Snowpiercer is an interesting mix from beginning to end. A South Korean produced film, based on the french graphic novel “Le Transperceneige”, and starring American leading man Chris Evans, Snowpiercer is a uniquely international production and is all the better for it. The film is a look at a dystopian scifi world with a twist, the world has become so cold and frozen that life on the planet is all but extinct. The last remnants of humanity reside on a train which stays constantly in motion, circling the planet one cycle every year. The train is a self-contained ecosystem designed to support the last of humanity. Unfortunately, even in the apocalypse money talks and there is a class system on the train, the rich live near the front and the poor live in the back. One group has an easy albeit somewhat pointless life while the other lives in cramped, filthy squalor.
Led by Chris Evans and John Hurt the cast is fantastic in this film. Tilda Swinton does a wonderfully bizarre take on the train’s official mouthpiece “Mason”, a role which was originally written for a man and was unchanged once Swinton signed on. Jamie Bell and Octavia Spencer are great supporting characters along with Korean actor Kang-ho Song, they’re used just enough to keep us interested without taking attention away from Chris Evans’ lead performance.
The South Korean production shows through whenever action is on screen. The fight choreography has the raw, mad feel of fellow Korean film Oldboy (the original not that remade garbage). Fights are fast and furious, close quarters fighting is all you can do in a train after all. The choreographers managed to make each action scene feel like a different experience even with the handicap of an enclosed and simple location (Just gonna say Torch scene here, once you’ve seen the movie you’ll understand). A film set entirely in a train could get incredibly repetitive but the production design does a great job of making each train car, while still similar in basic size and dimensions, a unique setting from car to car. Whether it be the housing of the poor, to a school car, all the way to the engine, you will believe that a small city’s population could live on this train.
When it comes right down to it Snowpiercer is not an especially unique film. It boils down to a story about class warfare, the have-nots Vs the haves. There are some interesting turns it takes along the way but for the most part we’re seeing an allegory for what the world is and what it should be. Some of its messages are a bit heavy-handed at times but that seems to follow most dystopic science fiction. Where the main subtext might be the poor vs rich a more interesting subject that gets brought up in the film is balance. Not the balance of 1:1 ration of every person is as worth while as the next like most stories would normally present but a balance where lives are weighed based on status and numbers. How many people can an ecosystem support? Of those people how many should be the “elite” and how many the “gutter trash”? If the choice is between only a few living or everyone dying are we right to make those decisions? Are we monsters for weighing the worth of human life so frankly and callously? Most people will probably have a knee jerk reaction and answer what they feel the most “PC” answer, but if you give yourself a moment and really think about the decisions and scenarios that are presented in the film, in the context they are shown in, while your answers may not be the same as the characters in Snowpiercer you just might be surprised at what you would say when the truly hard questions are asked…