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Tyler

Snowpiercer

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I get that the nastiness may play differently in a Korean context, but there's a difference between saying that and actually being Korean. Which, you know. I'm not. 

 

Korean films are NOTORIOUS for wild tone shifts and the use of gore and cruelty in contexts that Westerners consider inappropriate. It's practically the defining feature of the country's cinema and exhibited by almost all its significant auteurs to at least some degree -- Kim Ji-woon, Park Chan-wook, Kim Ki-duk, Im Kwon-taek, (here) Bong Joon-ho and lesser figures. I remember being at the Toronto Festival retrospective in 2002, one of the earliest contemporary ones of its size and breadth in the West, and, almost to a man, the folk there made that observation.

 

 

This is another way to get at the point I was trying to make above regarding the utter conventionality of the film.

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But it's too nasty to be much fun, and it's too shallow to elicit much feeling.

 

Yes, my feelings exactly. And that's a shame, because I love the ambition and imagination of the thing.

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I get that the nastiness may play differently in a Korean context, but there's a difference between saying that and actually being Korean. Which, you know. I'm not. 

 

Korean films are NOTORIOUS for wild tone shifts and the use of gore and cruelty in contexts that Westerners consider inappropriate. It's practically the defining feature of the country's cinema and exhibited by almost all its significant auteurs to at least some degree -- Kim Ji-woon, Park Chan-wook, Kim Ki-duk, Im Kwon-taek, (here) Bong Joon-ho and lesser figures. I remember being at the Toronto Festival retrospective in 2002, one of the earliest contemporary ones of its size and breadth in the West, and, almost to a man, the folk there made that observation.

 

 

This is another way to get at the point I was trying to make above regarding the utter conventionality of the film.

 

How so ... how would something being typical of Korean cinema in a way that diverges from American and European norms means SNOWPIERCER would look conventional to anyone reading a conversation conducted in English language using the Latin alphabet. Indeed, why not the opposite? (Yes, I'm making the case for exoticism. I am aware of this. It is a Good Thing.)

Edited by vjmorton

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Simply that there are conventional elements in the film, whether via sci-fi lit. or the exoticism of Korean cinema or the source material, that are important to consider when talking about the film as nihilist or whatever. 


 

But it's too nasty to be much fun, and it's too shallow to elicit much feeling.

 

Yes, my feelings exactly. And that's a shame, because I love the ambition and imagination of the thing.

 

 

I would agree, except for the possibility that it is neither intending to be fun or non-shallow but rather a third thing. I was trying to get at that third thing above, as I encounter it in similar sci-fi lit. all the time, but am obviously doing a poor job at describing it!

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I don't see how it could be more explicit -- pissed-offedness at God and revolutionism lead to the end of man.

  

Put this way, this doesn't help me.

However, you also link via Twitter to Sonny Bunch's review, where I read:

 

Though no less subtle in its allegory, Snowpiercer differs from The Purge: Anarchy in its willingness to show the cost of destroying “the system.” It is truly a revolutionary text in that it denies change can come from within, that the system itself can be reformed. The only way to right the wrongs of this ossified class system is to literally blow it all up—and kill most of humanity in the process.

And a light goes on in my brain.

Edited by SDG

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I don't see how it could be more explicit -- pissed-offedness at God and revolutionism lead to the end of man.

 

This strikes me as an eisegesis that in no way illuminates the film, partly because of Bong Joon-ho's leftism as documented in the Jacobin article NBooth linked and partly because of the logic of the film itself.

 

The only one in the film who's really pissed off at "God" is Curtis. Minsoo isn't. While he plays along with Curtis, he's actually pursuing ends of his own: his goal from the beginning is not to strike at the divine figure at the head of the train, but to leave the train/system/capitalist society altogether, and this resolve of his - not Curtis's attempt at more direct revolution - is what leads to the "end of man". (By the way, did Minsoo actually intend to destroy the train, or only to open the door and leave? That makes a difference too.)

 

And that end isn't really an end, either, because I still say the bleak, impending-doom reading of the last scene is untenable. This is a story where - I can't stress this enough - the central plot device is a perpetual motion machine. Questions about whether it would actually be possible for two people equipped with only fur coats to survive in a polar environment are entirely beside the point. A male and a female alone in a world that is unpopulated but still alive - I see no reason to suppose that the clear, obvious meaning of this mythological image should be turned on its head in this case. It signifies a beginning, not an end.

