Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 in Shit: Snowpiercer

I kept thinking I might end up having shit to say about Snowpiercer. It turns out I hella don't, except that it's great, so I'll just spitball for a second and then let you go.

I was really, really hyped about Snowpiercer coming out, because it completed a weird personal trilogy. Last year saw the first English language releases of two of my favorite directors active right now; Park Chan-Wook's Stoker, and Kim Jee-Woon's The Last Stand. Kim's Tale of Two Sisters and The Good, The Bad, The Weird (and, in a more roundabout way, The Quiet Family) were all crucial to me in learning about film; Park's Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is arguably the most important movie in my development. The fact that they both got to work for subtitle-averse audiences excited the shit out of me. With Snowpiercer, Bong Joon-Ho entered the field of incredible South Korean film directors that came out with an English language movie in this tiny time frame.

Bong's most famous for The Host, which is a really fantastic monster movie. Unlike Kim and Park, unfortunately, I don't have nearly as strong an attachment to Bong's work; I didn't see The Host early enough, and as much as I loved getting to see Mother in the theater it didn't happen to line up in such a way as to leave as serious an impression on me. These are all weird little things, accidences of biography, but there they are; I wasn't as excited to see what promised to be a train movie with Marxist overtones as I was to see a Schwarzenegger movie about a bordertown sherif. And, I mean, I turned out to be right, because The Last Stand was the best movie of last year, but that's not the point. Or maybe it sort of is; getting to see Snowpiercer for me was some weird mixture of riding the high off of Park and Kim's showings last year and mediated (but still strong) expectations based on my own personal history with watching Bong's films.

I suppose, had I had a different experience -- like, say, expecting Snowpiercer to be some brilliant Marxist polemic, rather than a film from a director I respected and was excited to see getting to work in a new environment -- I might have also been somewhat disappointed in it. I would also be a very different film viewer, and would not be bringing this wonderful series to you, all my lovely readers. Film as prepackaged polemic is hella boring and -- well, weird, I guess I've talked about this for, now, three days in a row -- tends toward the sort of reading practices that foreground the boring version of worldbuilding that privileges narrative coherence over all. As fun as it might have been to grouse about the incidental aspects of Snowpiercer's train-world, the need to systematize things like precisely how the described conditions of, for instance, the food supply, works is weak as fuck. It makes sense, I guess, if you really want the whole to conform to a Marxism (or whatever), but, as magical as it might sound, characters don't need to eat. And, on top of that, they aren't to be taken at their word. Even -- especially -- when they are infodumping in science fiction. It's a technique; just because it is one with a history of being employed without a hint of ambiguity doesn't mean it's devoid. Science Fiction as a whole would be so goddamn boring if you took statements like "this train has been running for seventeen years because we go through a tunnel once every 365 days" to be anything other than a claim by a character with an agenda.

That said, stakes defined; Snowpiercer was an incredibly pretty movie, in the way that elaborate set construction* and tight cinematography and the presence of Song Kang-Ho tend to lend themselves to. Another silly thing: that it was criticized for being videogamelike, which seems like the sort of criticism levelled by those for whom Film as Art is still somehow a proposition that must be adamantly defended. The whole thing goes like this: for the past two decades, on a large scale, videogame designers have cribbed from the language of cinema in order to drive their narrative elements towards respectability commensurate with their sales. This is mostly noted in terms of things like cutscenes in games, where player control is obviated to advance story, but is probably more important in how games (especially since becoming predominantly 3D) pace themselves in order to satisfy both the mechanical ("fun") demands as well as the more traditionally narrative demands. Ever since games started to actually be able to strike some semblance of balance between the two -- I would that this happened in 1998 when Metal Gear Solid, StarCraft, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time all came out, but I'd be open to dispute -- films have been accused of conforming to that semblance, largely because of having the things that games cribbed. When movies are like videogames its exciting. Snowpiercer was also exciting but for nothing remotely resembling that reason.

Spitballing doesn't often lead to my talking about the movie as such. Oops. So here's the thing: it's as gorgeous a movie, in terms of set design, as anything I've ever seen. It fucking works, to, by artificially isolating its environments in ways that the structure of cinema makes coherent. And it's a pleasure to watch, framed as it is on terms of class and environmental politics, which are developed on the terms of its spaces. And the whole movie seems mostly interested in making you despise the whiteboy lead, because he is a completely insufferable dick.

There, that's it really; if you haven't, do see it, and keep in mind that the movie is in no way in the corner of the whiteboy lead. He sucks and it knows it, and it shows you that. From the classroom scene's opening relentlessness to the questionable finale to the running of the torch during the tunnel fight scene, whiteboy sucks. It's the best.

*Here's yr worldbuilt marxist critique; the narrative level is a hole-y fabricated space, which is itself a function of a fabricated fragmented set-space. The materials create the condition of possibility. The absence of critique that captures the totality is a consequence of the material fragmentation. Movies aren't fucking magic, keep that Spielberg bullshit out of your mouth; they are real moments. Moments are not the whole, they don't matter, yr trend tracking is worthless, the train is powered by child labor and Ed Harris' performance here is literally identical to his performance in Pain & Gain because of that shit that circulates like M-M'.

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