I was in Copenhagen last weekend. It's a small dark city, built upon a series of islands, many of which have been extended into the marshland in between. When I wandered across a bridge, or along a canal, I saw the faces of drowned Vikings, arms reaching up toward me through the sand and cobbles. Like Käthe Kollwitz's blackest victims, they claw for the light from their sunken longboats. Coarse wooden symbols of innovation and exploration - the boats deliberately scuttled with enormous grey boulders to stabilise the city's foundations.
Copenhagen - a city of the young built on the dead. I was without doubt the oldest person within 10 miles.
Average age 25.
Average speed was 15.
Average appearance was wind-blown.
Women on bikes. Rushing from here to there. Standing up on their pedals so they can avoid rucking their dresses, and so they can get a faster start at the traffic lights. I stand waiting to cross a street, and 50 bikes sail past - the standing women float up and down like the horses on a merry-go-round. Seemingly effortless and unconnected to the world. Their pony-tails and long-bobs flustering in their wake.
There are men on bikes. They wear baseball caps, grungy baggy jackets and they ride low and powerful. They too are fluent, but not vertically like the women - the men ride effortlessly horizontal. They use a too high a gear, so their feet barely turn as they streak past the merry-go-round women, and on through the red lights.
Average age 25.
Average speed 18.
There are men in the subway too. But these are different.
They wear light blue collared shirts open at the neck. They have 'product' in their foppishly styled blonde hair. Their cotton trousers are too tight. They listen to music and carry their phones 'in hand'. They stand on the escalator with one foot on the higher step - knee bent.
I saw these men in the street cafes too. Often clustered in threes - low hairlines, blonde hair swept back and secured. Their perfect skin a lighter shade of L'Oréal Paris.
They sit at angles. Legs at odds with one another, and one arm resting along the next chair. And usually one of the standing women rolls by on a bike. She throws her stand and they all hug. Her grey patterned silk one-piece waves, shimmers and flows like smoke as she takes the fourth chair.
Average age 19.
Average speed 2.
I'm standing outside the Metro on Christianshavn island. At the edge of a large cobbled plaza. There's a group of homeless men under the bus-shelter roof. Greasy dark back-swept hair. Leather jackets and dropped jeans. They are having a party. They cluster around beer, and a large speaker tied to a sack-truck which is pumping out trance from a cheap mp3 player gaffer-taped onto the side. There are 6 of them, and others wander up as I watch. They are oblivious of other people, and I don't feel threatened.
I do though by the guy stood behind me. He has watched me eating my hot-dog. His wide eyes stare back at me and he seems to quiver. I move and his eyes move to me. I turn to put the sticky papers into a small bucket attached to the stall.
"What is meta for?"
Whispered into my right neck. Slightly moist warmth, and I feel the ooze of hairs moving.
"Is it for clarity? Is it for understanding?"
I turn, but there's no one. The man with the haunted eyes is peering around the hot-dog stall - watching.
This film, Snowpiercer, is a series of visual vignettes. Each tableau is built along the lines of a paragraph structure:
Introduce; Explain; Summary.
And these lesser stories are linked by two threads - Wilford, who built and runs the train in which the bigger story develops; and the main man - who is the troubled, unshaven good-looking-guy with two arms.
Snowpiercer is a post-apocalyptic train racing across the world on rails. It rushes around mountains; crashes through snow-drifts; turns huge sweeping corners on sparking wheels - the inner buggies lifting with each bump in the track - achingly distant from the guiding rails. The carriages above rock crazily and bounce - threatening to explode into the chasm below at any moment.
Yet inside, there is no indication of movement. All is smooth. The ride is as glidey as the Ashford International, or the S-Tog that runs into the Danish countryside. Or the Japanese Bullet. Or the Korean KTX.
This is what I should have said to the man with the eyes when he asked me what is meta for.
" Meta is for explanation. It enriches the viewer's understanding of a deeper meaning. In Snowpiercer, the seemingly stable society living in the carriages above is built on rocky and precarious foundations."
The story begins in the last few carriages - seedy 'lower class' types in grey and muddy green clothing. Straggly hair and limited diet. These 'smelly-trainers' are being farmed by what we should call the 'middle and front-trainers'.
There is revolt in the air. And in the sewers where the train's addictive drugs are made.
And the film follows the troubled-good-looking-guy as he spearheads a violent and philosophical advance towards Wilford. Who is waiting at the front.
Tableau - 4 carriages forward: A drug user is extracted from suspended animation, and is encouraged to help the advance. But he needs payment - in drugs. And 'troubled-good-looking guy' has conflict. Needing the 'users' help whilst detesting his Neroesque self-destruction.
"This is what meta is for. It uses simple and tangible occurrences to explain more complex philosophy."
Tableau - 9 carriages forward: The carriage door opens and over the heads of our heroic revolutionaries, we see ranks of jack-booted thugs in black. Facing us. Ready to suppress and kill. And behind them, on a stool is a General, played by Tilda Swinton, who is a screechy Yorkshire-woman with huge teeth and a deep cynical chasm of callousness. And she is why you need to see this film. She doesn't tell you what is meta for. She is just marvellous.
And this General stands at the back, with a megaphone, and directs the action, and the killing. Which in true Korean style (yes, this is a Korean-made film), is graphic and horrible.
"And this isn't what I mean by metaphor. This is a simile. The Nazi thing. But anyway..."
And I realise that there is a message woven into every carriage. Each space is different to the one before. Each has its own story to tell. Each introduces; explains; concludes.
The film gets to Wilford eventually (as does our protagonist) in the engine at the front of the train. And he is hidden behind a curtain, making bangs, waving flags, puffing out smoke, and pulling levers. Or at least, he has little boys pulling them for him. Like the Wizard of Oz, he sits proudly, and yet ignorantly, in his sad and lonely achievement.
Average age 25.
Average speed was 250. Now zero.
"Now that is metaphor…"
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