Edited by SDG

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FWIW, Joe Carter has a review of the film that looks interesting, but which I stopped reading early when he offered up a spoiler warning. 

 

I was hoping to catch the film this weekend, but that's looking less likely than it did a few days ago.

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Rushmore,

I added some spoiler tags to your post (and one to an earlier post of mine as well). Hope you don't mind.

The more I think about Sonny Bunch's thesis, the more I like it. On this reading, Snowpiercer proposes that half-hearted revolutions that seek to take control of (or reform) the system really change nothing; meaningful change involves breaking out of the system entirely, which ultimately entails destroying the system, with great human cost.
 
I'm not sure it's necessary to read this as either pro-revolution or anti-revolution: It is an honest accounting of the cost of revolution. Happy revolutions in which only the bad guys suffer and the suffering masses are ushered into utopia is a fantasy. Perhaps a better human reality eventually arises — but it will be a better reality born of death and destruction. Whether it is worth it is a question of interpretation that the movie, perhaps, doesn't answer. This is a reading of the film I can get behind.
 

The only one in the film who's really pissed off at "God" is Curtis. Minsoo isn't. While he plays along with Curtis, he's actually pursuing ends of his own: his goal from the beginning is not to strike at the divine figure at the head of the train, but to leave the train/system/capitalist society altogether, and this resolve of his - not Curtis's attempt at more direct revolution - is what leads to the "end of man".


The two work in tandem. Curtis's revolution literally clears the path for Minsoo's radicalism, while in the end Curtis's revolution has nowhere left to go. Curtis is a sort of forerunner or first stage for Minsoo.
 

By the way, did Minsoo actually intend to destroy the train, or only to open the door and leave? That makes a difference too.


I'm not sure why. Actions have larger consequences. At the end of the day, it's a metaphor.
 

And that end isn't really an end, either, because I still say the bleak, impending-doom reading of the last scene is untenable.


The director apparently disagrees. IIRC, he said he "hoped" the story went in a hopeful direction. That doesn't suggest he thinks either reading is untenable.
 

This is a story where - I can't stress this enough - the central plot device is a perpetual motion machine. Questions about whether it would actually be possible for two people equipped with only fur coats to survive in a polar environment are entirely beside the point. A male and a female alone in a world that is unpopulated but still alive - I see no reason to suppose that the clear, obvious meaning of this mythological image should be turned on its head in this case. It signifies a beginning, not an end.


Well, I'll take a shot at that question. Perhaps because

the first animal they see is not a reassuring animal, such as a bird, or something they are likely to wind up eating, such as a seal, but a fierce predator that knows how to hunt and survive in this bleak wilderness?



Because the movie makes a point of showing us exactly how far the last group to leave the train got, and while the world may have changed a bit since then, it hasn't changed all that much?

Because the whole film has been so dark and bleak, and any rays of hope until this point turned out to be false hope or illusions, so why not this hope too? After so many twists and turns and sudden reverses, what reason for confidence do we have that the train wreck was the very last twist?

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Thanks for all this writing guys. I'm definitely inclined toward Victor's reading of the film, and it only makes me want to re-watch it to see what I missed.

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I'm not sure it's necessary to read this as either pro-revolution or anti-revolution: It is an honest accounting of the cost of revolution. Happy revolutions in which only the bad guys suffer and the suffering masses are ushered into utopia is a fantasy. Perhaps a better human reality eventually arises — but it will be a better reality born of death and destruction. Whether it is worth it is a question of interpretation that the movie, perhaps, doesn't answer. This is a reading of the film I can get behind.

 

 

Which also becomes an important factor when talking then about the violence of the scene wherein the people first encounter force. Not much a leap in form from that to.... Guernica. In theory.

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Rushmore,

I added some spoiler tags to your post (and one to an earlier post of mine as well). Hope you don't mind.

...

 

And that end isn't really an end, either, because I still say the bleak, impending-doom reading of the last scene is untenable.

The director apparently disagrees. IIRC, he said he "hoped" the story went in a hopeful direction. That doesn't suggest he thinks either reading is untenable.

 

This is a story where - I can't stress this enough - the central plot device is a perpetual motion machine. Questions about whether it would actually be possible for two people equipped with only fur coats to survive in a polar environment are entirely beside the point. A male and a female alone in a world that is unpopulated but still alive - I see no reason to suppose that the clear, obvious meaning of this mythological image should be turned on its head in this case. It signifies a beginning, not an end.

