Asleep was I, snug as a bug on drugs, dreaming of the fresh ten inches of Iowa snow which I would be shoveling away come morning. I slept soundly as a man of simple pleasures and cotton-swabbed conscience.
But from below: Footsteps, booming louder and louder as they came upstairs to my chamber door. Ominous and threatening. I cowered into my blankets as the door crashed open, light stabbed into my eyes, and a voice said excitedly “You have to see this movie!” It was BIG MOMMA FANDOM.
“Nooooo!,” I nooooo’ed, “I’m on this cool anime and animation kick this month – it would be a shame to break it.”
“No time to explain,” yelled Momma Fandom, dragging me by the ankles out of bed, “There’s a TV show based on the movie out there already! Season two premiere on TNT!”
I knew what movie Fandom meant. I’m on Twitter, I know what’s up. In desperation I tried to bluff, “I’ve seen Snowpiercer already!”
“No you haven’t,” countered Fandom as I was dragged downstairs, head bumppity bumppity bump, to my fireside laptop. “It’s still in your Netflix queue! One of John Hurt’s fifteenth-to-last performances! Your crush, Tilda Swinton, plays a villain! Critically acclaimed, fan worshiped, how could you?”
“But I’ve seen all the movies just likeSnowpiercer!” I brayed madly. This was sadly very true. I had most recently seen The Platform, which is exactly the same movie only it’s set in a prison instead of a train. On reflection, judging from my appetite the next day, this was doubtless the worst possible movie that I could have picked to watch on the night before Thanksgiving. Even Tor.com, hallowed experts on science fiction, concur with me that The Platform and Snowpiercer are the same movie, along with High-Rise, which came out just two years later.
“I just really don’t need to see any more class struggle sci-fi!” I whimpered as I was strapped into my viewing chair with my Clockwork Orange lidlocks in place, “I get it! I GET IT!!! Class struggle, poor-vs-rich, haves-vs-have-nots, proletariat-vs-bourgeoisie, I know! I read my Karl Marx and my Ayn Rand! I took the class, I passed the test, I have the diploma!”
Why do they keep making class-struggle sci-fi movies? It’s the most boring-obvious theme you could go for in science fiction. Granted, there are stellar classics in this genre, but you have no idea how many bombs there are too. So many strawman political characters and author tract plots and final boss dictators who cordially explain why society functions better when a monster runs it. And they keep making the same movie over and over…
Welcome To the Planet of the Same Movie Every Day
Snowpiercer is about the future where the poor and wretched are kept under control by the wealthy upper class who alone can afford the luxury of a safe existence, but once a year all laws are suspended and they’re free to commit any crime, even murder… oh wait, that’s The Purge.
Snowpiercer is about a society where the poor and powerless are ruled mercilessly by a rich aristocracy, but once a year, representatives are chosen by lottery to participate in a deathmatch free-for-all between 12 districts… oops, no, that’s The Hunger Games.
Snowpiercer concerns this technology marvel which keeps the upper class safe in luxury while the lower class struggles to live, since Earth is a ravaged wasteland, but the technology marvel is flying up in the sky this time so I have to be talking about Elysium.
Right then, Snowpiercer is about how our society is managed by an elite upper class we’re not even permitted to see, until one day a lowly construction worker finds a pair of magic glasses that allow him to see the false constructs of society where all the billboards actually say “OBEY” and “CONSUME” so he leads an uprising… What? Wrong again? They Live? Whoopsie.
Snowpiercer is about the future of Earth where, thanks to a climate disaster, the entire world has been covered in water and Kevin Costner has mutated into a merman… no, wait, I’m sorry, that’s Waterworld and it’s not even a class struggle sci-fi.
Um, a world where poor and downtrodden blah blah rich and privileged blah blah but there’s a game show that Arnold Schwarzenegger enters as a contestant? The Running Man?
Poor lower-class blah blah rich upper-class blah blah but the rich abuse time travel to steal bodies from the future to transplant their brains into so they live forever in control? Freejack? Dammit, that’s one I like and everybody else hates, I never get a chance to talk about it.
Poor-vs-rich, everybody lives on nutrition glop in packets (so far so good) but when the poor protest, then a dump truck scoops them up and takes them to the back entrance of the nutrition glop factory? Soylent Green? Aw man!
Did we do a second US Civil War and a virus pandemic, while a lone masked figure inspires the proletariat masses to take down the oppressive government? Did you really think I’d forget V for Vendetta? It’s practically a Bible for our current crop o’ crazies.
Do you know how far back this trope goes? Science fiction using allegory for class struggle goes to 1927, with a movie hailed as one of the greatest ever made, certainly the codifier for science fiction in film as a genre, full stop! It’s about a future city divided into two classes, workers and rulers: Metropolis.
Bleedin’ Metropolis! So old that H.G. Wells saw it and wrote a review! And even he though the trope was old and tired already!
Normally, I don’t mind any sci-fi movie as long as it’s well done. Snowpiercer is very well-done, a stylistic bit of claustrophobic hell on Earth where I’m told it’s an action movie but it still moves slow as molasses for me.
This, however, is not normal sci-fi, and so, in lieu of watching it, I’d rather have my arm frozen outside the train and shattered with a sledgehammer. In fact, I’m about to divest class-struggle sci-fi of its science fiction license. I propose these movies be moved to the dystopia fantasy category. My reason being that the only difference between these movies and pure dystopian misery-porn is that one of the lower-class nutters occasionally wins, or at least there’s a suggestion that the totalitarian society may one day crumble.
And before anybody brings up my irrational favor for my favorite Brazil, that is an exception. It’s a parody of dystopian movies! Terry Gilliam looked 30 years into the future and saw only Hunger Games. He tried to warn us, and we didn’t listen. Such is the fate of all prophets. Bong Joon Ho knows Gilliam’s work very well, else he wouldn’t have named a main character after him and then made sure it’s repeated a few-dozen times in act 3.
But anyway, the genre of class-struggle dystopia-lite usually doesn’t fit into sci-fi already. There’s little to no observance of the hard laws of science. In the opening title card to Snowpiercer, we’re told “all life is extinct” except for the people on the train. Ask your local StackExchange the problem with that statement. Earth has had an Ice Age before yet life persevered nonetheless, and steel (like what you make trains out of) does not withstand such extreme temperature differentials.
On top of this, the whole train idea is poetic, but nonsensical. That “perpetual motion” engine which supposedly powers it would be better put to use powering a factory to build a second such engine, in turn to build a third and fourth, and so on until we replenish the Earth with cozy space heaters which solve our Ice Age problem nicely.
Truly, Snowpiercer flirts with surrealism by the time it gets to the half-way mark with a clairvoyant passenger and a carload of meat-cleaver psychos – just because why not? Past the halfway mark, it pins surrealism against the wall and cashes in its virginity check.
So, no “hard” sci-fi going on here. Instead, like High-Rise and Hunger Games and The Platform, we have a fantasy allegory about… sigh… class struggle in society. Pretty to look at, fun to munch popcorn to, with some interesting wrinkles along the way. You have good guys to root for because that’s the underdog every day, isn’t it? Don’t worry, there’s plenty of payoffs. Tilda Swinton does not disappoint, in her role which is (glance at notes) an amalgam of Ayn Rand and Margaret Thatcher. The story is imaginative, and beautifully realized.
And then we will have our TNT series with the same story over again but told in more detail. Gee, I wonder if the poor underdogs will overthrow the aristocracy this time?