Monday, February 09, 2015

Best of 2014, #9: Snowpiercer

The Hero Must Have Something Everyone Else Lacks: This movie has the quickest and simplest version of this: We begin with Fascist troops ordering a traincar of people to stand and then sit back down in rows.  Everybody sits down except one man.  Okay, so now we know that he’s our hero.  But can we trust him, or is he just engaging in empty rebellion?  No, his friend asks, “What were you doing?” and he says, “Counting,” and we see that he was timing the number of second before the doors close.  Okay, so now we now we trust him, but will he be too heroic to empathize with?  Will he be vulnerable?  Yes: The next time the soldiers demand they sit down, it is someone else who won’t sit, for non-strategic reasons, and we see the anguish on our hero’s face.  Should he wait for the right time, and leave this man (who was probably inspired by him) to his fate?  Now he must choose between strategy and bravery, which is a painful dilemma.  Empathizing with that dilemma, we are now fully bonded to the hero.

Art Requires Distance, and Tough Decisions Must have Tough Consequences: After this series, we’ll do another Meddler week on another 2014 movie that didn’t quite work, and one problem with it is that it sets up a critique of video-game logic but ultimately replicates that logic when it should be subverting it.

Even moreso than that movie, Snowpiercer cleverly establishes a real-world Double-Dragon-style linear sidescroller, as our heroes have to “clear each board” before they move on to a new self-contained environment.  The movie however, uses this set-up to totally impeach the video-game storytelling mode.  Our “everyman” hero turns out to be not so every (we find out he has some very disturbing motives) and his relentless march forward turns out to be ironically self-defeating precisely because he foolishly believes in the myth of linear progress. Even when he succeeds, the results are so instantly catastrophic that the cure is clearly worse than the disease, with no reset button to undo the consequences.  The result is a seemingly clean, linear narrative that ends up being anything but.

Tomorrow: A familiar face...


j.s. said...

The main virtue of this film for me is that it is just so much better than it has any business being, given the source material. Imagine the Luc Besson- (or Besson factory) directed version of this French graphic novel and you'll see what I mean. But I wouldn't hold it up as an exemplar of storytelling for writers. This is a director's movie through and through. And the most assured aspect of the direction is Bong Joon-ho's command of tone, which he has the ability to shift on a dime -- from emotions like dread to the broadest physical comedy (think the tunnel fight fish slapstick), putting moments together that just shouldn't go together and pulling them off where other lesser talents would fail. When the hero confesses his secret near the end the content of his confession is cartoon-ludicrous, and in any other version of this story I probably would have burst out laughing, but here the director's total command of his tone managed to move me instead, in spite of myself.

Anyway, maybe now I can finally get you to check out some of the better films of New Korean cinema. If you thought Bong Joon-ho did a good job here, wait till you see his film MOTHER. And while you're at it you shouldn't pass up SNOWPIERCER producer Park Chan Wook's best film SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE.

If you're going to Meddle with EDGE OF TOMORROW I hope you'll be considering superior earlier drafts, and the original novel and that you'll be placing the blame squarely at the feet the of the star and the director for turning everything interesting in the material into much more conventional star vehicle blandness.

Matt Bird said...

Yes on all counts:

Yes, this could absolutely have been a terrible Besson movie, and yes, Evans' monologue could have been horrible in a lesser director's hands.

And yes, this made me want to finally get caught up with Bong's and Park's previous movies.

And yes, you guessed the Meddler movie. I haven't read any earlier drafts or the novel, so I'd love to have you add that perspective when the posts go up.

J.A. said...

I second everything j.s. says. SNOWPIERCER was weird and flawed on paper, and fun and crazy in execution. I don't think it's in the same league as most of the earlier work by the two directors he mentions, but especially MOTHER, and for my money, MEMORIES OF MURDER, both of which are great films by any measure, Korean cinema or not. I would LOVE to see Matt's take on something like SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE, which has the craziest oddball (4 act?) structure, but which works in an amazing way, completely on its own terms. Or even I'M A CYBORG, BUT THAT'S OK, a weird little movie that totally shouldn't work, but totally does.

+1 on the earlier draft that I've read of EDGE OF TOMORROW/ALL YOU NEED IS KILL (worst re-naming in recent history?) being much better/more unique and interesting than the final product. I haven't read the source material.

Anonymous said...

Loved this movie until the ending. Ending totally ruined it for me.

Parker said...

Man, I really didn't like this movie. While the set pieces were cool, everything else felt derivative to me. And the dialog was so corny--every other person said "I thought ___ was extinct!" Insert any word you like: "cigarettes," "meat," etc.

I also thought it was pretty much just one long stream of violence with a few moments of respite here and there to remind the audience that there are actually characters in this movie.

Maybe the ending made it more interesting, but I didn't make it that far.

fitbit charge reviews said...

There's a righteous savagery to this movie that's almost but not quite obscured by the lushness of its imagined world.

Marlene Detierro said...

Fascinated by the ride. I found this movie original, timely, surprising, bizarre and a bit dark. I didn't find myself trying to guess what was going to happen next like so many movies these days. Definitely worth watching!

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