Snowpiercer and your Smart Phone

Stop the world, I want to get off.

Stop the world, I want to get off.

I finally got around to seeing Snowpiercer, a near-future dystopian tale of claustrophobic chaos.  I had high hopes, because I really enjoyed the director’s previous feature called The Host.  The director is South Korean Bong Joon-Ho, and Snowpiercer is his first English-language film.

The Host was essentially a creature feature, but with some nice twists.  I particularly liked the way the creature is first introduced–not with some big buildup or ominous music to telegraph its appearance on a dark and stormy night, but instead early on in plain view, from a distance, on a sunny day surrounded by people having fun outdoors.  It was exactly the way you would naturally encounter something that big, and the ordinary setting made it all the more shocking when the realization sinks in to people just what they are seeing.

Snowpiercer is a much more ambitious story than The Host, and requires even more suspension of disbelief.  We learn in the opening credits that an intended technological fix for global warming has gone horribly awry, resulting in the worldwide freezing of the earth’s crust and the extinction of all life on the planet’s surface.  The only remaining people in the world are aboard a futuristic train called the Snowpiercer, which cannot stop anywhere but is self-propelling in a way that sort of makes sense.  That’s a big ‘sort of’, but again–you don’t watch a movie like this without a certain willingness to ‘go along for the ride’, as it were.

Snowpiercer isn’t fetishistic about the technology, anyway.  The focus is really class warfare in microcosm.  All the wealthy people are in the front of the train, and they live comfortably, given the circumstances.  The folks in the rear are essentially their slaves and live a subhuman existence.  And the cars in between house security squads designed to keep the folks in the rear from moving up to First Class.

So far, it just sounds like a natural progression from current day air travel.  But what I found most interesting about the whole thing was the time line.  See, this global cataclysm that led to our freezing the world takes place in 2014, just one year after the movie was released.  The story takes place seventeen years later, in 2031.  So anyone who is twenty years old or younger only has life-experience from growing up on a moving train that never stops, with windows and doors that never open.  And the people are essentially us, since it’s easy for most folks to project themselves 17 years into the future.  How would we react in this scenario?

If you are one of those in the rear, you’re probably not too thrilled about the whole deal.  And it’s not a spoiler to suggest that you are likely to want to move on up to a better neighborhood.

OK, so back in the real world now.  Our planet is still habitable, sort of.  And it’s still weakly repairing the damage we inflict upon it daily, sort of.  Depending on who you talk to, we are either already past the point of no return or we still have a fighting chance.  Then there are those who believe global warming is a myth and human activity is having no impact on the planet, but those folks generally can’t read words this big so we lost them a while back.

People are right to be concerned, and many of us are working on lessening our load on our increasingly burdened world.  But how many really experience nature firsthand, and how many observe it by staring at screens?  You know, like you and I are doing right now.

Not to get too preachy <oh Lord, here it comes>, but we used to go outside a lot more.  Vacations and leisure weekends were centered around hiking, swimming, camping, going to the beach or the mountains, and so on.  Today’s young people are much more likely to experience all this stuff vicariously.  You know, with electric devices in climate-controlled environments like coffee shops and libraries.  Where you don’t run the risk of ‘getting any on ya’.

Oh, I know some young people still go outside, but with the number of obese adults essentially tripling in the past 35 years, we have to admit there is a problem here.  And believe me, I know how seductive it is to let technology do our heavy lifting for us.  But if the world suddenly changed radically a la Snowpiercer, how many young people under the age of twenty would miss it?  Or even notice?

It’s not a rhetorical question.  I honestly don’t know the answer, but I am curious.

This was brought home to me a little more clearly yesterday, when I discovered that the Sunset Valley Pow-Wow was going on.  We usually go if we can, but generally in the daytime.  I was just being reminded of it (online, of course) at 6:30 p.m., which means it was already dark outside.

What the heck.  Wife’s out of town, I’m on my own, I’ll walk over to Toney Burger and check it out.

As soon as you step outside, the world changes.  Sunset Valley is a ‘dark skies’ city, so there are no street lights.  There’s lots of green space though, so the first thing you notice is the chorus of crickets and other nocturnal critters, just getting their day started and calling out to greet one another.  Walk a block without speaking, gaze at the stars overhead, and you have entered a meditative space just by immersing yourself in it.  Yes, we are surrounded by Austin, but not in our little oasis.

When I got to the Pow-Wow (it’s a big ‘un), I was immersed again–this time in a culture that honors the natural world.  And yes, I’m hip to the fact that attending a pow-wow does not make you Native American, any more than going out for pizza makes you Chinese.  But it is refreshing to experience a culture that has managed to stay alive despite our two-hundred year attempt to obliterate it.

After an hour or so, I had had enough–I am still an introvert, after all.  But walking back, I had the same experience as arriving, only more so.  Moving out of light into darkness, my vision sharpened.  Moving from inside to outside and working my legs, my lungs expanded.  Moving away from the singing and drumming and into the night sounds, my filters dropped away and my hearing sensitivity increased.  I was in the natural world again.

I’m glad we still have that option.  I hope young folks are too, so their kids have it someday.



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