The End of the World is coming. But while we can all agree that humanity as a whole is almost certainly doomed, no one can really decide how it’s finally going to happen. For some, it’s robots, or aliens, or something biblical, or zombies, or a virus (which is does not necessarily entail zombies!). Every few years, though, the trend seems to swing back to environmental disasters, because global warming is so hot right now, and including it in your film makes it topical and relevant and, “oh my god, it might happen!”.
Snowpiercer is a science fiction action film from director Bong Joon-ho, based on a French graphic novel (Le Transperceneige) from 1982. Following a hopeful but ultimately disastrous attempt in 2014 to counteract the effects of global warming, the world is plunged into an ice age that wipes out most of humanity. The only ones spared are the inhabitants of a massive train built by an eccentric millionaire that circles the globe once every year.
The wealthy “elite” live lives of luxury towards the front of the train, in a self-contained system that – as you’d expect – has lead many to debauchery, decadence and quite massive abuse to drugs generated from toxic waste. Those less fortunate are regulated to the tail, where, not to point to fine a point on it, everything sucks.
It’s 2031 and Curtis Everett (Chris Evans), naturally unsatisfied with treatment of his fellow passengers, is preparing to lead the latest in a series of rebellions. With the help of a mysterious informant who smuggles messages to him hidden in protein blocks, a plan is developed to break into the prison section, find the man who built the doors dividing the sections of the train, force their way to the front, and seize the engine, giving them power over the entire train.
The incredible scale of the train really has to be impressed; at no point did the film seem too contained, and despite them all ultimately being carriages on a train, the diversity between the compartments was huge. By far my favourite was the aquarium cart, itself a self-contained ecosystem that, twice a year, allowed the wealthy to enjoy sushi. It’s explained that before the ice age, Wilford (the man behind the train, played by Ed Harris) was viewed by many as mad for his plan to build a luxury train that travelled the globe, and you can very easily see why. It is massive.
The entire cast give excellent performances, Song Kang-ho as Namgoong Minsu (the man who developed the doors) is brooding and deep, combining a world-weary cynicism with incredible insight. Go Ah-sung plays Yuna his daughter, a wide-eyed innocent forced by the reality of their situation to grow up before her time. Tilda Swinton was…well, Tilda Swinton, in her role as Minister Mason, the politician responsible for the tail-enders, whose faith in Wilford bordered on God-like worship. John Hurt and Ed Harris as Gilliam and Wilford respectively presented – similar to their positions at either end of the train – opposite ends of a philosophical spectrum, although at times I felt Harris’s performance was a little too similar to his role in The Truman Show.
And then there was Chris Evans. He was gritty, he was complex and dark. You can’t discuss too much of him without revealing one of the big turning points / revelations of the later part of the film, but wow, a lot of work went into that character. I also want to mention Allison Pill, who briefly appeared as a school teacher, whose creepy smile and fanatical indoctrination of the children under her care was exceptionally sinister.
The decadence of the first class carriages, combined with the above, puts one very strongly in mind of the Bioshock games, and indeed the mass drug dependence goes a long way to presenting a seemingly noble ideal collapsing under the weight of, well, human nature. And again, the propaganda of the teacher and Minister Mason rapidly established the idea of a crumbling facade that was almost comical. There are a lot of interesting ideas here, but if I was to be critical sometimes they do seem a little…preachy, perhaps? At times it lacks a certain subtly, but you come to expect that of this kind of film. Also, I wasn’t totally happy with the ending, but that comes down to personal preference.
- Snowpiercer is directed by Bong Joon-ho, and stars (among others) Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Go Ah-sung, Jamie Bell, Alison Pill, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer and Ed Harris.
- End of the World sci-fi action…ON A TRAIN!
WHEN / WHERE / HOW MUCH?
- Snowpiercer is exclusive to the Nova. Prices vary, and Monday is their cheap ticket day!