After a global experiment to reverse the trend of global warming goes horribly wrong and plunges the entire Earth into a modern ice age, killing practically all life on the planet in the process, a single bullet train carrying the world’s survivors makes a year-long loop around the world, preserving what is left of mankind, in a daily struggle to keep humans from becoming extinct. This is the set up for the most expensive South Korean film ever made, “Snowpiercer,” and this movie is pretty much as good as it gets, proof that high-concept fare and action-filled science fiction can also be thoughtful and smart and above all else well made.
The story of “Snowpiercer” starts up 17-18 years after the failed experiment pretty much destroyed the world, and the people who were all able to climb aboard the train find that not only were they preserving humanity, they were also preserving humanity’s main mode of existence, which seems to be centered on class division and the concept of the strong eating the weak. The poorest of people who still managed to get on the train were relegated to the very back of the train, where their quarters were overly populated and extremely cramped, as well as very dirty and lacking in basic necessities. Forced to fend for themselves, the people in the tail end of the train grew to resent the people in the front of the train, and over the years a few revolutions and uprisings have flared up, only to be beaten back by those who run the train, using armed guards and a prison system to keep people in line.
And as this movie begins, we are introduced to a few people, including old man Gilliam (John Hurt), young Edgar (Jamie Bell) and bearded and steely eyed Curtis (Chris Evans), and they are in the process of embarking on the latest revolution in an effort to get more amenities and supplies and food for the poor people in the back, as they have been forced to eat only weird looking protein bars to keep from dying and are forced to go through daily head counts, even though there is no chance of anyone “escaping” the train, because where the hell else would they go? They can’t LEAVE the train, because first off it is a bullet train so they would die just trying to embark, and even if they survived jumping out, they would pretty much freeze to death in a matter of minutes.
So then WHY the head counts? That comes up later, and it all ties around to way humans treat each other, as this movie’s main theme is very much about how folks in control and with all the power want to continue maintaining that balance so that everyone stays in their place, yet also how they NEED the poor and disadvantaged in order to use them as labor, or even just to treat them as supplies, like cattle. In the world of “Snowpiercer,” the class war has only gotten worse, and as per usual, the poor are losing and losing badly.
Hence here comes Occupy Snowpiercer (I think that’s the name of the train, they never really say so, as the word snowpiercer is never uttered), as the 99% have had enough (once again) and seek to overthrow the willfully ignorant and opulent upper classes, all of whom reside in the front part of the train. So as the revolution begins, Curtis (with Edgar at his side and Gilliam at his back) leads the people toward the front of the train, making their way to the engine, because if they can control the engine, they can control the train, and have all the power. What they actually WANT to do with that power they didn’t really say. Maybe they didn’t even KNOW what they wanted. Wealth redistribution? Did they want to TAKE all the wealth and force the rich to live in the back of the train, trade placed with them? I guess they wouldn’t even let themselves think that far ahead, instead just trying to keep their minds at the task at hand, which means moving from car to car, compartment to compartment, overcoming obstacles along the way.
As they move forward and struggle to succeed, a number of twists and unforeseeable problems makes things infinitely harder for them, and infinitely more entertaining for us, and it all builds to an interesting twist, a question of fate and destiny that ends up answering many questions and revealing many facts about the train and its originator and his intents and purposes, and again it all ties back to the preservation of humanity, or at least preserving it in a certain way. This is at its base a very outlandish and ridiculous science fiction tale, but within this tale we see many things that reflect the real world we live in right now, like how the poor and penniless struggle to survive while very close by other people live and celebrate in excess, either unaware of the poor or purposefully ignoring them, having been indoctrinated from an early age how the poor are really just lazy and dirty and not people who have had everything taken from them and are kept under lock and key.
“Snowpiercer” is a downright thrilling movie, with great characters and a compelling story that goes to some surprising places and has a few tricks up its sleeves, as director Bong Joon Ho (Memories of Murder, The Host, Mother) does it again and crafts yet another intense, challenging and very entertaining movie that should be seen by as many people as possible.