Oligarchy On The Rails


An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            This much was a given going in: Snowpiercer is a post-apocalypse thriller that takes place after scientists fail in their revolutionary effort to bring temperatures down as the planet warms. In an unexpected malfunction, the planet and its inhabitants froze into extinction.   Except, that is, for 1000 survivors who managed to board a long train that will circle the globe forever through an ice covered world.
            I was sure my love of both trains and snow would see me through whatever problems arose on that train. Not quite. After seventeen years of confinement in the filth of the train’s tail section, Curtis (Chris Evans) recruits a team that will force its way in one swift move through a pack of armed guards to the engine where the captain of the train rules. He who controls the engine, controls the world. That would be Mr. Wilford (Ed Harris, typically grand as oppressor of the survivors.)
            Armed with handmade hatchets, the team makes its way forward, chopping the armed guards into bits and pieces as they go. In the confines of that train, with no escape for either the on-screen rebels or the theater audience, we endure amputation and decapitation to a soundtrack of groans, screams, breaking bones and spurting blood. It is a new frontier for violence, or so we thought until we discovered the severed limbs would be served up for dinner.
            One of Curtis’s obstacles is Mason (Tilda Swinton as a wretched beast, courtesy of makeup artists.) Issuing orders to the shivering rebels from the protective warmth of a fur coat, Mason intones “Order is our only defense against the cold.”
            While the team moves forward to the cars that contain unimagined luxury, we begin to understand that South Korean writer/director Joon-Ho Bong has created a class system as a metaphor for America, 2014 style. The 99% from the tail section have made their way through the cars that provide the essentials and now they stand at the door of the 1 % where Mr. Wilford and his minions dine and dress in luxury at the hands of a barber, a tailor, and others who tend to their personal needs. Their lives are fueled by alcohol, drugs, and material goods.
            After seventeen years, the desperate rebels have conquered the wild eyed guards and stand at the gate of the very few. When Mason announces with contempt, “You suffer from the misplaced optimism of the doomed,” we wince at its contemporary echo. Will the many be tempted by the philosophy of the few?
            If you can survive nearly two hours of cannibalism, death, and cruelty, you will then see a few, but just a few, magnificent shots of the train threading its way through snow covered peaks. The final scenes are both inevitable and spectacular. The price you pay is the attitude of the despots as they watch the people in the tail car, “That’s what people are. Pathetic isn’t it?”


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Snowpiercer
Distributor : The Weinstein Company
Running Time : 2:06
Word Count : 499
Rating : R


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