Korean director Bong Joon-Ho’s English-language dystopian thriller Snowpiercer is a sharply affecting film with terrifyingly realistic concerns about humanity. The film establishes a strangely specific world in which the only remaining humans alive are on a train called Snowpiercer, which runs a yearly loop around the world. About 20 years previous, a global warming solution went wrong and the entire world was frozen. The only way to survive the disaster was to board this eternal train, which literally must break through snow and ice at times.
As the train chugs violently around the world, a mini-society exists within its compartments. The farther back one resides in the train, the poorer and worse treated they are. The only social mobility seems to be revolution, as no one has transcended the social class they boarded the train with. The focus of the film is the lowest class in the absolute back of the train, , who lives in a grim, soot-covered area that resembles a factory more than a train car. Disillusioned with the unfair class separation, this group, led by Curtis (Chris Evans), plans on pushing through the train towards the upper class compartments which are filled with shocking degrees of comfort and even excess (which I’ll leave as a surprise).
Bong Joon-ho’s film is quite cynical, viewing society as an unchanging machine that needs social classes. Whether or not you’re averse to such a stance on existence, it’s quite convincing. Some of the moral quandaries the film delves into are ones no person should ever have to endure. Yet, the possibility of this reality is quite realistic. Snowpiercer has similar thoughts to the recent HBO hit True Detective. Is human life a failed experiment?
Even simply as an action thriller, Snowpiercer is a hit. There’s one particular sequence in which Chris Evans fights through a single compartment. His balletic movements, while wielding an axe, are scored by sad piano music playing over silence, other than the swoosh and crunch of his axe. Another outstanding scene occurs in the classroom compartment. Children are learning history from a simultaneously friendly and eerie teacher (Alison Pill). Other revealing conversations will make your stomach drop.
Snowpiercer is thrilling as an action movie, intellectual exploration and emotional journey. It’s certainly not without flaws; I question the physical ability of certain characters in fight situations, the dismissal of language barriers (somewhat covered but not adequately enough), and a particularly fantastical concluding moment involving a child and his size. Despite realistic terrors, Snowpiercer is more metaphor than prediction for humanity. It’s very affecting and sickeningly fun to watch.