Nature has no mercy at all. Nature says, I’m going to snow. If you have on a bikini and no snowshoes, that’s tough. I am going to snow anyway
– Maya Angelou
One of the four seasons, winter is an important part of the year, a quarter of it, in fact. For those of us who live in areas where the changing of the seasons comes every three months, winter brings a stark, white end to our year.
Winter seems to be a time of isolation. Bad weather prompts people to stay at home, enjoy time with family and friends as well as prepare for the Christmas and holidays seasons.
Once the holidays are over, it is a great time to rediscover films of your youth, ones you have been longing to watch all your life or knock some off your movie “bucket list”.
Snow and winter can often be a character in itself in film. Film directors have managed to use and incorporate it in interesting and inventive ways over the years using its qualities against the protagonists in most cases. It is often a plot device having to be dealt with; a means to an end.
Mother Nature’s whitest season.
(Putting the films in no particular order)
1. A Simple Plan
In between directing the Evil Dead and Spider-Man movies, director Sam Raimi helms this tale of betrayal and greed based on the book by Scott B. Smith. Hank, Jacob and Lou (Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton and Brent Briscoe) happen upon a snow-covered plane crash within a nature preserve. They just happen to find a duffel full of $4.4 million inside.
A plan is worked out who is going to hold the cash and how it is going to be distributed. Hank’s wife Sarah (Bridget Fonda) is initially unhappy when her husband brings home the loot; however, changes her mind once she realizes how much is at stake. The constant fear of discovery and hiding the truth haunts the threesome and their subsequent actions. The authorities eventually call them in for questioning when several townspeople start ending up dead.
The money changes everyone’s lives who interact with the cash. Money seems to bring people’s true character to light which is evident in spades in this film. Snow acts as a character here to hide the actions of the characters and bury evidence of their actions.
In 1996, leading film authorities believed the latest effort from the Coen Brothers was the overwhelming favorite to win Best Picture. Indeed it should have. This tale of kidnapping, great police work and a wood chipper rides the line between intrigue and comedy perfectly.
The entire cast featuring William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, and Academy Award winner Frances McDormand work superbly in parallel stories that slowly unravel and come together at the same time. Peter Storemare also shines as the almost silent but depraved Buscemi sidekick. Winter isolation extreme as wide shots of the winter landscapes and isolated highways are prevalent a lot in this film.
The Minnesota accents used by most actors in the film received a lot of attention when the film was first released in theaters. A lot of people wondered whether they were too extreme or people actually talked that way.
3. The Shining
What can be said about The Shining which hasn’t already been said. Director Stanley Kubrick’s film about a writer and his family serving as caretakers for the Overlook Hotel has been accused of various conspiracy theories including filming a fake moon landing, it being about The Holocaust and even the hotel being hell and Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) being the devil.
There is even an entire film, “Room 237”, about all the various ideas and questions which are asked and never answered about the film. Whether you believe all of them or not, it does raise interesting questions, some of which are hard to ignore.
The climactic chase involving Jack chasing through a snow and ice covered hedge maze (in Stephen King’s book the hedge animals come to life rather than having a maze) is as visually striking as any cinematic art Kubrick had done throughout his career. Winter serves as the vehicle for the isolation Jack feels as well as the “evil spirits” of the hotel which lends to Jack’s slow descent into madness.
South Korean director Joon Ho Bong tells us the futuristic story of a world where a failed weather changing experiment goes awry killing almost everyone on Earth. The remaining inhabitants get to come aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that encircles the glob one time per year.
The film centers on a band of miscreants led by Curtis (Captain America – Chris Evans) who decide they are not going to be suppressed by the aristocracy residing at the front of the train including Deputy-Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton) any longer. They plan a revolt and try to take the preceding cars by force. Other members of the revolutionaries include Gilliam (the ageless John Hurt), Edgar (Billy Elliot’s Jamie Bell) and Tanya (The Help’s Octavia Spencer).
As they go, they meet a clairvoyant (Go Ah-sung) who assists them in opening the doors between the cars and a mysterious stranger (Song kang-ho) who helped design the train’s security features. As the group travels through each subsequent train car, they discover new interesting surprises and engaging challenges which make for a tough journey.
As the group moves forward, it feels almost like moving up decks on the Titanic, showing the differences in class as they go. The vagabonds get to see how to rich use their time when time is all they have left. Once reaching the front engine of the train, Curtis meets the misguided creator of the engine Minister Wilford (Ed Harris) for a final showdown.
Although called Snowpiercer, snow itself lies outside the train for most of the film as the train makes its annual global journey as a constant reminder of humanities last chance. The film doesn’t necessarily end all tied up, but hints at hope once the survivors exit the train.
Stephen King sets several of his novels and stories during winter. Living in Maine most of his life, you must assume he uses this familiar setting to play on people’s fears of isolation and loneliness that comes during this time.
Director Rob Reiner followed up When Harry Met Sally with this film about novel writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) who is rescued from a car accident during a blizzard by his “number one fan”, Annie Wilkes (Academy Award winner Kathy Bates). After discovering he has killed off her favorite character in his latest, yet unpublished work, Annie forces a rewrite under extreme duress.
The battle of wits to determine who will prevail is thrilling to be sure. The inflicted duress is meant to serve as means to keep the writer hobbled and unable to leave until he finishes the novel character’s resurrection. The winter element here is meant to keep Paul feeling alone and subservient to Annie’s whims.