Snowpiercer is sure to fly under the radar, due to a limited theatrical release. However, all lovers of hardcore science-fiction should seek out this new addition to the lexicon. Snowpiercer takes place in the not-so-distant future, in which humanity has already sealed its own fate. In the year 2031, a experiment was conducted to reverse the effects of global warming. However no one predicted that it would plunge the Earth into an ice age. All life on the planet has ceased to exist, except for on one futuristic train designed by a mysterious inventor named Wilford. This train is on a worldwide track and is built to handle the elements and just about whatever else is thrown at it.
Humanity has survived within the walls of this train for 17 years. The train is divided up by class and access. The closer to the engine, the better the living conditions are on the train. The locomotive is run like a police state by the militant, yet extremely eccentric Mason, played by Tilda Swinton (The Chronicles of Narnia, Adaptation). Status and privilege are marked by how far along the train one has access to. The conditions for the common folk are close to unbearable. They are forced to eat nothing more than “protein bars,” which are gelatinous bars that resemble cubes of fat for all their meals. The “passengers” are given only the bare basics for human survival and are consistently reminded of that fact.
The story’s hero, Curtis, is played by Chris Evans (Captain America: The Winter Solider). From the moment he is introduced, his steely resolve and intense focus on the front of the train is established. He wants to gain control of the train’s engine to liberate the underprivileged. This is the basic thrust of the plot. However like all good films, there are twists in this seemingly straight line, from the back of the train to the front. We are also introduced to Gilliam, played by John Hurt (V for Vendetta), the elderly and wise mentor who understands the structure, yet not the specifics of the train.
The journey to the front of the train gets more exciting, bizarre and unexpected with every car they enter and character they meet. There are some truly surreal moments and South Korean director Joon-ho Bong (The Host) was clearly influenced by the films of Terry Gilliam (note that Hurt’s character is actually named Gilliam.) While the story does become surreal at times, Bong makes an effort to shed light on real world issues such as, poverty and the social responsibility of the extremely wealthy.
Joon-ho Bong’s film, Snowpiercer, is largely a success. It’s a story with easily identifiable motivations, a strong performance from the lead and a cast of actors who all seem to understand the zany tone of the film they are in. While it may not be the most accessible film to general audiences, it is a movie that deserves to be watched by all fans of science-fiction. Jump on board the train and take a ride.
Snowpiercer is in theaters in limited release now. It is also available now on VOD.
Fun Fact: Snowpiercer stars two members of the Fantastic Four. The former Human Torch, Evans, and the soon-to-be The Thing, Jamie Bell.