Note: If you are a post-apocalyptic movie aficionado and appreciate the ones that provide an in-depth critique of our civilization and the problems that we face, then you should skip the write-up below and just watch Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Snowpiercer’, especially if you enjoy accessible Korean movies – the dialogue in the movie is mainly in English.
If you do plan on reading what’s below, please keep in mind that I don’t like providing spoilers, so I’ve refrained from discussing too many details, but instead have approached this write-up as a recommendation. The write-up will probably make more sense post-viewing.
There is a certain intensity about Koreans. I realized this during the early 1990’s while attending university. One of my roommates was Korean and he was kind enough to introduce me to his world. We became very close and he and his friends welcomed me into their midst. I spent a good three years among them.
I learned a lot about Korea during that period: the history of its people, their traditions, their passions, the depth of their camaraderie, the honor that they are bound to, and their love of gambling, drinking, and eating – so much eating, drinking, and gambling.
I tell you this because where they come from is ingrained in the Korean psyche, and if you know anything about their history, you will know why, and if you know this about Koreans then you will appreciate their movies that much more, which brings us to Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 masterpiece, ‘Snowpiercer’.
Snowpiercer is a post-apocalyptic movie based on the French graphic novel ‘Le Transperceneige’. The setting of the story is as follows:
“In the near future, an experiment to counteract global warming causes an ice age that kills nearly all life on Earth. The only survivors are the inhabitants of the 'Snowpiercer', a massive train, powered by a perpetual-motion engine, that travels on a globe-spanning track. A class system is installed, with the elites inhabiting the front of the train and poor inhabiting the tail.”English translation of ‘Le Transperceneige’, the French graphic novel created by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette - source - click to enlarge
There are two main types of post-apocalyptic movies; the ones that are meant just for entertainment, and the ones that are not just about entertaining us but about providing a critical analysis of our society. Snowpiercer is of the latter type and one of the best that you will ever come across from this genre.
What makes this movie a masterpiece is the ease and simplicity in which it depicts humanities current predicaments: how a closed system has to manage growth, the problem of compartmentalization of life, the totalitarianist desire to control information and discourse, the way our class structures are set, how we educate and recollect history, how leaders are chosen and the burden of responsibility we bear, the workers, pawns, generals, denialists, and fanatics in the game, the conspiracies at play, and why at some point we must put our bodies upon the gears and stop the machine from churning:
“There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!” - Mario Savio, Sproul Hall, University of California, Berkeley, 2 December 1964.I’ll refrain from discussing the movie any further and just provide the trailer below, however, I don’t recommend watching it since it contains a lot of spoilers, spoilers that are best left unseen.
If you would like to experience the full brilliance of Snowpiercer, with its gradual revelations depicting bare the insanity of our society, just go directly to watching the movie; it is bound to stay with you for quite some time.
Cover of graphic novel created by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette - source: “Snowpiercer: The Most Overlooked Comics Film of 2013?”