Don’t get me wrong…I think it was a good movie. It may even be a great one.
Snowpiercer is about the last remnants of humanity, who all live aboard a specially-engineered train that protects them from the outside environment. Since a failed geo-engineering effort ended up overcompensating for global warming, the Earth has become, well, Hoth. As far as these folks on the train know, they’re all that’s left of life – of any kind – on the planet. The movie is set 17 years after the doors of the train closed and it began its never-ending circuit around the world (yes, world…I’ll get to that). The train is stratified into the first class “ticketed” passengers who live in luxury at the front of the train, and the abused refugees who live in the rear. (Incidentally, I’ve never read the graphic novel that this movie is based on, so I can’t speak to whether any of this adheres to the original).
The movie follows Curtis, played by Captain America himself (Chris Evans), one of the unwashed, unticketed, and unloved passengers crammed into the caboose. Having been relegated to horrible poverty and humiliation for 17 years has made our boy Curtis into something of a radical, and when we meet him he’s plotting to break into the front of the train, along with a number of his downtrodden compatriots. Helping him are an elderly mentor (John Hurt) and a secret correspondent from the first class section.
Thematically, the film circles around ideas of sacrifice, social stratification, and ecological balance. In some ways, you’ve seen pieces of this movie before. The overall class conflict feels a lot like the one in Metropolis (the old German film, not the anime), while other elements feel borrowed from The Matrix Reloaded, Brazil, and even Bioshock. However, Snowpiercer does manage to effectively mix a number of different components – post-apocalyptic sci-fi, political commentary, and action, while also incorporating a host of grotesque and absurdist elements. It’s these elements that really make the movie shine. Without getting too much into important plot details, there are moments of gut-punching horror (of the Sophie’s Choice kind, not the Friday the 13th kind), coupled with unexpected bouts of humor (such as the interruption of a pitched battle for a New Year’s countdown) and sheer absurdity (pretty much every scene Tilda Swinton is in).
Now, some parts of the movie didn’t work as well for me. Given that these people have only been on the train for 17 years, it seems odd for a religion to have grown up around the engine (give me a generation or two and I’d buy it). There are a couple of other minor plot holes, along with a few head-scratchers that pull you away from the movie (like the fact that the train is circling the world). But by and large these didn’t affect my enjoyment of the film. I mean, it’s hard to fault a movie for not being perfectly logical when its absurdist elements are what make it so unique.
So, given all this, why did I suggest above that you skip this movie in the theaters? Well, through some bizarre decision-making process that I won’t pretend to understand, Snowpiercer is already for sale on iTunes. Just go and buy the damn thing; there’s nothing in the film that really needs to be seen on the big screen, and you’re definitely going to want to watch it a second time.
James Lackey has lived in Hampton for almost his entire life because he enjoys the lack of big city cultural experiences coupled with the absence of small town charm. He went to William and Mary for a Computer Science degree (and left with a Philosophy one), before going back to school in 2007 to get his Master’s in Public Administration. He currently works at the Government Accountability Office. In his spare time, he helps raise his three daughters (Ruby, Inara, and Maeven), makes fun of bad movies, and tries not to melt circuit boards.