Well, I'll take a shot at that question. Perhaps because

the first animal they see is not a reassuring animal, such as a bird, or something they are likely to wind up eating, such as a seal, but a fierce predator that knows how to hunt and survive in this bleak wilderness?

Because the movie makes a point of showing us exactly how far the last group to leave the train got, and while the world may have changed a bit since then, it hasn't changed all that much?

Because the whole film has been so dark and bleak, and any rays of hope until this point turned out to be false hope or illusions, so why not this hope too? After so many twists and turns and sudden reverses, what reason for confidence do we have that the train wreck was the very last twist?

My reading of the final scene is along the lines of SDG's. A metaphor has to work as itself as well as whatever it's supposed to represent. Unless the story has already established an unusual meaning for something like a polar bear, I'm going to assume it's not a promising sign of hope. Unless the polar bear is carrying a sixpack of Coca-Cola.

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To be clear, I think the ending is legitimately ambiguous. I was making the case for the pessimistic ending, but an optimistic reading is still possible, pace Victor, Joe Carter et al.

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To be clear, I think the ending is legitimately ambiguous. I was making the case for the pessimistic ending, but an optimistic reading is still possible, pace Victor, Joe Carter et al.

 

I understand the case that has been/can be made for an ambiguous or optimistic ending, but an ambiguous reading is the best I can be convinced of, based on the evidence as I see it.

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Sicinsky:

 

In other words, it doesn’t matter who’s running the train. Bong is not telling us anything we don’t already know, but Snowpiercer’s power is precisely in its capacity to boldly visualize this shared awareness: the futility of liberal revolt, the buffoonery of our betters, the hidden human kindling that is always the tiger in our tank. Where a film like the execrable V for Vendetta (2005) swaggered across the screen like it was spilling secret knowledge to hungry undergraduate minds, Snowpiercer exhilarates and deflates at once, a super-powered redundancy. Bong shows us that there’s only one track, and so you can’t flip the switch. You can only light the fuse, and embrace the inevitable destruction as the last picture show.

 

Edited by M. Leary

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Boy, did I this film to awaken me from the apathetic torpor of a disappointing summer!

 

I happened to watch this on the heels of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and the unintentional juxtaposition made me appreciate the differences between the two. Granted, I did not watch Dawn under ideal circumstances: a drive-in movie theater populated by chatty teenagers. But the moral ambivalence of that film, however carefully worked out, is so much easier to take than that of the troubling and pessimistic Snowpiercer.

 

SDG is a trusty weather vane in this regard--he ably summarized the contending philosophies in his review of Dawn and made peace with it, while Snowpiercer proved to be a tougher nut to crack. And isn't that what we want from an ideologically loaded blockbuster? To be well and truly challenged? I need to see Dawn again under better viewing conditions, but my impression is that it's a little too tidy under its apeskin while Snowpiercer is more... well... piercing. Pessimistic, yes, perhaps even nihilistic as several in this thread have suggested, but executed in a way that galvanizes rather than lulls.

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I happened to watch this on the heels of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and the unintentional juxtaposition made me appreciate the differences between the two. Granted, I did not watch Dawn under ideal circumstances: a drive-in movie theater populated by chatty teenagers. But the moral ambivalence of that film, however carefully worked out, is so much easier to take than that of the troubling and pessimistic Snowpiercer.

 

SDG is a trusty weather vane in this regard--he ably summarized the contending philosophies in his review of Dawn and made peace with it, while Snowpiercer proved to be a tougher nut to crack. And isn't that what we want from an ideologically loaded blockbuster? To be well and truly challenged? I need to see Dawn again under better viewing conditions, but my impression is that it's a little too tidy under its apeskin while Snowpiercer is more... well... piercing. Pessimistic, yes, perhaps even nihilistic as several in this thread have suggested, but executed in a way that galvanizes rather than lulls.

This is well-stated, Nathaniel. Between this and Sicinski's V for Vendetta comparison, I'm coming around on Snowpiercer. (Incidentally, having just revisited the original Planet of the Apes, I think it's fair to say that Snowpiercer has more in common with that film than Dawn of the Planet of the Apes does.)

