SNOWPIERCER (Bong Joon-ho, 2014)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Sunday, November 30, 6:00
Series runs through January 16
Tickets: $12, in person only, may be applied to museum admission within thirty days, same-day screenings free with museum admission, available at Film and Media Desk beginning at 9:30 am
Korean director Bong Joon-ho, who had a huge international hit in 2006 with The Host and a major critical success with 2009’s Mother, makes his English-language feature debut with Snowpiercer, a nonstop postapocalyptic thrill ride that takes its place with such other memorable train films as The Great Train Robbery, From Russia with Love, The Train, and Murder on the Orient Express. It’s 2031, seventeen years after the chemical C7, which was supposed to end climate change, instead froze the earth, killing all living beings except for a group of survivors on board a train run by a perpetual motion machine. In the rear of the train, men, women, and children are treated like prisoners, beaten, tortured, dressed in rags, their only food mysterious gelatin blocks. Soldiers led by the cold-hearted Mason (Tilda Swinton) and the yellow-clad Claude (Emma Levie), whose outift brings virtually the only color to this dark, dank, deeply depressing setting, violently keep the peace as the two women heartlessly dictate orders and abscond with the children. But Curtis Everett (Chris Evans) and Edgar (Jamie Bell) hatch a plan to get past the guards and make their way to the front of the train in order to find out just what is really going on and to meet with Wilford, the wealthy entrepreneur running the engine. With the help of defiant mother Tanya (Octavia Spencer), elder statesman Gilliam (John Hurt), train engineer Namgoong Minsu (Bong regular Song Kang-ho), and Namgoong’s daughter, Yona (Go Ah-sung), Curtis attempts to lead a small revolution that is seemingly doomed to failure.
Inspired by the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jean-Marc Rochette and Benjamin Legrand (who both make cameos in the film), Snowpiercer is a tense, gripping thriller that unfolds as a microcosm of contemporary society, intelligently taking on race, class, poverty, drug addiction, education, and corporate greed and power. Evans (Captain America, Push) is almost unrecognizable as Everett, a flawed hero trying to make things right, followed every step of the way by cold-blooded killer Franco the Elder (Romanian star Vlad Ivanov of Police, Adjective and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days). The film features splendid production design by Ondrej Nekvasil; each train car offers a completely different look and feel as Curtis heads toward the front, leading to a finale that is everything the conclusion to the Matrix trilogy wanted to be. Bong (Memories of Murder), who cowrote the film with Kelly Masterson (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead), doesn’t shy away from violence in telling this complex story – of course, it doesn’t hurt that one of the producers is Korean master Park Chan-woo (the Vengeance trilogy, Thirst), who recently made his first English-language film as well, last year’s Stoker. A fantastically claustrophobic chase film, Snowpiercer is screening November 30 at 6:00 in MoMA’s annual series “The Contenders” and will be followed by a Q&A with Swinton. The series, which consists of films the institution believes will stand the test of time, continues with such other 2014 works as Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (followed by a discussion with Linklater and costar Ethan Hawke), Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, and Isao Takahata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya.