blow a hole in the side of it instead of just talking everyone down. So while you can stop the train, the odds over surviving the crazy way you have to stop it are really fucking low.

Finally, the movie question of "How do we survive the Apocalypse" made me start wondering why do we care? If humanity doesn't make it what's the big deal? I'm going to die eventually, and you are too, so what's the big deal if there's someone to go on after us? The rest of the world will probably be better off without the plague of humanity being the huge wave of extinction that we are.
posted by garlic at 9:23 AM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Jesus, "Save humanity by making a perpetual motion train that circles the globe and is financed by someone convinced that science is wrong about the solution to global warming" is clearly a stupid idea, but that doesn't mean it's any stupider than the actual reasons for existing class systems currently existing today. The incredibly stupid reason for the train's class system was supposed to mimic the incredibly stupid reasons for continuing a real class system. Underground-bunker is much more realistic, but being realistic is not what this film is about.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:46 AM on July 25, 2014 [7 favorites]


Jesus, "Save humanity by making a perpetual motion train that circles the globe and is financed by someone convinced that science is wrong about the solution to global warming" is clearly a stupid idea, but that doesn't mean it's any stupider than the actual reasons for existing class systems currently existing today.

Exactly. I take the ridiculousness of the train to be, in its way, a critique on how society preserves institutions well beyond the context in which they arose. Our beliefs about property, for instance, basically arose in the late middle ages, but we keep using them because, well, they're what we've got and they still (mostly) work. (Except that there are any number of people for whom they don't work, we just cut them out of our calculus.)

People got on the train because it was there and because it was, I suspect, easier in that moment of crisis to get on the train than to sit back and build consensus on what would be the ideal way to weather this decades-long winter. The train is what we've got and it works. (Except that it only works if we ignore the ways in which it is breaking down and requiring greater and greater human costs.)
posted by gauche at 7:33 AM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


SPOILERS:

Thinking about what else has been written here about allegory and narrative,I don't think i liked the film-- i can handle allegory, it might have been the nihilism, i think it was one of the more hopeless movies i have seen, (any solution posited will result in more catastrophe, any dissent has been constructed to further the status qua, the revolutionary and the reactionary depend on each other (one seeding the other), stability and hierarchy win over chaos, and eventually, the polar bear will eat the last survivors) but dystopian works are not expected to be pleasant, or to end well--recent dystopias have failed to note how their work is co-opted into an agenda of self-perpetuating crisis/crony/corporatism capitalism (cf Divergent, I am No, 4, Hunger Games). It's hopelessness seemed well earned. There were things I could nitpick (the writing, the writing was terrible) but I felt dissatisfied and uneasy at the end of it, and I didn't know why.
posted by PinkMoose at 10:54 PM on July 26, 2014


I realize that the bar is so low these days, and that a lot of movies insist that we suspend our critical functions -- even Gravity, for example, which I loved, but which was nearly ruined for me by the glaring physics errors -- but they just came too fast and furious for me in this movie.

Now, you are aware that Cinema Sins kind of does these videos in jest, and has done similar "sins" for films like the The Matrix, Back to the Future, Robocop, and Wizard of Oz? I mean, these films were made in 1999, 1985, 1987, and 1939 respectively, showing that the "bar" from back then isn't necessarily higher, just different.

Movies, and just stories in other forms of media, enter into a sort of tacit exchange with the audience. That exchange is we believe what is going on for the duration of the movie and in return the movie will show us something fascinating or interesting or at least entertaining. For me, when I hear people start ripping a movie for not being believable, I think it's a feeling that the movie didn't hold up it's end of the bargain. Something like Cinema Sins, even though it's a joke, shows us nearly all movies, good or bad, don't really make sense.

I mean, this is the only way I have made sense of why some people are entertained by Pacific Rim, but not Transformers OR they like Transformers, but not Pacific Rim OR Robot Jox and neither PR or Transformers. On a certain level, all three are about gigantic impractical robots that don't exist in the real world.
posted by FJT at 6:36 PM on July 27, 2014


Now, you are aware that Cinema Sins kind of does these videos in jest,

Yeah, that was a poor choice. I was in a hurry and pasted in the video url without even watching it, because it detracted from the tangential point I was making. So it goes.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:10 PM on July 27, 2014


I'd say this movie was disappointing, but my expectations were pretty low once I heard the premise.

To me, it just lacked any kind of interesting spark. Chris Evans did not do a good acting job. The action scenes were bad, even if they had some stylization to them. Like, I don't care if the fish thing was so random, that fight scene was actually just not a good action scene. As another example, sniping across the curve of the track, that was a good setup for something then... oh well didn't really matter. (Okay I did like the fight in the sauna car.)

