Smilla's Sense of Snow Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997

How do you know he was murdered?
Just as you have a sense of God, I have a sense of snow.

Adapted from the Peter Hoeg novel, this film has a hard time deciding what type of film it is. When it opens up, you'll almost think that you're in the wrong theater with a scene of an Inuit hunter hunting seals where a flaming object falls out of the sky and crashes explosively a short distance away, sending a massive shockwave (a la "Independence Day"/"Chain Reaction"/"Dante's Peak") which the hunter tries to outrun.

The Inuit believe that when someone is killed, you offend their soul. I want to make sure Isaiah's soul is at peace.

It then turns into a personal-growth-via-a-quest film (a la "The Pallbearer" or "Silence of the Lambs") with Smilla, an abrasive yet isolated woman who studies snow, coming home to find that Isaiah, a young Inuit boy that lives downstairs from her, has fallen from the roof of the building. Going up to the roof, she notices that the footprints are all in a straight line, inconsistent with the theory that the boy was 'playing' on the rooftop. It is then she suspects that the child was murdered. In a series of touching flashbacks, we see the relationship between Smilla and the neglected Isaiah develop. Meanwhile, a neighbor that lives on the ground floor (Gabriel Byrne), shares her pain over the death of the boy, but may not be completely on the level.

As Smilla discovers oddities in the boy's autopsy and witnesses a strange man offer a package to the grieving mother at the funeral, SSOS turns into an "X-Files" episode, with conspiracies and paranoia abound.

Finally, with the police and the perpetrators after her, Smilla goes off to Greenland to find answers to her questions, and the film reaches its final stage, the dumb-action-movie, ending with a cliché-ridden shoot-out in a cave and an exploding bomb.

Overall, SSOS is pretty good, with the last half hour a bit of a letdown, especially since the first two acts were building up quite nicely, in terms of themes and characterizations. For example, a nice contrast is set up between the characters of Smilla, a 'woman of ice' who is not interested in communicating, and the neighbor, who stutters, and hence is unable to communicate. However, by the time the third act rolls around, this is all thrown out the window, leaving the viewer feeling 'ripped off'. However, all is not lost. Julia Ormond does her best performance in SSOS, playing the rough-around-the-edges-yet-tortured soul with an intensity that reminds me of Juliette Binoche's performance in "Three Colors: Blue". And the cinematography is excellent, creating a rich textured 'look' to the whole film.

If you like a carefully constructed film that blends visuals, themes, and characterizations into a seamless whole, SSOS may leave you slightly disappointed, though you will definitely enjoy the first two acts. But if you like "The X-Files", think of SSOS as a two-parter episode and have a blast.

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