I finally watched Snowpiercer a few of weeks ago in the comfort of my living room after failing to gather a company into the movie theatres or live in another country where the film had already been released in 2013. I made popcorn. I piled up all blankets and pillows within arm’s reach to amplify my mind’s zone and also to make the couch extra cozy. I had watched the trailer several times, read excellent, spoiler-free reviews, and had been waiting for this moment all summer.
We began as four (my mother, my sister, my father, and I), then three, then two, then… one and a half? Only my dad and I survived through the end, and then with only part of our once-livid interest still intact.
We decided immediately that the film was a terrible, terrible letdown. I didn’t understand—this movie was supposed to be the film to watch. The director had been lauded as a visionary, the performances as inspired, the story a beautifully-woven allegory for the ages. But I hated it. We hated it. Everyone hated it. I took to the Internet for solace, to try and see if perhaps I missed something, if perhaps some crucial metaphor had gone over our heads unnoticed. According to all the positive reviews I read, though, none had. I seemed to understand the same symbolism and metaphorical figurations these reviewers celebrated as masterpiece filmmaking, only I saw them as remarkably incomplete, utter failures of storytelling.
I even went to read some negative reviews to see if anyone else shared my particular perspective or brought anything new to the table besides the countless happy audience members giving standing ovations left and right.
But then I encountered another problem, and that was that not one of the negative reviews I read mentioned any of the issues I spotted, and in fact, they usually lingered on separate issues that I never had a problem with at all, like the suspension of disbelief required to digest some of the technology discussed on screen. Only one so-so review from a blog dedicated to reviewing screenplays—which I have studied on several occasions in college thus far—seemed to share any of my concerns. So what is a film lover to do?
Since I obviously share an opinion overwhelmed by an opposing majority, I have a feeling that much of the remainder of this post will be for my benefit and your curiosity alone. But I just couldn’t help myself. At long last, I present:
A Step-By-Step Guide On What to Do When You Dislike Something Everyone Else Loves: the Snowpiercer Edition.
(But watch out. There be spoilers…)
Step 1: Always bear an open mind.
If you think the film you’re about to watch will be a cool, meta, action-packed dystopian mind-thrower, don’t be upset when it isn’t. This is just what advertisers want you to believe, and they’re allowed to be deceptive to a certain point. You may watch said film and think to yourself that this is no action-adventure at all, nor does it provide any sort of original commentary on modern-day predicaments of politics and human nature. An honest advertiser would have told you that the film is, in fact, more akin to a surrealist piece of art, where the components may or may not combine into something that makes any sort of sense. Your blank stare as the lights rise is normal, and many critics would tell you that this is merely a sign of your enlightenment, or the turning of brain around tiny fractions of subplot that must be important someway, somehow. Do not be alarmed when you are not, and they are not. Again, this is what they want you to believe. Before this realization hits you, just sit back, relax, and at least enjoy Song Kang-ho being undeniably cool without really having to do anything.
Step 2: Remember that all logical inconsistencies are just a sign of your mental weakness.
Perhaps at a certain point in the film, shortly after the arrival of the finger-licking child-whisker who may hint at cannibalism, or just corruption, or may just be freaky for no reason, you may begin to wonder if all the events thus far witnessed have been hallucinations, or maybe a dream cycling inside the head of our main man, Curtis. After all, why would scriptwriters go through the trouble of constantly addressing drug use aboard the train, and all the numbing, mind-altering side affects of its ingestion? Why should anyone trust a word out of gate master-slash-addict Namgoong’s mouth, and why, if he’s introduced as a gate master, does he fail so miserably at his job? These are valid questions if you don’t understand the immense symbolism and indigestible allegory and have not trained your brain to compete with upper echelon critics who will tell you exactly why you are so crude and uncultured.
When Namgoong’s daughter Yona is introduced as a clairvoyant, don’t pay attention. She does not actually use these powers anywhere else in the film. And if you happen to notice a strange editing cut between that reveal and the sudden arrival of the guards, when she and Curtis seem to change position and location in an instant, only to catapult into an immediate, dream-like fight, don’t even mention it to anyone. No one cares, and no one else noticed.
No other critic will even question the strange coincidences in which Curtis happens to find crucial notes in just the right protein bar, or just the right egg. These, again, may appear to be clues hinting that the train and the events within the train do not operate under logic, and are perhaps images of a dream state, or an underworld where things don’t make sense and everything results in pain. You may have even started counting cars to see if they might mimic the famous rings of hell. But no, you’re thinking too hard. Critics will take all these events literally, even though you understand—and they still claim, somehow—that the film itself shouldn’t be taken literally, that all movement and progress of the speeding train is just an illusion of a failed, stagnant system. But some people, like you, who think this film is unsuccessful in pulling off the metaphor, just don’t know what they’re talking about.