Allegories can be shallow, poorly explored, etc., and I thought this one was.

Basically there could have been a few ways for me to enjoy this movie. I could have enjoyed it as an action movie, but the action was not good. I could have enjoyed it as an allegory, but there wasn't really anything worth chewing on there. I could have enjoyed it as a "show me neat things" movie, or a stylized movie, but there wasn't enough there either.

I wanted to like this movie, but it was merely ok. I'd give a B-.
posted by fleacircus at 7:55 PM on July 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Hey boy, are you Snowpiercer? Because you're interesting to look at but you don't make any damn sense."

(from Maris Kreizman, creator of Slaughterhouse 90210)
posted by Ian A.T. at 4:47 PM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


For what it's worth, this review I just read pretty much sums up my feelings about the movie.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:30 PM on August 3, 2014


Allegories can be shallow, poorly explored, etc., and I thought this one was.

All right, I'm genuinely curious about hearing more on why this is the case. The review stavrosthewonderchicken said the same thing. For me, I thought the allegory was simple, but worked well, and even managed to add depth in ways I didn't expect and enjoyed finding out through reading/discussing the movie. But, I feel I can write a lot about why I enjoyed this movie, but it would not convince anyone, so I want to better understand why did this particular movie fail.

Did the underwhelming action scenes and bad acting detract from the story? Or was it just because it was too hard to believe a supertrain was essentially a human ant farm/fallout shelter that led to a dismissal of everything else in the film?
posted by FJT at 11:45 PM on August 4, 2014


Understanding Art House: Snowpiercer
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:06 PM on August 6, 2014


I just watched this movie and Oldboy back to back, so I now have unreasonable fears of disco rave train cars AND luxurious penthouses occupied by intelligent psychopaths.
posted by Dr. Zira at 9:38 PM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Those seem like entirely reasonable fears to me.
posted by maxsparber at 9:43 PM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


If they'd just carved 0.5% of the ham off the fists of the central metaphor, everyone on that train could have eaten like (non-kosher) kings.

I enjoyed Snowpiercer as spectacle, but the recurring thing rolling through my head during the movie was actually Cortex and Griphus on their podcast repeating "but it doesn't make a lick of sense." A half-baked idea with two-ton fists of ham rampaging through a train at the end of the world.

I generally appreciate "it's an allegory, so just relax" arguments in movies, too, but for movies where the allegory is either more explicit or more internally consistent. "Capitalism represented by a magic train speeding around the world after the climate change scientists ruin everything" (take that, you ivory tower eggheads! Nobama!), sure, I can get behind that.

But the repeated gaps in essential logic and basic storytelling sense were like repeated dares to accept whatever ludicrous upping of the initial ante the filmmakers threw at me.

I saw "Capitalist supertrain".

Then they raised a food system based entirely on cockroaches, instead of something marginally less crazy like, say, soy.

I called.

Then they raised the capitalist supertrain being stocked with enough bondage gear, axes and nighvision goggles to equip an entire volunteer car of super-assassin axe men.

I called.

Then they raised an annual egg distribution drive which comes as a surprise to no one on the train and raises zero suspicion among the violent revolutionaries at the back when a creepy egg-distributing man walks among them.

I called.

Then they raised a five-minute monologue about "steak" and countless mentions of how people at the front eat steak and show Ed Harris grilling steak and steak steak steakity steak steak but could not, during the laborious foot-by-foot progress through the train, spare six frames of film to show us a living cow instead of, say, Train Car of the Hairdressers or Spa Car or Rave Car .

It took me a while to push my chips in, but I called.

Then they raised a perpetual motion engine where all broken parts can be replaced by appropriately sized children, and also the last members of humanity about to be devoured by a polar bear, in the mountains, where polar bears have never lived, and where this polar bear has somehow made a living as an apex predator long enough to become a big ol' polar bear; oh and also a conspiracy involving telephones that nobody in the back, despite 17 years of living literally cheek to cheek, have ever noticed, and also an indestructible superman who blasts holes in the windows that separate all of humanity from extinction, and...

I folded.

I like allegory. I'm hip to allegory. But most of the above stuff was unnecessarily stupid. It wasn't central to the allegory at all, and was bolted on like a six-year-old embellishes a story about a princess who suddenly has a jetpack and a dragon and oh no the peanutbutter in the moat is actually lava and also the sky is made of jelly beans and we are all jelly beans but there's a space alien and then Superman eats a pineapple. The maddening thing is that for every crazy six-year-old's idea in there, there were probably a dozen things that would have made some kind of sense, but nobody bothered to come up with a second draft of the script.

If Snowpiercer had set up the allegory and stuck to some sort of internal logic within that allegory, I would have been cool with it. But by the end of the movie, they might as well have declared that the snow wasn't snow but cotton candy and also they're all robots and then Superman eats a pineapple. "All of this is okay because it's an allegory!" doesn't make it okay.

