I’m a fan of creative dystopia and when I saw the graphic novel Snowpiercer at Elliot Bay Books I immediately picked it up. The premise is ridiculous, but metaphoric: all the survivors of the human race are stuck on a train together, a train that must keep moving for everyone to survive. Go ridiculous metaphors! What is a good graphic novel without them?
Unfortunately the book isn’t very good. It’s underwritten in most ways and never takes full advantage of the interesting premise. The movie however is much better. I’d recommend it generally for science fiction fans.
The film centers on the struggle between the lowest class of people, those stuck in the back cars called the tail. They live in poverty, have barely anything to eat and struggle to survive. A revolution is brewing and they’re planning a desperate attempt to work their way forward and, if lucky, take control.
I recommend the film for two reasons. The primary metaphor of confined class struggle is explored in different ways. When resources are scarce, or you are at war, what is the best way to govern? It’s no surprise those at the front of the train, who live in luxury, force the belief that where you are born on the train is where you must stay. The second reason I recommend the film is because of its many thoughtful flourishes rarely seen in American action films. Although the film is violent, there are moments when things slow down to capture a snowflake floating by, or the curious handling of a large fish by soldiers just before an awful fight is about to begin. There is a patience and craft at work here that’s hard to ignore. The performances are good, there are surprises and some fantastic sets that take on the challenge of how 1000 people could survive on a train for 20 years.
The film was nearly buried in the U.S. as the Weinstein company demanded changes director Bong Joon-Hoo refused to make. It’s only now after the film has had success in Europe and Asia that it’s finally getting wider release here.
Of course it is still a sci-fi film and there are some cliches and absurdities you must either suspend disbelief for or willfully enjoy.