By Don Simpson | October 21, 2014
Director: Joon-ho Bong
Writers: Joon-ho Bong (screenplay), Kelly Masterson (screenplay), Jacques Lob (author, Le Transperceneige), Benjamin Legrand (author, Le Transperceneige), Jean-Marc Rochette (author, Le Transperceneige)
Starring: Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ewen Bremner, Ah-sung Ko, Alison Pill, Luke Pasqualino, Vlad Ivanov, Adnan Haskovic
After a bit of overcompensation in their desperate battle against global warming, scientists have brought about an ice age rendering extinct the vast majority of life on earth. Set in 2031, the only human survivors of Snowpiercer have spent the last 17 years careening around the earth at high speed on a completely self-supporting train powered by a perpetual-motion engine. The train is primarily inhabited by the earth’s hoitiest and toitiest citizens who enjoy the finest and most luxurious excesses, while the proletariat are packed like a bunch of sardines soaking in 17 years of their own stench in the back part of the train. All the while, Wilford (Ed Harris), the supreme mastermind of this life preserving vessel and its purposeful stratification, relishes in his creation from the comfy confines of the engine at front of the train.
A not-so-profound visualization of Marxism at its most literal, Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer showcases the insurmountable rift between upper and lower classes, with the overcrowded population in the back train cars kept in place by a menacingly militarized force. The only thing keeping the poor from going all Delicatessen on each other are the mysterious “protein bars” that — along with the water supply — are rationed and distributed by the wealthy. The symbiotic yin yang of the Capitalist machine is unwillingly fulfilled by the poor who function as necessary cogs in the overall machine.
Curtis (Chris Evans) and his aged mentor, Gilliam (John Hurt), decide that it is high time for a revolution. Propelled forward with a relentless drive for a better life, Curtis prophetically leads the masses forward, encountering bloodbath after bloodbath along the way. Bong gives his protagonists very little hope, but certain death seems like a much better option than the hellish pigsty from which they have risen.
Far too obvious in its socio-economic metaphor, Snowpiercer could have used a bit more directorial finesse in the presentation of its purpose. Marxism is all well and good, but we do not need to be slammed on top of our heads by Bong’s hardback copy of Das Kapital. Even more frustrating is how other seemingly more interesting aspects of the narrative are totally glossed over, tossing rationalism to the waste side and leaving a bunch of nonsensical moments in the wake. Even Tilda Swinton’s unrecognizably comical impression of Ayn Rand-cum-Hitler on wacky pills unfortunately cannot save Snowpiercer from the one dimensionality of its one track mind; but if there is only one reason to check out this speeding locomotive of a film, it is Swinton all the way.