For all the pain we’ve seen inflicted over the last hundreds of years, and for all the social illumination we’ve experienced in the last fifty, we are still a body of people defined by possessions. Money, property, etc. are all social indicators telling people exactly who we are and what we’re capable of. According to society, we all fit into a singular class. The social stratification we see every day is the jumping off point for Bong Joon-ho’s terrific Snowpiercer. Based off a French graphic novel of the same name, Snowpiercer is an inventive, witty, and violent inspection of class warfare. Taking place in a future where snow and ice blanket the Earth, the last remnants of human existence live in a globe spanning train with class designations. At the back of the train are society’s perceived rodents, a collection of sullied and malnourished humans. In the front are people living a lavish life, where decadence is joyously choked down. Every so often, the back of the train revolts against the front. The result is usually devastating. The momentum finally swings under the guidance of Curtis Everett (Chris Evans), a back-end martyr determined to finally lead a successful charge to the front.
The journey is not without bloodshed and peril, but Curtis and his small army march forward in the name of justice. Now, class warfare isn’t anything new to cinema, and the film’s grand points about social separation is far from subtle. But how it uses the main theme within a sci-fi concept, and surrounds it with dazzling sets and wonderfully orchestrated fight scenes, feels refreshing. The screenplay, written in part by Joon-ho and Kelly Masterson, also unravels in unpredictable ways. This especially holds true for each successive train car that Curtis captures. One car in particular, which features a dangerously plucky school class, is a sobering reminder of how social indignation creeps into our children’s minds. Part of the film’s enjoyment also comes from the actors playing in Joon-ho’s sandbox. Chris Evans is extremely compelling as Curtis, but the most colorful character on display is Tilda Swinton’s Minister Mason, a buck-tooth mouthpiece for the train’s rich citizens. She encapsulates the film’s wildest sensibilities, switching between rogue hilarity and vulgar violence in a single scene. For as ludicrous and violent as Snowpiercer gets, there’s a human element present that Joon-ho refuses to sacrifice. Perhaps it’s the persistence of a revolution pushing through a car full of guards wielding axes, or even the powerful sacrifices made along the way, but Joon-ho has made a hyper kinetic sci-fi film that ultimately isn’t a stranger to reality.
The Double (4/5)
In 2011 director Richard Ayoade, a comedian that gained notoriety through The IT Crowd, broke through with a film called Submarine. At first blush, Submarine has remnants of Wes Anderson’s DNA all over it. Off kilter characters, eclectic music, and a dark whimsy painted Ayoade as a natural disciple of Anderson’s kaleidoscope worlds. But as the film hummed along, Ayoade crafted a vision all his own, making Submarine one of 2011’s finest films. If Submarine introduced us to a budding talent, The Double, Ayoade’s newest film, shows us a director that is not only fearless but evolving. Based off the novella of the same name by Dostoyevsky, The Double is a macabre look at the socially inadequate Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) and his increasing admiration for co-worker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska). Simon is a bit obsessive when it comes to Hannah’s life. She not only works with him, but she also lives in the apartment complex across from his. So, Simon innocently checks in on her from time to time with a telescope. This invasion of privacy would be chilling if not for Simon’s childish demeanor. It’s actually rather sweet. Unfortunately for Simon, a new man walks into his life: a doppelgänger by the name of James Simon (Jesse Eisenberg). James is a carbon copy of Simon, except he’s witty, charismatic, and fearless. While Simon struggles to converse with Hannah, James relishes his opportunities with Simon’s crush.
A game of social chess comes to life between the two, as they ferociously vie for Hannah’s affection. As James becomes more intrusive, Simon slowly loses grip on reality and his own identity, all the while the only thing he cherishes – Hannah- becomes even more distant. Watching Eisenberg play off himself, especially when both of his characters represent the proverbial ends of the spectrum, is wild and surreal. Eisenberg has already mastered the chaotic flow of neurotic babble, but when he’s going against himself, well, it’s as frightening as it’s entertaining. When coupled with Ayoade’s choice in lighting and framing, shrouding the characters in overpowering shadows, Eisenberg is at once claustrophobic and liberating. Outside of Eisenberg’s performance, the miracle of The Double is Ayoade’s great handle of tone. There’s a dense, almost insufferable angst running throughout the film, but Ayoade just knows when to pepper in moments of bizarre humor. One of the film’s greatest jokes, also doubling as its saddest realization, is that no one recognizes the resemblance between Simon and James in the film; if only because Simon is so damn forgettable he doesn’t even register. And it’s that fear of anonymity and loneliness that drives The Double, as Ayoade has crafted a film that’s at worst a confusing and fun dream, and at best a living nightmare.