My first impression of this film was the sheer epic nature of the whole thing. Bong Joon-Ho’s grand creation struck me as dark and poetic, a vast portent of humanity’s most hideous failings, and most beautiful heroics. But the more I thought on what I’d seen, the deeper the message grew for me.
Snowpiercer, adapted from a French graphic novel by Jacques Lob, considers the horrific repercussions of a renewed class system, when a failed attempt to slow global warming freezes all life on Earth, leaving the lucky few to scramble aboard a train set on an infinite loop. We plunge directly into the stirrings of a bloody lower class revolt, as reluctant hero Curtis doggedly moves his people forward from the squalid back-end of the train.
After maybe the third or fourth scene, when the war truly began, my roommate pointed out something fascinating: perspective and different shots through the film are almost exclusively lateral. Whenever Curtis makes an important decision, the camera views him in profile looking backward or forward. The push of the rebels to the front of the train enhances this linear constancy. Linear thought, perspective, movement, this is life in a train.
The only exception to this lateral energy is the handful of scenes taking place in the center of the train, where windows dot several compartments, and the scope of each scene seems to widen slightly.
When Curtis finally reaches the front, the walls close in again, and everything becomes a backward/forward negotiation of energy. It was those scenes in the center, moments of clarity lit by the snow outside, that became my “aha!” moment about that deeper significance of the story I mentioned in the beginning of this post before the rambling began. Where I had originally thought of the plot as a parable, a warning from humanity for humanity, it suddenly became all about balance.
The front of the train, and its inhabitants, are just as unbalanced as their poor, cramped counterparts in the back; excess replaces desperation. First class is crowded with luxury, the tail end is crowded with bodies. There are no windows in either end. Only the middle cars enjoy any true clarity provided by the light of the outside world.
When I recognized this little facet of Snowpiercer‘s tremendous tale, it completely changed my perspective of the piece, and of the world I live in. Equilibrium is paramount–too much of anything breaks the cycle of a healthy, joyful life. If existence is a train, the best spot is the center car, where everything is illuminated.