One time, way back in the 1506 days, I came home after seeing The Departed. Bobby, sitting in the living room, greeted me and asked how it was. I deadpanned, “Everybody dies.” This was a legit spoiler, but Bobby laughed and I laughed and a great time was had by all. Just two good friends, sharing a joke.
But then Bobby went and saw it. He came home and said, “Wow. You spoiled that movie. Everyone died.” (Or something like that.) It’s become a running joke for whenever we ask how a movie was. Had I seen Snowpiercer on that night (perhaps I had a time-machine), I would have done the same joke. Everybody dies. And I loved it.
The concept is probably the best part of this movie. You have a giant train and each car is different. It’s like playing a video game. As Blair said after, “There is no way you could remotely predict anything in this movie.” I love that. It’s a challenge to introduce such a wild concept, but I think Bong Joon-ho mostly succeeds. He builds us a world where I guess we can have an ever-running train. What I like are the small touches that parts of the train decay and whatnot, though you think they’d have a machinist on the train. I’ll admit that it was a little goofy and objectively that takes away from the finished product, but I loved it nonetheless. (The rave room was probably the goofiest.)
I also loved a lot of the shots in this film. We have a tight space and Joon-ho does a fine job of making it feel cramped when he wants too. We got some neat shots and colors throughout and a big credit goes to not only the cinematography, but also the set design guys. I loved checking out each of the rooms as we advanced and the camera let us explore them. I think being able to experience the newness of each room along with Curtis was organic and made sense.
For performances, I think we mostly have good work. Chris Evans doesn’t always have a lot of personality, but he gives us enough. In particular, his confessional in the end was well done, even if he’s still holding back some. Tilda Swinton does fantastic and I didn’t even recognize her. I wanted to punch her through the screen. Song Kang-ho and Jamie Bell do fine as well, with Kang-ho settling in well for that eclectic and wise character that is popular in Eastern cinema. Ewen Bremner is weird looking, as always. Ed Harris does a pretty good job with what he has, but I think the dialogue fails him a bit. There was one performance that I didn’t care for and that was John Hurt as Gilliam. I thought his gravelly voice was excessive and distracting.
Now, we’re gonna get off the tracks a little bit. (Nailed it.) I think there’s a huge difference in Easter and Western cinema in character actions and development. It’s simply the different approach: We focus on the individual and they focus on the group. With that, I feel like in a lot of Japanese and Korean movies, we get odd ball characters and just accept them. There is no explanation and I never feel like the film-makers even thought of explaining them. Here, we have the mute super athletic guy as a prime example. It makes sense because his individual background doesn’t matter. What’s important is what he brings to the group. I’ve learned to accept this from Eastern films and that’s helped me enjoy them more. Sometimes, just accept that for some reason there’s a mute badass in the tail end of a train.
With that, there’s also this interesting trend of noble deaths in Eastern movies. Selfless sacrifice is huge and deaths aren’t mourned near as much unless it’s the death of an elder type. These films seldom allow characters to die without having done something redeeming or selfless first. We see it with almost every single character in this movie, though Andrew’s death is rather sudden.
I’m also willing to give a small pass on the dialogue, which was pretty clunky sometimes. Americans don’t speak like that at all. This, you are a leader stuff being thrown out so concretely seems awkward for us. That and the long speeches given by almost every important character. But that sort of dialogue is seemingly way more common in Eastern films. It doesn’t bother me, but again objectively, I think it takes some luster away.
Ultimately, I think there’s a theme here and it’s not what we see in American film. The lesson isn’t to risk everything to maintain your individual rights. Rather, I think the lesson here is that there is order for a reason. You have to respect where you’re from. The whole is way more important than the individual. If we don’t fulfill our roles, chaos ensues and 99% of humanity dies in a horrific train wreck.
To conclude, this was a fun movie, even if it had some objective issues. I added a couple more Bong Joon-ho films to my queue. If this was on TV, I would watch it every time.