7 Things I Loved About Netflix's Snowpeircer (despite the concept being quite stupid)
Don’t get me wrong, I adore Snowpeircer. I love it. I talk about it all the time. I talked about the movie for years after it came out. And now I get to talk about it again because there is a snow … I mean show … on Netflix!
I have a definite enjoyment of absurdist concepts and movies that run off the rails (haha train pun) and of stories that are aware their concept is not realistic but don't care because it's about something more. Snowpiercer exemplifies this, as the rather asinine premise is negated by its focus on themes of classism, elitism, survivalism. It's about human nature and greed.
The show is so honest about its intentions - it doesn’t try to convince you that Snowpeircer, as in the actual train blasting through the snow for almost a decade, makes sense. It's a blatant set-up for its deeper argument, yet it's also an incredibly fun idea that makes for some interesting situations. Honestly, give me the dumbest concept ever and as long as it’s well-done, I’ll accept it. Big surprise that another one of my favourite movies is Pacific Rim.
What is Snowpeicer about? In the future, the world has frozen over. It’s -120 degrees (centigrade!) outside. To save humanity, a rich engineer creates a perpetual motion machine and sticks it inside a train. Then piles some people onto this train. It’s 1001 cars long. Who maintains the tracks? Who knows. Where do they get materials for repairs? Questionable. Why not put the engine inside a bunker underground? Not sure.
Oh, and it’s been running for 7 years! My questions about maintenance still stand.
Remember that movie about that big boat? Titanic? Or it's much more popular sequel Titanic II?
Like the Titanic, Snowpeircer functions within a starkly contrasted class system, including a fourth section: “the tail”. At the start of the show, a few hundred people forced their way onto the train. To pay for this, they were locked in the tail end of it, having to resort to cannibalism and other fun stuff until the rulers of the train decided they could be of use and started to feed them gross protein bars. They live in cramped and dirty conditions and are subjected to harsh punishments (such as having a limb removed by sticking it out a porthole into the freezing cold. Why they even have these portholes in the first place is not explained). Sometimes they are upgraded to third class when someone dies. They are planning a revolt when one of the "tailies", Andre Layton, a former police officer, is forced to work a murder case for first class.
I won’t get into the plot (or the various subplots) too deeply, as I want you to watch the show (you’re welcome, Netflix), but here are my top reasons for enjoying the crap out of Snowpeircer.
1. The Twists and Turns
Some are obvious, in a fun way, but oftentimes you think the story is going to go one direction but at the last second chooses a different junction (haha train pun). It’s a great balance between being easy to follow but also keeping you interested.
2. The obvious, yet still valid, argument about classism
The original movie was directed by Bong Joon-ho (who directed Parasite - highly recommended if you haven't seen it, and nothing like Snowpiercer). Given Joon-ho produced the show, the story carries most of its freight (haha train pun) in its social commentary. Like the in-your-face nature of the train itself, the concepts are rather heavy-handed, though to the effect that you are rooting for the tailies constantly. There are some sympathetic people in other classes, but the show clearly posits wealth/greed/privilege (and those who refuse to give these things up to help their fellow humans) as the villain.
3. The Diversity
I get annoyed when a show doesn't have enough diversity and this one does a fabulous job with inclusion! There are women and BIPOC everywhere, from the main characters to those in the background. There are LGBTQ+ people in major roles where their sexuality is not the only facet of their character. The women in the show are as varied and complex as the men. Sex work isn't vilified, for once, and women aren't victimized sexually to further a man's revenge plot. The show does set up a world where racism and sexism don't seem to exist, in order to focus on class, and while this isn't realistic, I liked it.
4. Layton eating food
Being trapped in the Tail for seven years eating weird protein bars has made Layton (and a couple of other characters) very appreciative of food. Every time Layton eats the camera spends an inordinate amount of time showing him enjoying said food, which has a mimetic effect on the viewer. He can be a bit over-the-top as an actor sometimes, but he really makes you appreciate soup.
5. The Violence
This is one of those shows that is definitely violent but it doesn't go far enough that you're disturbed by it (at least not me). There's no sexual violence and no harm comes to children, but there is a pretty bloody battle scene and a couple of beatings/one amputation. It's not a show to watch with kids, but it's nothing you haven't seen before. The show makes it clear that anyone is on the chopping block, which keeps the tension high (but not to the point where you're worried you're going to see something really gross).
6. Jennifer Connelly
All the characters are fun, but Connelly rises above the rest with versatility and nuance that make her the most compelling character. She's a complex and interesting villain who keeps surprising you with her moments of compassion, treachery, and fortitude. She's a villain you root for as much as you feel bad for doing so.
It's also great we're starting to see more and more women over 25 cast in major roles like this. Kate Muldrew as Captain Janeway (ay 39) being a frontrunner for this.
7. The Train
We aren't told a ton about how the train or it's technology functions (because, in truth, it can't function. It makes no GD sense), but how I love the intro with the little blueprints suggesting some thought has been put into it. We're given a couple of quick outdoor shots each episode (usually of the train barreling through the snow or a mini avalance crashing onto the train in various spots around the world. Because the train has to go around the world, not in like Saskatchewan where there are few mountains to cause avalanches).
Yet.I absolutely live for those moments of the show. I love trains though. I'm not about to play Train Simulator, but if there were a Snowpeircer Simulator? Buy me a ticket.
Overall, Snowpeircer is so ridiculous, but it's so much fun. I can't wait for Season 2!