#28 — Snowpiercer (Bong Joon Ho, 2013)
Most of the films of director Bong Joon Ho have been wholly original works, suffused with inspiration drawn from serious study of film, perhaps, but springing start to finish from his whirring brain. Part of the delirious miracle of Snowpiercer is that Bong found in the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige a work to adapt that skewed so close to his own sensibilities. In execution, Bong brought a lot of his own inventions to the story of a train on an endless global journey after a manmade attempt to thwart global warming results in a several climatological overcorrection. The co-creators of the original graphic novel laid the tracks, but it’s Bong who feverishly stoked the engine of the locomotive that runs on it.
The transport of the title is a train that is hundreds of cars long, holding the remaining members of the human race after the planet becomes uninhabitable due to the deadly cold. Over the years of cloistered travel, unyielding social segmenting has taken place. The wealthy riders are in cars near the front of the train, surrounded by luxuries exponentially more opulent than the those found on top tier cruise ships in the era of the Titanic. The poor ride in the rear cars, originally mean for storage are therefore of the most spartan design, like a series of enclosed back alleys. Any attempt made by those in the tail section to improve their living conditions — to literally more forward — is by totalitarian bullying that’s been misnamed justice.
As he would again a few years later with his historic Oscar-winner, Parasite, Bong combines scalding social satire with expert genre filmmaking. Snowpiercer has the pace and energy of a white-knuckle action movie, but Bong’s disinterest in the conventional keeps delivering jolts throughout the film. And the revolutionary charge from one train car to the next provides the opportunity to continues reinventing the story and finding new ways to underline the points, every door our heroes crash through providing entryway to a new devious twist of the narrative. Bong is courageous about exploring injustice, taking concepts to their bleakest logical conclusions.
As clear as his delight is in sharing his imaginings, Bong is not some cheap provocateur like some other directors that traffic in stomach-churning confrontation. He always has a point to make, and it’s usually grounded in deep humanity. Showing the ugliness that exists — and the power structures that perpetuate the ugliness in a callous bid to maintain their own comfort — is a means to appreciate how things could and should be better. Sometimes waging a fight and breaking some manmade symbols of oppression is the only way a true-hearted person can finally step out in a new world, likely finding out that everything that kept them bound previously was based on a fearful lie.