PHOTO BY MOHO FILMS
Where is it playing?: The Palm
What's it rated?: R
What's it worth?: $9.00
Writer-director Joon-ho Bong (The Host) directs Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Kang-ho Song, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, and Octavia Spencer in this sci-fi actioner set in a future in which a failed global-warming experiment exterminated all life on Earth save a lucky few who happened to be aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that circumnavigates the globe and upon which a class system has developed.
In the year 2031, a juggernaut of a train hurtles through silent, whitewashed landscapes at speeds capable of smashing ice and stone. The cars are divided up between the haves (nearer the front) and the have-nots (at the very back)—and that is where they stay, whether they like it or not. The great Wilford (a casting choice I won’t spoil), the designer of the Snowpiercer and the one man at the very front, keeps it this way. But what choice do these travelers have when they know they’re the last humans alive?
In the “poor” end of the train, revolution is brewing. Curtis, played with strength by Chris Evans, is the reluctant leader who waits for the right moment. Sidekicked by Edgar (Jaime Bell) and sage Gilliam (John Hurt), Curtis’s folk have grown tired as those in front have taken their children, fed them mysterious gelatin bars, and administered their own justice. Whenever trouble does start, a small task force led by Mason (a frightfully fantastic Tilda Swinton, channeling a Margaret Thatcher who would pick the legs off of spiders) reminds everyone to “keep your place” in order for the Sacred Engine to keep functioning.
When the breaking point does come, Curtis and his gang begin a tremendous journey to the front—and each car forward contains a revelation. Sometimes the discovery is dangerous and can only be put behind them in bloodshed. Other times, it is horrific and galling as the poor start to discover just how good the rest of the train has had it for the past 18 years. The rebels discover aquariums and greenhouses, nightclubs and posh dining, and a schoolroom led by the most colorfully tempered, brainwashed, sadistic teacher (Alison Pill) I have ever enjoyed on screen. But with each setback Curtis and his friends face, they become more determined to reach the front. What will happen when they get there, no one knows.
Sometimes in our efforts to make things better, we just end up making things worse. This is not only how we enter the future in which Snowpiercer exists, but the idea that rests in everyone’s minds as the revolution moves forward: “Is what I’m doing for the best?”
The messages about social class are evident since director Joon-ho Bong also co-wrote the script, adapted from the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Jean-Marc Rochette, and Benjamin Legrand. But what’s also left unsaid is how the film feels about humanity. The fact that revolution may be occurring has absolute no effect on the post-Armageddon outside the train. If the last of humanity survives by skating across the globe at 100 miles an hour, does humanity belong here at all? This is a new trend that films like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes should follow, replacing the apocalyptic films (2012, This is the End, The World’s End, etc.) of just a few years ago. Instead of asking “How do we survive the apocalypse?” we now ask “Does humanity belong here after the apocalypse?”
Snowpiercer is a fantastic film that moves at the perfect pace. Directed and designed like a puzzle box on wheels, it never reveals how grandiose or grotesque its next hand might be. And at just more than two hours long, it’s an exhilarating ride that I will take again and again. (126 min.)
—Chris Daly; New Times contributor