Spoiler Alert: Although nothing is fully given away, please be aware of the content that is discussed or insinuated.
There are many movies right now that take place in the future. Some threaten an extreme global warming event, others show how politics and power can be taken advantage of. Within these intense, futuristic themes, there is a fear that drives people to do unimaginable things. In his first English film, Joon-ho Bong takes us for a train ride; but this isn’t a Driving Miss Daisy kind of ride.
Due to a failed global cooling experiment, only a chosen few make it onto the Snowpiercer; a train that can’t stop moving and if it does, humanity dies. There are social classes within this train: the very rich in the front and the very poor in the tail. Of course, the poor are brutally oppressed by the rich for the sake of the rich being able to enjoy luxury. We follow, Curtis (Chris Evans), who has been on the train for 17 years and has experienced first hand how people can turn into savages when put into desperate circumstances.
Right off the bat, we are shown how the tail end of the train is treated and we are endlessly hoping for a revolution. Without giving too much away, we get to see every car in the train as we move towards the front of the train, where the owner of the train, Willford, lives. Each cart offers its own horrifying or rather comical entry as each door is opened to an unknown. To add to the tension, there is also the outside elements, like snow and ice, that have an effect on the passengers. As one violent fight scene takes place, there is a call for a stand still because it isn’t safe for people to be standing while the train plunges through ice.
Like the train, this film doesn’t stop. From the get go, we are forced into a world where there are no windows and the food is a dark jelly substance that people eat with their hands. Soon after, a revolution begins, offering its own triumphs and terrifying disappointments. Chris Evans offers a different type of superhero than he’s used to playing. He is indeed still charming and fighting for the good of people who can’t fight for themselves but in a much dirtier way (literally). This character isn’t overplayed, he simply gets the job done. There are a few moments where we see into Curtis’ soul and are not sure if we are swooned or horrified. It offers the question if what we think a good guy is really exists here. Curtis reveals to the audience that even the “good guys” still have to spill blood (not their own) to selfishly survive. Although he is repentant of his past cannibalistic acts, is his repentance the only thing that separates him from the filthy rich who abuse the poor for their own comfort and survival? There is no grey line, just steel doors that separate one life from the next.
Tilda Swinton plays Mason, a satirical mannish woman who is in charge of the societal structure of the train. She is obviously meant to expose what the rich are like, since we are stuck in the tail of the train for a bit. She shows us how self indulgent the front of the train is and how reckless they are with their indulgences. We laugh at her but in the same moment we hate her for what she represents. Although we all want to relate and connect to the impoverished protagonists, we might have more in common with Mason than we would hope. Bong is exposing what “rich” really means and how easily we all can have the rich mindset, even if we do not have the same bank account.
One theme that keeps getting repeated by the rich passengers on this train is balance. Without balance, the train can’t run and keep everyone safe from the unlivable environment conditions outside. Balance isn’t natural and must be maintained by some sort of sacrifice. Unfortunately, it’s the poor that have to constantly sacrifice to keep the balance in effect. The question being presented to us is what do we think is more important: equality that risks quality of life or balance. Naturally, we all would choose equality without really thinking of the consequences. If we are living some sort of comfortable life, then we have balance to thank.
This film is quite a ride (pun intended) and it’s rather difficult not to watch it from the edge of your seat. There is violence, there are disappointments, there are manic moments, and there are saddening scenes. If you have 2 hours to kill one night, I highly suggest watching Snowpiercer. That will be the fastest 2 hours of your life.