It was a mess.

It was an engaging, visually appealing mess, but still a lumbering, incoherent, ham-fisted 18-train-car pile-up of bad ideas and little follow-through.
posted by Shepherd at 10:44 AM on August 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


And I should probably reiterate that I actually enjoyed it! But I'm totally on board with people saying "it was full of crazy dumb stuff and I couldn't get past how crazy and dumb it was", and dismissing them as people who can't appreciate allegory seems a bit crap.

I like lots of dumb stuff, but I'm not going to harangue people who say that they didn't like the same dumb stuff because it was so goddamn dumb.

"It's an allegory!" doesn't mean it's a good allegory, and I think Snowpiercer was an enjoyable romp that was also incredibly stupid and crazy.
posted by Shepherd at 10:54 AM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


We are watching Snowpiercer now and are wondering what city/ route the train is following?
posted by spunweb at 3:25 PM on August 31, 2014


Why would a person give his own arm (and leg?) to save a baby and then cooperate in a plan to exterminate 74% of the tail?

I was really bothered by this, but I think I found an explanation. It could be that sacrificing his arm and leg led him to scheme with Wilfred.

The cannibalism was horror to live through. And it was the result of too many people. After having sacrificed deeply to protect everyone, after having sacrificed for the sake of idealistic compassion for all persons, one could easily snap and conclude that one simply couldn't save everyone. "Maintaining all of us leads to anarchy and cannibalism. Clearly, we must cull to protect order. We must save the group, not the individuals."

Of course, it's a thought process that relies on the assumption that the prevailing social order should be preserved, or perhaps that it's the only option. But I think we're supposed to understand just about everyone, even the revolutionaries, as buying into that mentality to some extent or another.

I'm not sure Wilfred was telling the truth... But, if he was, I think I now understand how it makes sense.
posted by meese at 7:20 AM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


One of the things that struck me was the fact that everyone was going more than a little crazy. So many of the things they did work best in the frame of a semi-suicidal nervous breakdown. They're cracking under the pressure.
posted by stoneegg21 at 11:40 PM on October 3, 2014


It's on Netflix Instant now. Am watching.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:33 PM on November 5, 2014


I really loved the visuals of this movie and everyone involved seemed completely invested in their charaxcters. I really loved Tilda Swinton, but I pretty much love her in anything.
posted by Julnyes at 8:30 AM on November 6, 2014


Snowpiercer: The grimdark reboot of Supertrain that no one asked for but is kind of a (grimdark) good time.

Snowpiercer: What actually happens to Capt. America in the distant, terrible future of the MCU.

Snowpiercer: That time Tilda Swinton totally played a post-apocalyptic Roald Dahl villainess.

Snowpiercer: The final shot may or may not be a Coca-Cola ad.
posted by sparkletone at 10:39 PM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm really late to the party on this one, but wanted to chime in about this:

We are expecting cannibalism; we have been trained and guided to cannibalism as the logical conclusion.

Instead, we get child labor. The same line, but now the horrifying thing that Curtis sees when he looks into the machine isn't about food. It's almost a relief to find that the horror under the floor is just children crammed into a tiny space and working a dangerous job for, apparently, hours on end. I don't mean, at all, to minimize the horrors of child labor. I just mean that the film has so well raised the specter of eating the children that by comparison, child labor doesn't seem so bad. We are relieved to find them alive.


I've been thinking about this for awhile and I think I've settled on the conclusion that the children are slaughtered for food once they get too big to fit in the engine (or maybe once they reach the ideal age). I don't remember if the meat carcasses in the freezer were human-sized, but I'm convinced the steak really was human.

This means that after the lower classes abandoned cannibalism, the upper classes adopted it. Curtis describes Gilliam's act of sacrificing his own arm to stop the cannibalism in almost religious terms -- and he describes the subsequent sacrifices that others made as a "miracle".

Gilliam collaborates with Wilfred in a double-agent capacity because, more than anything else, he wants the cannibalism to stop -- even it means the end of humanity. The clue that Gilliam is really seeking the destruction of Wilfred (and possibly even the train or engine itself) is that he tells Curtis to cut out Wilfred's tongue when he meets him -- so that Curtis won't be seduced by Wilfred's diabolical reasoning.
posted by treepour at 10:21 AM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I just finished reading Wool last night, and if you liked Snow Piercer, I think you'll like it too.
posted by garlic at 9:25 AM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


he tells Curtis to cut out Wilfred's tongue when he meets him -- so that Curtis won't be seduced by Wilfred's diabolical reasoning.

