This month, the Flim Springfield film crickets are recasting our first contemporary movie, SNOWPIERCER!, the inspiring story of one man’s journey up forbidding Widow’s Peak Mountain to rescue his best friend … Oh wait, its actually a dark journey through brutal oppression to resistance. An allegory for the social order as it is today.
There’s other interests my fellow casting agent and I share besides The Simpsons, and one of them is a dark fascination for the end of the world. In fact, Snowpiercer was the movie that got our minds working overtime on the Flim Springfield recasting idea.
MARGE VS. THE MONORAIL (S4, Ep12) is the iconic Simpsons episode. It’s a pitch-perfect story that blends dystopia cliches, The Music Man, and small town politics in equal measure, written by one of the premier comic talents in contemporary television, Conan O’Brien for nonstop laughs.
Of course, it also has that show stopping song originally performed with perfection by Phil Hartman:
Joon-ho Bong’s South Korean action flick Snowpiercer has quite a few key elements in common with Marge VS the Monorail. There’s the unstoppable train, dilapidated infrastructure, corrupt leadership and selfish opportunists who’d kill for wealth, even dependence on unhealthy foods. And everyone wants to stop the train. They’re almost the same story, except they aren’t. Where Snowpiercer starts off with environmental calamity, the Springfield Monorail’s problems are only exacerbated by solar power.
Marge Vs. The Monorail’s overall message is that greed makes people stupid–or stupid people stupider. As long as they’re placated with bribes, easy work, or the chance to look good in front of the camera, they’ll fall for an obvious con job. Even the Lisa (“Springfield’s answer to the question no one asked”) is taken in by flim-flam artist Lyle Lanley. People want to be comfortable, and barring that they’ll settle for the illusion of safety through consistency. It isn’t hard to imagine a Springfield that winds up something like the world in Snowpiercer–if not for shoddy construction, and a last minute ‘hail Mary’ save by the town’s premier idiot.
Snowpiercer is an South Korean production, based on a French graphic novel, staring Captain America (Chris Evans). This international mix of influences creates a movie that riskily reaches higher than I expected from it. There’s a mise-en-scène and quirks of direction that give it a very distinct feel not found in Hollywood movies–something that upends expectations and kept surprising me throughout.
There’s obvious social/religious/political overtone that drives the plot, which I might blindly see as a America-only problem, but Snowpiercer makes clear is a worldwide plight that it expresses through excellent use of a cast that pointedly features non-white non-male actors in prominent rolls. Significantly, at the story’s end, the lead villain turns out to be just as white/male as the hero. It doesn’t feel like an accident of casting, Evans and Ed Harris could be the same person from different points in their life/career in fact. Tilda Swinton deserves an Oscar for her pitch-black-comic performance, and the entire cast is excellent, even though they’re more ‘props’ for discussion than fully realized characters, they do amazing work making each role engaging and believable.
Snowpiercer has a clever set of conditions frantically pushing the story forward, and staging its message: The movie takes place on a train that is a completely closed ecosystem, it is The World. Each train-car serves very specific function: garden, water purification, school, the overstuffed trailer where the poor live, etc… Every door opens onto a new diorama exhibiting different classes of people living their lives: what they’re given, what they’re denied, and how they’re taught to accept their place in the structure is laid out set-piece by set-piece in a way that logically builds from the first scene to the last. Characters give speeches without a trace of being self-aware–horrible little life lessons–as the mob make their way from back to front, that lay out the problems of this world. Snowpiercer the movie knows we’re all trapped in the same place by the thoughts we’re taught, even though most of its passengers don’t.
As the front of the train draws ever closer, there are fewer and fewer people from the back who’ve survived the grind. The movie ends with a final climactic FX laden disaster that is a pretty gutsy no-punches-pulled decision, admitting that the only way to break out of the system is to destroy it no matter the cost.