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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Serial (2014)- A Review of Sorts

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Who the hell reviews a podcast? Who reviews a nonfiction series of episodes that have no formal narrative, no set structure like even a documentary has? It’s true that in theory the idea of a critic analyzing a group of people around a microphone seems… rather excessive, but Serial is not the production of a couple of geeks with microphones. Serial, co-produced by NPR and specifically This American Life, is far more than that. It’s the product of the sweat, blood, and tears of Sarah Koenig’s tumultuous journey through the case of Adnon Syed. The culmination of 15 months of fascination and hard work on the part of Sarah and her producers. With the NPR association there is a certain level of budget and technical professionalism, but within the 12 episodes of Serial there is not just fancy audio mixing and elaborate reporting, but heart. Real heart. The kind that we easily forget exists, until a particular piece of art reminds us of it. That word, “art,” is one I’m quite willing to apply to Serial, one of the few podcasts out there deserving of that classification (another would be Welcome to Night Vale for clarification).

Be warned, if my prose feels flowery it’s because I just finished listening to the final episode and the style of writing used in not just Serial, but This American Life as well tend to leave a lasting impression in my mind. It’s a way for the author to report the facts while also turning a phrase, to weave a narrative around the developments as they come. Perhaps it’s this writing style that allows Serial to achieve what many believe to be the ultimate goal of art: to teach us or get us thinking about life, humanity, or the world we live in. Most media doesn’t do this and I used to be skeptical of this standard as far too high of an expectation to have. However in the afterglow of such a shining example of it, one that wasn’t a 500 million dollar movie or a 24 episode TV series or an avant garde painting, but rather a simple 10ish hours of audio, I find myself willing to maintain that standard. I don’t mean to demean podcasting as a medium, but to this day the majority of its content is informal at best. I should know, I’m the proud host of one.

It is my hope that Serial represents the future of podcasting. The beginning of its transcendence as a medium into art and mass consumption. A new spectrum of low to high budget, artistic to blockbuster, star-powered to geeks in their basement. Podcasts that capture the imagination of the country like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and to an extent Serial. While I know it won’t, I hope that the heart and integrity of Serial is maintained in this future of podcasting. So that the realm of storytelling can advance, giving us an emotionally rich catalog to choose and learn from.

Not much detail is needed, nor should be given to someone before they listen to Serial. It’s a podcast about the murder of a high school girl and the man who was accused of killing her. 15 years removed, every aspect of his guilt/innocence is examined, with the hopes of proving whether or not he actually killed her. You don’t need much more than that. Go listen to the first episode. It’s 45 minutes of audio, so it’s easily consumed. One episode is all you’ll need to either get hooked or not.

Like I said though, Serial goes above and beyond. It has left an impression on me, taught me lessons about life. I’ll never take for granted the daily occurrences of my existence, for I never know when they’ll be thrown into the warped light of a courtroom. I’ve always seen the world in shades of grey, but now I’ve never been more certain in this belief. Most importantly, and I think most relevantly, I’ve learned to never reduce a crime or event to a set series of facts, for there are always details I’ll never know and sides to the story I’ll never hear. Serial is ultimately a tale of ambiguity. Take what you want from it, feel how you want about it. Yours is merely another voice in the cacophonous symphony, another piece of the big picture.