As a solution to global warming, a chemical is released into the atmosphere. It works too well–freezing everything, wiping out almost all life. A few thousand people remain, all living on a perpetually moving train, which circles the Earth once a year. Where you live on the train is based on your socio-economic status: the rich live up front in luxury, the poor live in the back, in squalor.
This is the premise of the highly entertaining and thought-provoking Snowpiercer, from director Bong Joon Ho. Not only does it work as a pure action film, but it’s a pretty devastating political allegory, as it can easily be seen as a parallel to the burgeoning income inequality in the U.S. these days.
As the film begins, Curtis (Chris Evans, looking like The Edge when he wears his knit cap) is plotting a revolution, along with his sidekick, Jamie Bell, and his wise mentor, John Hurt. When they realize the soldiers probably don’t have any bullets, they storm forward on the train. Each car offers new discoveries (this will also remind viewers of a video game), whether it’s the food car, when they find out exactly what the gelatinous protein bars they eat are made of, or a car full of axe-wielding, balaclava-wearing thugs.
The crew of revolutionaries include the security systems designer, Song Kang-Ho, and his daughter, Go Ah-Sung. They are both addicted to a drug called Kronole, which is industrial waste that is inhaled. Some of the nasties that are encountered are the hilarious Tilda Swinton as Minister Mason, who deals with the back-end passengers by telling them that everyone is in their place, and that they are not hats, they are shoes.
It is always those in power that tell the powerless that everything and everyone has its place, which of course keep them in power. It’s when that is questioned, as it should be, that revolutions happen. And the quest of the downtrodden in Snowpiercer is kind of thrilling. I’m not sure Mitt Romney would like it.
Bong, who directed The Host, shows great visual flair, as well as telling a powerful tale. Early in the film, the denizens of the rear of the train, who living in a gray world, are visited by a woman in a bright yellow coat. The use of color is so audacious that I almost couldn’t concentrate on what she was doing, but it signified something important–the further up the train the rebels move, the more color there is.
The train’s operator is Wilford, played by Ed Harris, in a role that is similar to his TV director in The Truman Show. He’s described as divine by Swinton, and has never visited the rear of the train, living alone in the engine room. When Evans and Harris finally meet, the film loses a little, as we’ve seen these kind of confrontations before, where the man in power tells the powerless man the truths of life. The ending, also, doesn’t make a lot of sense, and fails to make the point that the entire film was leading toward.
Still, this film is dazzling. My grade for Snowpiercer: B+.