Lots of people have been talking about Snowpiercer this week and it’s got me all excited. I won’t go into it all but director Bong Joon-ho, who previously made The Host (2006), chose a limited US release by Weinstein rather than cut the film and add a voiceover. He made the right choice, it seems, as his cut is fantastic, exciting, and smart and the film is on the way to being a sleeper hit.
Synopsis (IMDb): Set in a future where a failed climate-change experiment kills all life on the planet except for a lucky few who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system emerges.
Now I loved The Host. Enough that Bong Joon-ho shares a place in my heart with Alfonso Cuaron and the Coen Brothers. If they make it, it’s good enough reason to see. So when I heard about Snowpiercer last year, I was super excited to see it. Then I lost track of movies and plum forgot.
As the US release approached, the trailer started circulating again and I was once again excited and I put the movie on my list.
Dystopia is firmly in my wheelhouse, as are stories about class divisions and collisions, so even from another director this movie would have intrigued me. Impressive cast and what looked like great SFX? All gravy.
What I absolutely was not expecting were the similarities to a series of books I’ve talked about plenty in the past. Snowpiercer has a great deal in common with Hugh Howey’s WOOL, and that is just greeeeeat.
Interestingly diverse cast of characters
Let’s clarify terms here. The WOOL-verse is not terrible diverse in regards to ethnic and religious backgrounds as it tends to preserve the rough demographics of the conditions under which the silos were populated. I don’t want to go too much into this as it is something of a major reveal in the Shift trilogy but suffice it to say that Howey doesn’t make much mention of racial-ethnic-religious difference. Class is the division in these books. Even so, the characters are diverse in interest and well-flushed throughout the WOOL stories.
Snowpiercer does that one better by doing right by POCs. The film supports two male leads and a male and a female antagonist (all white) but there are also lots of roles including those of African and Asian decent, male and female, that fulfill no bs archetype or stereotypes with which I’m familiar. The last remnants of humankind are from across the spectrum
But, as I say, in both stories it is class that creates the greatest promise for, and delivery of, conflict. WOOL and Snowpiercer each exist in dystopic worlds in which little is what it seems. The degree to which class difference is on display from the start differs—in WOOL it is not as clear to the participants that something is up—but both stories are concerns with crumbling facades only barely held up by traditional, control, and misinformation. Additionally, both WOOL and Snowpiercer offer genuinely interesting reveals even for the cynic who’s guessed it all.
Play on the generational starship saving the remnants of humankind
I’ve spent the last year and a half very interested in this idea—and writing a good deal on it myself. I might credit Octavia Butler’s sf conception of the inevitability of interstellar travel in light of the Gaia hypothesis or I might honestly look to any number of books, shows, and films. I enjoy the philosophical allowance that humanity in hostile microcosm allows.
While WOOL addresses this idea via the silos and protection from a ruined environment, Snowpiercer does much the same with an ever-moving train … and … a ruined environment. In each, there is but a single conveyance to assure the continuation of the world. Just what that world is or may be or how it is administered is up for debate and, ultimately, massive response, and thus:
Past and present revolts
In each story, the disenfranchised are a mythic and historic legacy of failed revolution. A new revolt is ever on the horizon. The promise of something better remains and the haves have plenty of weight to throw around to tip the scales.
Unexpected power dynamics
I’ve alluded to this already but I really have no interest in giving away the big reveals from either story. If you want spoilers, there are tons of reviews of each other there. Enjoy. Suffice it to say that power does not work quite as you might have imagined—unless you’re a hopelessly cynical jerk—nor is it as hopelessly entrenched as we are want to believe.
Control of communications
Tom Moylan, in his two great books on utopia/dystopia points to the control of communications in dystopia as one of the only central and ever-lasting elements of the form. He is not the first, nor is this the mere play of fiction on fiction. Through time, conquering armies have sought to lay siege to free communication, often to replace it with propaganda. Snowpiercer and WOOL are no exception and the manner in which controlled communication is metered in each story has unique implications for how these writers read the problems threatening free communication in our own world.
Ridley Scott is a good director, with plenty of great credits to his name, even if I personally dislike a few of his biggest titles. Even so, Hollywood has an abysmal record with adaptations. Maybe the numbers are better in genre, maybe not, but I just don’t know that I’m ever going to see the WOOL adaptation I’ve wanted for years. I’m now ok with that. If you love WOOL, or sf films, or Bong Joon-ho, or dystopia, or great action, or mind-fucks in general, this is a must watch. Chris Evans gives a Puncture level performance, great POC characters, lots of great supporting actors, etc, and on. Go see it in theaters in you can or, if not, get it on demand most places right now.