Monday, 15 August 2016

Snowpiercer (1 Star)

It's not very often that I have trouble watching a film to the end. However disappointed I might feel when watching a film I make an effort to stick it out in the hope that it will improve. "Snowpiercer" is a film that attracted me with its high profile cast: Chris Evans, John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer and especially Ed Harris. They're all actors who I've seen turn in excellent performances in film after film, so gathering them together in one film is a recipe for success.

Or so it seems. Twice I paused the film and went to make a coffee, and felt tempted not to carry on watching.

First the plot. In the near future an attempt has been made to combat global warming. It backfired, plunging the Earth into a new ice age. The only survivors are the people travelling on a train that circles the world once a year. There are first class passengers, economy passengers and freeloaders. The latter group, presumably stowaways who jumped aboard to save their lives when the catastrophe began, live in the back of the train. At first they were given no food and had to resort to cannibalism. After a few months they were supplied with protein bars, tasteless but life-preserving, in exchange for doing menial labour on the train. After 18 years the train is still moving. One man among the freeloaders, Curtis, decides to stage a rebellion. He leads an army of rebels to challenge the train's creator, Mr. Wilford, who is rumoured to live in the very first carriage.

The train is full of superstition, orchestrated by the leaders. Mr. Wilford is revered as a God, the saviour of mankind. The train's engine is a sacred artefact.

I took some time to read customer reviews on Amazon. It seems that this is a film that divides opinions: some people love it, some people hate it, and there's no middle ground. I personally don't see how anyone can love it. It just doesn't make sense. Why should a train, of all things, be able to keep mankind's last survivors alive? Why is the exact one-year cycle necessary to travel round the world, even if the train really did travel so slowly? There are other ridiculous things that happen later in the film, which I'll keep to myself to avoid spoilers. The claustrophobia of everything happening in narrow railway carriages doesn't make the film terrifying, it just makes the action all the more ridiculous.

Despite the use of English speaking actors, this is a Korean film. Maybe that's part of the reason I don't like it. I've never enjoyed Korean films. It's difficult to say why. There's something about the style and the feeling of Korean films that disturbs me. I also have an aversion to post-apocalyptic films. "Planet of the Apes" is the only post-apocalyptic film which succeeds in showing futuristic terror. All the other films, including this one, are full of speculation about what might happen. This speculation often veers into barely credible ideas, such as people praying to television sets or dogs being trained to find women for breeding purposes.


  1. The world takes exactly one year to circle the sun. That is necessary. The train is a metaphor for the world, with its psychologically chained masses kept separate from the other bubbles of society. Nothing in the film is literal.

    1. Thank you, Mr. Existence. Or are you Miss Existence? After reading your comment I discovered your fascinating blog, which hasn't been updated since 2006. I hope you'll return to it and write posts on a regular basis.

      I was aware that the film had some sort of socio-political meaning, but I was more interested in interpreting the film on a literal level. There are very few films that I interpret non-literally. In fact, the only film I can think of at the moment is "The Life of Pi".


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