Snowpiercer and Ideology

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This was a “creative work” I had to create for a class. I did a review, but since it had to relate back to a topic in the class this ends up being more about ideology then if the film is quality or not. Hence it being here and not a review.

It’s rare that action films have sufficient plot and character development, let alone any substantial themes and ideology to be analyzed. In the slog of action, sci-fi, and superhero films coming out of Hollywood, Snowpiercer shines bright as a unique thrill ride.

In the future the world has frozen over, forcing mankind into near extinction with the exception of a small faction that resides on an ever-moving train. Segregated to the back of the train are the poor and needy who in response to their seperation from the rich at the front of the train, decide to revolt. Led by Curtis (Chris Evans) and under the guidance of Gilliam (John Hurt), the mob pushes it way through the train. Along the way they uncover the secrets of the train’s operations and it’s creator Mr. Wilfred with the help of junkie technician Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song).

Chris Evans not only leads the rebellion, but leads the film as well. His strong performance keeps the film going at crucial points where the action dies down. Speaking of which, the film’s action scenes can be shaky at times, but still engrossing to watch. The rest of the cast is strong as well, particularly the brought over actors from director Joon-Ho Bong’s other film The Host.

Looking at Snowpiercer there’s the obvious themes of class divide and structures of society, but within that there’s an examination of ideology itself. Within the society that is the train, the doctrine of the train is sent through several ideological institutions. The poor are educated through religion, the word of those of a higher authority that they have to take on faith. “The Eternal Engine is sacred, Mr. Wilford is divine. So it is.” is repeated to create their world view. “So it is,” reinforces the ideological aspect of this statement as ideology by nature appears natural or “as it is.” The children are indoctrinated through school, educated in the world view that Mr. Wilford wants them to have.

When looking at cultural views that defy the mainstream, one notices that after a period of time the become incorporated back into the system. For example, the demonization of homosexuals slowly over time becomes worked into the ideology of the majority of a culture as wrong, despite being to some degree acceptable. When Curtis finally confronts Mr. Wilford, Wilford reveals that the entire rebellion was manufactured with the help of Gilliam. The film’s motif of “Everyone has their place” has been reinforced by the authority by incorporating rebellion into the ideological system, thus rendering it mute.

As the film comes to it’s end, the institution, which has lost its humanity through its methods, self-destructs and the society/train goes off the tracks, killing most of its members. The films message ultimately ends up being a cynical worldview, where the ideological institutions are both cruel and necessary to survival. It’s only when they are interrupted that the whole society crumbles, but in the wake of that destruction there is a glimmer of hope. In the wasteland of ice and snow, the survivors spot a polar bear, a sign of life.

With all this talk of ideology, we’ve ignored the central question of “Should you see Snowpiercer?” With it’s well-staged action scenes, fascinating premise, strong performances, and most importantly its ideological criticism, Snowpiercer is one of the most interesting action films you could watch this holiday break, if not the best.

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