It is perhaps a sign of the times that 2014 saw the release of several dystopian films. Whether it was the Purge: Anarchy, Mockingjay, The Maze Runner, Edge of Tomorrow, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, or even Interstellar, all of these films shared a similarly bleak view of the future. Filmmakers everywhere seemed to agree that humanity is basically doomed.
Unfortunately, with so many different and competing views of our sucky future, I fear that a lot of people may have missed one of the best of them. When taken along with all of the usual Academy biases, I fear that means that Snowpiercer is pretty much out of the running for a best picture nomination. It’s true that Snowpiercer did win best picture from the Boston Online Critics and there’s always an outside chance that Tilda Swinton could pick up a best supporting actress nomination. But, for the most part, Snowpiercer has been overlooked.
And that’s a shame because Snowpiercer is one of the best of the year.
The premise of Snowpiercer is, in its way, brilliant. After environmental scientists go a bit too far in their effort to battle global warming, the world suffers a second ice age. (I have to admit that I enjoyed this development, just because heroic environmentalists are such a cliché.) With the entire world frozen, what is left of humanity ends up on a massive train known as the Snowpiercer. For the next twenty years, the Snowpiercer rushes up and down a track that spans the entire planet.
A new society forms on the Snowpiercer and, not surprisingly, it’s a lot like the old society. The rich live up at the front of the train. The poor live in the tail section. All laws are set by the rarely seen Wilford (Ed Harris). Wilford’s will is enforced by faceless soldiers and his blandly monstrous second-in-command, Mason (Tilda Swinton).
Twenty years later, the people in the tail section attempt their latest revolt. This time, they’re being led by the charismatic Curtis (Chris Evans, proving that he’s capable of playing a lot more than just Capt. America). Taking Mason hostage, Curtis leads his people through each car, slowly making their way to the front. Along the way, they meet a lot a violent resistance and Curtis discovers that his rebellion was not quite as virtuous as he originally assumed…
Snowpiercer was one of the most imaginative science fiction films that I saw in 2014, a triumph of acting, direction, and design. Each car has its own unique personality and look. Perhaps the film’s best scene is when Curtis finds himself in the car that serves as the train’s school. He and his grimy rebels listen as a perky and friendly teacher (Alison Pill) indoctrinates her students about the benevolence of Wilford. It’s a surrealistic and tense scene, one that ends with burst of sudden and unexpected violence.
Perhaps what I most appreciated about Snowpiercer was that, despite all appearance to the contrary, it was ultimately a humanistic and optimistic film. This is the rare action film where violence is not designed to look fun. Though many character may not survive, the film never celebrates or cheapens their death. Even the film’s most unsympathetic characters are still allowed moments of humanity. This is a film that not only ends on a hint of hope but which earns that hope as well.
Snowpiercer is one of the best films of the year and it’s one that definitely deserves more consideration than it’s been given.