Snowpiercer ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I discussed my general perception of the film in my first review, and after a second viewing I stand by my original position. Instead of retreading old ground, with this review I'd like to discuss the end of the story. I'm going to reveal the broad strokes of the plot and the specifics of a conversation near the end of it, so if you clicked past the spoiler warning out of curiosity that's what you're in for.

Snowpiercer is an allegorical microcosm of class conflict. As you move from the tail end up the train to its front, you also witness a corresponding change in the socio-economic standings of the passengers. Tail-end passengers are dirty and underprivileged, surviving off of protein blocks made from crushed insects, while the passengers on the other end dine on fine sushi, relax in tranquil gardens, and enjoy typical upper-middle class pleasures from standardized education on the one hand to drug-fueled dance parties on the other.

The general thrust of the narrative is that Curtis (Chris Evans) and his band of revolutionaries want to overtake the train by force and restructure the unjust hierarchy forced on them. Their plan is to take the engine room at the front of the train: as Curtis points out, past revolutions failed because they didn't take the engine. But when they finally make it there, Nam (Kang-ho Song) points out that Curtis is ultimately held back by his tunnel vision. While Curtis wants to take over the engine room and thereby the rest of the train, Nam wants to exit the train entirely.

This transforms the political analogy at work in the background of the film. From the initial message of rise up and replace your oppressors (literally embodied in the opening scene where Curtis refuses to sit), the message shifts here to something more complex. The point of revolution is not to replace your oppressors, because as Wilford (Ed Harris) makes clear this will only lead to becoming what you fought against. Instead the purpose ought to be exiting the established political space entirely in order to create the potential for something totally different. Whether this new space returns to the old tyranny or truly transcends previous boundaries is the question asked by the ambiguity in the film's ending. Given the chance to start fresh, will we build something great in the snow, or will we simply clear it away and return to what was underneath?

Slightly expanded review here.

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