The sense I got about it was that there was something hypnotic about the engine itself: its thrumming and Curtis's glassy stare appeared to be harmonious; Wilfred's exposition was for our benefit.

I don't understand why he would be so horrified by the idea of eating insects, especially when there's not much else on the menu and especially when it stops people from resorting to cannibalism.

Funny enough: When I saw this scene, it looked to me like the tank was full of crickets and I was pretty much shruggo about it since I've eaten cricket protein and it tastes fine and I don't think we really have any other association with crickets foodwise. But when a character mentioned later on that they had been eating cockroaches, I retroactively shuddered because, as we all know, cockroaches are fucking disgusting.

So I think it has a bit to do with our preconceptions, a bit with the differences the insect world contains.
posted by psoas at 3:46 PM on January 8, 2015


I only just caught up with this. Really quite remarkable. I don't think I have anything much to add to what's already been written other than that I'm fascinated to see how many action movies are coming from aesthetics and expectations quite different from Hollywood (apart from this, I'd mention Lucy, Dredd and The Raid, and I'm sure there are others; What it reminded me of most strongly, as an SF metaphorical critique of capitalism is The Futurological Congress, especially the "the machines are actually people" bit; I'd much rather this than the banal pseudo-realism that most mainstream fantasy movies have.
posted by Grangousier at 4:13 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


We are watching Snowpiercer now and are wondering what city/ route the train is following?

Almost a year later, there is a map of the train route in the educational video in the classroom. The teacher says it is all the world's train tracks linked together.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 6:06 AM on June 19, 2015


I've been working at my job for 9 months now, and since the very beginning there's been an ongoing argument between two coworkers that crops up from time to time as we're all eating lunch. The argument is this: Coworker 1 has seen Snowpiercer and thought it was good. Coworker2 has seen Snowpiercer and thought it was dumb.

The argument goes something like this. Coworker1 will be having some conversation with some other coworker (often about the Cubs or Bulls), and they disagree. Coworker2 will then pipe up "you can't trust Coworker1's opinion on anything, he thinks Snowpiercer is a good movie." And then Coworker1 will be like "I said it was fine, I liked it. Is it a perfect movie? No. But I liked it ok." And then Coworker2 will say, "ok, then explain to me why they have a whole car just for sushi on the apocalypse train." And then Coworker1 will shout "IT'S. A. METAPHOR." At which point some other coworker, generally whoever most recently started working there, will finally start paying attention and say, "wait, what? what movie is this? there's an apocalypse train full of sushi? what?" and we'll spend the rest of the lunch hour talking about eating babies.

As far as I'm aware, Coworker1 and Coworker2 are the only people in the office who have seen Snowpiercer. Until now.

I finally just watched it. I'm a huge movie rewatcher. I will happily watch the movies I like over and over and over. Not even just movies I love, the bar for rewatching is pretty low. I don't think I'll be rewatching Snowpiercer. It was...I mean, it was fine. Tilda was great (I'd rewatch all of Tilda's scenes again over and over) and I dug the schoolroom scene, but the rest just didn't do it for me. I was primed for the movie to be allegorical. I seem to recall friends going to see it a couple years ago and generally saying positive things about it. I was primed for it to be stupid. I was trying to care about the anti-class system, anti-capitalist message they kept beating us over the head with (it wasn't exactly subtle), but it was so heavy-handed that all I did was focus on the ridiculous things, like: why have they designed it so everyone has to walk through the hanging meat room to get to the sushi bar. And: so when they butcher an animal, they walk it right through the classroom? And: wait, do the children walk through a rave every morning on their way to class? I enjoy when movies have ridiculous elements! But so much of it was just distractingly dumb. All I could think was I've seen this story before in less stupid ways.

So I don't know. Not really a fan. Is it a terrible movie? No. Is it dumb? Yes. Both of my coworkers are right! I look forward to returning to work on Monday with my informed opinion of the movie and bringing harmony to both sides of the argument. Or hell, maybe I'll just unleash a mountain polar bear on them both.
posted by phunniemee at 12:44 PM on October 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh, I will add...

I texted one of the coworkers a few times to share my thoughts as I was watching it, and at the end went to type "I don't think I've ever seen a movie where all the white people die at the end" except my phone saw "white pe" and helpfully suggested "penis", so we can all thank John Oliver for that.
posted by phunniemee at 12:58 PM on October 1, 2016




Just saw this--not perfect but I did enjoy it. It reminded me a lot of Train to Busan, a recent Korean film which perhaps paid homage to it? Anyway, there was soooo much Brazil in it (I mean hello, John Hurt's character is named Gilliam, come on), I had to like it.

By the way, desjardin's link above to the Tumblr post is dead, but it is available on the WayBack Machine and well worth a read.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:22 AM on May 31


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