I'm not completely won over by Snowpiercer just yet, but more and more I suspect that is largely to do with Chris Evans. I like Evans well enough as an actor, but I'm not certain he's a good fit for Snowpiercer's lead. The role calls for someone with a little more gravitas (think, for example, of how this film would play with Tom Hardy in Evans' role).

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Finally saw this film today (and had to drive all the way out to Abbotsford to see it; the film won't play in Vancouver until next week, and even then, it will be getting only one late-night screening per week for three weeks).

 

*** END-OF-MOVIE SPOILERS ***

 

I haven't gone back through all four pages of this thread yet, but I vaguely recall reading some discussion of the final, final scene, and what a certain animal might signify, and, well...

 

I find the ending rather upbeat, actually. I *don't* see the animal as a threat to the human survivors. Instead, I see the animal as evidence that life can survive here. I also see it as evidence that the humans will have something to eat here -- either the animal itself (and others like it) or the creatures that exist lower than that animal on the food chain.

 

It also occurs to me that the animal in question has been used as a symbol for the "climate change" movement, and that the film (which begins with "climate change" concerns), by ending on this note, is suggesting perhaps that the balance of nature has been restored -- which is itself a recurring theme throughout the film (the need to restore or maintain balance, that is).

 

The film also makes it clear that the climate outside the train has gotten warmer, more hospitable, in the 18 years since the catastrophe that was caused by governments succumbing to the perceived need to "do something" about global warming. So when you add it all up, the film seems to be saying, to me, that humanity can survive now. Its view of the train might be ultimately nihilistic, but not of the bigger picture outside that train (including, yes, the possibility of human survival outside that train).

 

All that being said, the film *does* also suggest that humanity *needed* the train in order to make it from the original catastrophe to the point where humanity finds itself at the end of the film.

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I haven't read this yet because of possible spoilers (I haven't seen the film yet), but for those of you who have seen the movie, this io9 piece discusses the influence of gnosticism on Snowpiercer.

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I haven't read this yet because of possible spoilers (I haven't seen the film yet), but for those of you who have seen the movie, this io9 piece discusses the influence of gnosticism on Snowpiercer.

 

Yeah, I touched on this in my early comments, without explicitly mentioning Gnosticism (I also made the comparison to The Truman Show).

 

I do think Snowpiercer is more open to a Gnostic reading than The Truman Show, since Truman is uniquely the victim of Christof's deception and everyone else is complicit, making it much more an allegory of solipsism than Gnosticism. On the Snowpiercer, everyone's a fellow passenger. 

 

However, Snowpiercer is still markedly less Gnostic than, say, The Matrix, the original of which probably offers the best mainstream cinematic allegory for Gnosticism I can think of, in that the inhabitants of the Matrix don't know they're in an artificial reality within a larger "desert of the real." No one on the Snowpiercer thinks the train is the whole world. They're aware of the world outside — the "Arctic of the real," as it were; many of them can see even it.

 

And they know very well that the world outside is broken, inhospitable, blighted both by global warming and also by man's misguided attempts to fix it. The Snowpiercer may be a prison, but it is also an ark that has saved mankind. This contrasts with the general current of Gnosticism, in which the false creation is only a prison and the eternal reality beyond it is perfect. 

Edited by SDG

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My (conflicted) 60-second take.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1K3QdVa4cXI&index=1&list=PLPu38Ui5dTDINmv5o5eF6Y0GAlkTBqoeP

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Another favorable review from an unlikely source. The reasoning speaks right to me:

 

"So why do I also say Snowpiercer is the best movie I’ve seen this summer? Because it is a by-God movie—a seat-of-your-pants, nail-biting, over-the-top, exciting, funny, weird motion picture, with an emphasis on 'motion.' On screen, the train provides a near-perfect setting, combining the intimacy of a closed space of the sort you see on a theatrical stage with the illusion of constant movement and change on the outside. The director, a Korean named Bong Joon-ho, makes use of the contrast just about as well as anyone ever has."

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Finally caught this last night and am still processing it.  First thoughts are how this film calls to mind so many other movies, while still feeling like a wholly original and fresh work of its own.  I'll agree that it's not much "fun", but I'm not entirely sure that's the first thing on this director's agenda.  Films that Snowpiercer brought to mind include -

 

The Cube

Apocalypse Now

The Raid

The Truman Show

Land of the Dead

Runaway Train

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