Back at the beginning of the summer one of my relatives recommended this movie to me. He’s a sci-fi fan but of course tastes vary. Well anyway, I watched it last week and it was bizarre. The premise of the movie is basically ridiculous. As a way to combat global warming, humans treat the atmosphere of earth with a chemical that ends up plunging them into an ice age. The temperature drop is so severe that all human life is destroyed except for a tiny remnant that lives on a train that constantly circles the planet. This is the eponymous “Snowpiercer.” So, this is the first problem with the movie. If the earth was becoming cold and uninhabitable would you build a train as a refuge? I would think that an insulated bunker somewhere near the equator would make sense. Or something under the ocean would remain warm for centuries. It’s just a ridiculous idea.
Put the inconceivable nature of the premise aside and let’s look at the story. The train has a population that is stratified by position on the train. The back cars of the train are inhabited by the wretched refuse who are crowded into cattle cars and fed protein concentrate bars that look like sludge. Moving forward the environment and the inhabitants become progressively more fortunate until by the front few cars we have the elite who live in luxury and eat delicacies like sushi and fresh fruit. The proles in the rear are controlled by armed guards and punished for infractions with barbaric violence. When a man whose child is taken away by one of the rulers throws his shoe at her we see an example of this. For this offense, his arm is exposed through a gasketed aperture in the side of the train to the frigid gale whipping past the train. After eleven minutes, his arm is brought back in and struck with a sledge hammer. The arm shatters like one of those rubber balls that’s been dipped in liquid nitrogen and bounced off the floor. That’ll teach him!
The majority of the movie is the chronicle of the revolt of the proles and their battle to reach the front of the train and conquer their overlords. Along the way we see details of how the ecosystem of the Snowpiercer works. The prole food is revoltingly produced while the elite have whole car lengths of aquariums full of rare fish and rain forests of plant life to produce food and purify the water. We also get some of the back story to explain how the proles became so downtrodden and the greater horrors that transpired when they first entered into the train. The details are horrific and make you wonder why these people even bothered to keep struggling.
And finally, the climax occurs when the proles reach the engine. At this point we learn the answer to how this train maintains the balance between life and death. And we meet the engineer, Ed Harris, who charms us into seeing his point of view. And of course, the movie ends on a catastrophic reversal that resolves the whole thing.
So, is it any good? Parts of it are interesting and some of the characters are fun to watch. I especially enjoy Tilda Swinton as the schoolmarmish sadist who has the man’s armed frozen off. She’s quite demented fun. But I’d say as a movie it’s just too jumbled a mixture of action, sci-fi and human drama to recommend. It’s just too nuts. But maybe there is an audience out there for this. But it’s not me.