Set in a dystopian future where governmental precautionary measures to combat global warming “go wrong”, Snowpiercer is an emotionally charged adrenaline rush. Humanity has been all but wiped out after an attempt at climate control failed and triggered a huge ice age. What is left of the human race is aboard a train built on an epic scale, continuously circling the globe in perpetuity.
The main element of the story takes place in 2031, time has seen the train segregated into class and these classes live very differently from each other. In the tail section there is the lower class, the people who live in cramped and dirty conditions without many provisions for survival. This is where we meet Curtis, played by Chris Evans (Sunshine, Captain America) who is encouraged to start a revolt by his old friend, Gilliam, played by Sir John Hurt (Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows) against the perceived powers that are keeping them in their current squalor.
The film follows the events of this uprising as the would-be revolutionaries advance through the train compartments, encountering the better and better living conditions of those in classes above them, until the ultimate destination and extravagance that the upper class passengers are surrounded by. Each class being prevented from going up or down in the chain by armed guards. The lives and struggle of the passengers is compelling enough, but it is everything surrounding the film that causes the viewer to invest so greatly.
The characters of Curtis and Edgar literally fight to improve position in life and battle against those that manipulate the world around, seeking only fulfillment of their own desires. Not only must they struggle with encountering the reality of the world that is out of reach for them, but also with the changing realities of the world outside the train. Although the Snowpiercer might have been heralded as a lifeline of humanity it is more like a prison as the characters begin to discover. A prison with a horrifying method of sustainability.
The directorial debut of Bong Joon-ho in English language is a cinematic wonder, where the viewer feels part of this rebellion. The acting of Chris Evans as Curtis and Edgar, played by Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot, Jumper) combined with the direction and writing of the story invests the viewer in the story and you genuinely feel for their cause against the oppression from those with wealth. It is through the development of the story that you realize, along with the characters, that things are not always as they seem and that everyone is capable of being manipulated by those above them.
The themes in this movie go beyond the subject material of global warming, oppression and rebellion. They are subjects that we see daily in print and on screen, events we witness in our own lives. These are themes common in real world revolutions and seen throughout fiction works where a totalitarian regime is crushing and exploiting the very people they need to be in their own positions of power. The real draw is the way that the world of Snowpiercer is constructed, from camera to acting and through the excellent writing.
This film originally started as a limited release and grew into a classic, not through people being enchanted by its campy humor or even because of bad special effects that add to the fun, but by being a solid piece of cinema in every category a film needs to be successful. Acting, casting, writing, direction and even soundtrack fit perfectly as the viewer is cast along from the trail of the train toward the thrilling conclusion of the film.
As this movie progresses secondary and background characters continue their lives and it serves as a warning to a society that is satisfied with what they receive in the here and now, without thought to how their actions are affecting others around them. Tools such as controlled privilege and propaganda show how to effectible manipulate a population.
After the government attempts to slightly block out the sun to combat climate change, they got more than they bargained for and society is confined to a single, continually running train.