Review by C.J. Bunce
If you’re a glutton for punishment and the Polar Vortex is child’s play for you, then Snowpiercer may be in your future.
In the future a bomb destroys the climate. A luxury train called the Snowpiercer, intended to take passengers on weeks-long travels becomes the only vehicle for survival, taking on lower class cars to become 1,001 total train cars. It’s the last bastion of civilization. Snowpocalypse, Snowmageddon–call it what you will, the planet is now ice and snow and being outside for even minutes means a certain end from the “White Death.” Originally written in French as Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob with art by Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer, Volume 1: The Escape is now available in an English translation by Virginie Selavy from Titan Books.
Snowpiercer is also a new sci-fi film, starring Chris Evans (Captain America, the Fantastic Four), John Hurt (V for Vendetta, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Hellboy), Ed Harris (The Truman Show, Apollo 13, The Right Stuff) and Tilda Swinton (The Chronicles of Narnia, Constantine), by Korean director Joon-Ho Bong. A major hit in South Korea, it is yet to be released in the States yet, a result of directorial disputes with distributor The Weinstein Company, including a feud over cutting 20 minutes of footage for U.S. audiences that inexplicably “may not understand” the longer version. Here is the South Korean trailer for the movie:
The trailer for the film shows a movie quite different from the graphic novel that inspired it, but maybe an alternate story of the train a la Beyond the Poseidon Adventure. At one level Snowpiercer is a strange, existential retelling of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. In this case the prisoners are on a train instead of within a cave, a train at the turning point in a long-developing class battle. In the place of the freed prisoner from Plato’s work, here an escapee from the back of the train proceeds forward, risking his life by going outside in the deadly cold, the White Death. He makes it from the “tail” of the train, befriends a woman along the way, and a military force confused by his efforts. Paranoia fills the second class cars, and their fears of a tail car rider bringing disease to the front of the train becomes their reality.
Repressive like the world of George Lucas’s THX-1138 and Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron, thematically political like the similarly wintry Dr. Zhivago, and drawn with the stark, black and white look of Aha’s Take On Me music video from the 1980s, Snowpiercer is a bleak, but ambitious, graphic novel about many things. The back of the train like the back of the bus in the 1960s, or the lower sections of the ship on the Titanic, you can analogize the social strata of the train to many things. But neither the rumored horrors at the “tail” of the train, nor the “golden carriages” of the first class at the front of the train are what they appear to be. Is there only a struggling middle class on the train, and is movement upward between classes really all it is rumored to be?
A simple story with many obvious turns, still some components appear to be lost in the translation from French to English–as if some of the content would be better understood by readers in the book’s native tongue. The translation is in quite stilted English and the excessive use of profanity is poorly chosen and doesn’t quite fit, and choice of the other language often clunky. At times it seems like ignoring words altogether would be a better way to read this story, as the visuals seem to tell the tale by themselves.