Don’t even worry about all those deathblows that don’t actually kill anyone, not even when that one guy’s been stabbed through multiple vital organs. Don’t bother your little head over Curtis planning for a mad dash toward the Engine and then taking his sweet time, lingering for monologues, school lessons, sushi breaks, and shootouts that defy physics and seem to cause him to forget that the route to the Engine is a one-way street, and the bad guy is already cars behind.
Besides, Curtis is right about one thing—eating babies is gross and disturbing, even though the line delivery makes something about it seem comical. You must believe what the critic says, that the secret-cockroach ingredient is far worse than baby meat, despite your baffling objections to the contrary. Many people in the world today eat bugs on a regular basis, you may think. But no, you forgot that nothing makes sense, and when Curtis gags at the sight of creepy crawlies when he already lives in a cesspool of filth and grime and has been nourished on the flesh of children, you should understand the deep, deep, unfathomable complexity of that carefully crafted metaphor that only masters of film analysis view as a reasonable reaction.
Step 3: Don’t let your imagination get the better of you.
Few people at the mercy of the critics will admit, in this case, that the film in question could probably benefit from a lot more mystery. In fact, you may have been filled with optimistic wonder at the start of the film. Perhaps you wondered if the enigmatic Wilford is a physical entity or an elaborate rouse in what seems to be the hallucinogenic tones of the film—but no, you’re wrong again. Wilford is, in fact, just a man. Many reviews will have told you that this counts as a “big twist,” and that they can’t—just can’t—tell you the actor’s name or it would spoil absolutely everything. Disregard your aching disappointment when the final act neither surprises nor intrigues. Remember, the film told you from the start exactly how everything would happen, so just relax as the clichés unfold before you.
Don’t even risk celebrating the novel quality of the train’s gunmen’s supposed and secret lack of actual bullets. Not even when Curtis’ bold attempt to prove it turns out to be wicked awesome. This would normally count as a cool plot twist, but since this movie only wants you to think it’s innovative, it will actually reintroduce bullets shortly and reduce into a series of gory shootouts and hatchet fights. Then your favorite character, the only one—how did no one else pick up on this?—that acts like a rational human being, dies. Maybe it’s symbolism, but since no one else on the Internet thinks everyone else in the film is acting like a mental patient, well then, maybe not. Also, you were supposed to believe that he was seventeen years old the whole time. Didn’t you know that?
In this tired state, you might also find your eyes drifting over the set design more often. Usually, it delivers. But when you finally encounter the Engine room, you must be sure to only note what everyone else notices: namely the creepiness of Wilford, the pristine conditions of the tiny room, the reveal involving Gilliam that literally makes no sense and doesn’t actually make any difference whatsoever but which everyone will love, anyway. Don’t mind that the image of the Engine—to your eyes, at least—appears totally artificial, as if drawn on a piece of paper…as if it doesn’t actually exist. Whether this is a purposeful design no one can tell—not a word of this problem exists in any review, so your concern is mostly invalid.
Step 4: Always let your politics rule your interpretations.
If several people claim that Tilda Swinton’s character is supposed to echo Margaret Thatcher, you had better believe it, even when the two have almost nothing at all in common. Remember key words like “capitalism,” “socialism,” “conservatism,” and “liberalism,” and then only use them in negative sentences and with deep disdain. This is the best way to fit in.
Step 5: Try to linger on the good things.
When all else fails, and you realize that maybe this movie just isn’t for you, despite all your hype, despite understanding that the film is a science fiction allegory and then failing to appreciate its effect and all that—just remember the good things. Tilda Swinton gives an amazing performance as Mason. Luke Pasqualino makes a pretty suave ninja dude. Jamie Bell is pretty likeable. Chris Evans’ beard is life. You know, those types of things. Be calm.
Well, now, that all feels pretty cathartic. Believe it or not, I actually have more to say on the subject of Snowpiercer and why I think it didn’t quite make the cut, but I have a feeling I’ve said plenty for now. I haven’t actually met anyone in real life who liked this film, so I’m more than curious to hear other opinions that might give me a new perspective on it. Especially since I’ve expressed some opinion here in haphazard and rather emotional fashion, to say the least.
Anyway. If you have made it to the end of this ridiculous edition of Prologue to a Blog, I thank you for your time. I hope to be much more consistent with my use of it—my time and the blog—in the future.