Snowpiercer: Ice-Fi=Nice-Fi


Before I begin my expert review of the movie Snowpiercer, I would like to point out that I was thoroughly engaged the whole time in figuring out where I knew the actor who plays Curtis from. And it just hit me. It’s Chris Evans AKA Captain America.

ANYWAY, over the weekend I had the pleasure of watching Snowpiercer, a 2013 South Korean science fiction film, for the first time in my life. The movie begins in the year 2032 in which everyone on Earth lives on the Snowpiercer, a massive train powered by a perpetual motion engine that travels on a track that spans the entire Earth. This is because back in 2014, an attempt to counteract global warming goes desperately wrong and results in a second ice age that is so destructive that almost all life on the planet is killed. Those who survived are the inhabitants of the train with the societal elites living in the front sections and the poorer people living in the tail sections, constantly surveyed by guards.

The story kicks off when our protagonist, Curtis Everett, leads the passengers of the tail sections of the train in a revolt against the guards and basically everyone who gets in their way. Their main goal is to reach the front of the train and take the engine. The first place Curtis and his band of followers stop for a short while is in the jail car, where they free Namgoong Minsu (the creator of the train’s security system who will be able to open and close the gates necessary for the group to advance farther up to the front of the train) and his daughter, Yona. They are offered Kronole, apparently a really addictive drug, in exchange for their help.

About halfway through the train, the group is met by a group of guards in terrifying masks led by Minister Mason, who acts as the voice of Wilford (the revered and often creepily worshipped creator of the train and the perpetual engine). This scene was definitely my favorite. I especially liked when the train passed through a tunnel and there were no lights but the guards had night vision and everyone else who couldn’t see was aimlessly swinging their weapons around in hopes that they would kill someone. This fight is ended when Curtis is forced to give up his second-in-command and best friend, Edgar, in order to take Minister Mason as captive for the rebels.

The group then passes through a schoolroom where they stop for a moment and listen to a rather psychotic teacher explain the history of the Snowpiercer and Wilford himself. Her and her students sing a really creepy song then look out the window at the seven people who once tried to survive outside of the train, frozen completely in their tracks. That entire time, the group was totally unaware that Wilford’s agents are preparing an attack on them that this schoolroom teacher is in on. They watch on TV as these agents attack the entire tail section of the train and killing Gilliam, Curtis’s dear friend and mentor. After a rather long fight, all members of the group are dead except for Curtis, Namgoong, and Yona (yes, even Octavia Spencer who played Tanya, a more essential member to the group than most but not important enough for me to talk about in greater detail. I love Octavia Spencer though.).

The final three reach the final car before the engine; a large door stands in the way. Namgoong gathers all the Kronole he’s gotten both from Curtis and from other passengers along the way and begins to clump it all together. He explains that Kronole can also be used as an explosive and that he intends on blowing off the side door of the train, leading him outside. He explains that he sees a crashed plane in the same spot every year, but in recent years he has seen more and more of the body and the wings of the plane…meaning the ice is thawing. He figures that the outside world is probably now back to a somewhat livable temperature and concludes that living literally anywhere else is better than living on this train. Then, the door to the engine opens, a woman comes out, shoots Namgoong, and invites Curtis inside to have dinner with Wilford.

Wilford is basically the sketchiest guy ever. He’s doing that typical villain thing where he tries to make nice with Curtis in order to make himself seem scarier or more intimidating to him. Wilford takes Curtis directly up to the engine and tells him that he wants Curtis to take over as overseer of the train. Obviously Curtis doesn’t want to do this and betray his own people. Instinctively, Curtis punches Wilford in the face and knocks him unconscious and Yona comes in and lifts the floorboard revealing that Wilford has been taking the children from the tail section of the train to use as replacement parts because children are the only thing small enough to get down there. Curtis sticks his hand in between all the gears to help get Timmy, Tanya’s son and the most recently taken child, out from underneath the floor. Namgoong lights the Kronole and races to the engine room. He and Curtis use themselves as shields for Yona and Timmy during the explosion. Considering the world is covered in snow and ice, OF COURSE the explosion triggers an avalanche. The train derails and we assume everyone else is either dead or severely injured because the only two who emerge from the train are Yona and Timmy. They spot a polar bear in the distance, proving that life is capable of being lived on Earth.

In the secondary reading for this week, “A Review of Climate Fiction (Cli-Fi) Cinema … Past and Present”, we learned that Snowpiercer started out as a graphic novel. We also learned that the movie takes itself in a more or less drastically different direction, where at the end of the graphic novel, Curtis decides to be the keeper of the engine as opposed to punching Wilford square in the dome. We also learned that this movie is part of a sub-genre of cli-fi called “ice-fi”, which is the basis of a lot of movies involving climate change. This is because people are definitely afraid of freezing to death in the same way that they’re afraid of spiders, snakes, or, I don’t know, commitment. Making a movie that revolves around a hot climate is probably way harder to depict and also the “dead calm” of excruciating heat is no match for the panic that the entire world would be in if we suddenly plunged into an ice age. “An ice-world is beautiful, frightening, and high contrast”, the secondary reading says, and saying that it’s harder to depict an increase in temperature than it is to show a forty degree drop as an ice age, as in Snowpiercer (Svoboda).

In my opinion, it is painstakingly obvious what climate change has to do with this movie. The entire situation is caused by spraying special particles into the sky in order to try to reverse the effects of climate change and the plot is them having to deal with the fact that they have to live on a train because the outside world is too cold to hold a functioning society. The theme of the movie is deeper than some scientists messing everything up and accidentally plunging the Earth into an ice age, though. This movie is also a political message. It’s more or less a warning sign for government elites that’s basically like: here’s what the working class is going to end up doing if you all think that capitalism is still a good idea. We can also say that this movie is an allegory for Soviet Communism, which attempted to seize power and reduce exploitation without actually doing anything substantial about the capitalist system as one of total domination. As you can probably tell, I was almost a political science major.

Overall, I really liked this movie. I definitely understand why eating pizza while watching it might be a concern because some parts are really gross and gory, however, I ate Subway almost the whole time so I really think that’ll be okay. I thought that the acting was incredible and believable, something that is sometimes lacking in movies nowadays. I thought it was amusing and almost funny about how this entire movie probably wouldn’t have happened if they had sprayed the right amount of climate-controlling particles into the air. This movie was basically one big, “…oops”. It was also interesting knowing that this might one day have to be an option in real life. Hopefully our real-life scientists won’t screw up as badly as those ones in the movie did though. I mean, HOPEFULLY it won’t come to that at all, but I fear that the future isn’t looking too good. Unless all humans actively do something to change the way they’re living and are aware and conscious that climate change is a real thing that’s happening, we’re all going to end up living on a train for at least eighteen years until Curtis/The Human Torch/Captain America saves us all.

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