Snowpiercer is boldly brutal, but brilliant filmmaking from writer/director Bong Joon-ho. Unlike many current films taking place on a dystopian Earth, the cause of the death of most of mankind is made clear at the outset. The progression of global warming caused a desperate attempt in 2014 to cool the planet by seeding a chemical into the atmosphere. The result was a cataclysmic Ice Age and almost everyone has died.
However, there is a group of survivors aboard the train of “Wilford” (Ed Harris). He’s a billionaire who made his money in trains and decided to construct his dream train. Known as the Snowpiercer, it circles the globe annually, hitting the same spots on the same day of the year.
The population aboard the train is divided into the “haves” who live in the front and the “have-nots” who live in the tail. 17 years after the survivors boarded the train, the latest attempt at a rebellion by the tail’s inhabitants is about to begin. “Curtis” (Chris Evans) leads the rebels in attacking the guards as food was being delivered and they make it to the prison section as planned. There they free “Namgoong” (Song Kang-ho). He is a critical part of the planned rebellion as he built the doors that divide the train’s sections. With his assistance the rebels plan to get to the front of the engine and seize control, enabling them to have a portion of the luxury that the front’s plutocrats have been enjoying for nearly two decades. The rebels bribe Namgoong and his daughter “Yona” into helping them by promising to supply them with ‘Kronol’ a highly addictive drug that is also explosive. The soldiers of the train’s front are not going to give up without a fight.
This is a combination of science-fiction, fantasy and intense action. The result enthralls, capturing the audience’s attention as the reduced rebel force closes in on their objective. There is gore galore and yet it isn’t gratuitous but drives forward the compelling storyline.
The characters are fascinating. Tilda Swinton is Wilford’s factotum/Ms Fix-it and is obsequiously obnoxious in a delightful performance. Ed Harris delivers Wilford as similar and yet different from his amazing work in The Truman Show, where his ‘Christof’ created a world while marching solely to the beat of his own drummer. Chris Evans is solid as the tortured hero.
The visual presentation is stellar, icy landscapes that whizz by from one perspective and yet are held in the occasional gorgeous longshot. The action sequences stun with their violence and clever use of light and dark. Better still, this isn’t just a sci-fi/fantasy/action flick. While this isn’t Occupy Wall Street propaganda, the message of the societal problem of income inequity is there all the same. Not overbearing, but a definite reminder of the dangers that such sharp divisions entail.