In a badly botched attempt to reverse global warming in the present day, we froze the planet and all life on Earth died. Seventeen years from now, the only humanity left are aboard Snowpiercer, a very long train barreling around the world, never stopping,. The train is a self-contained ecosystem, powered by a mysterious “eternal engine.” Those who bought first class tickets are in the front end of the train, living a pleasant, pampered life. The unfortunate lower-class ticketholders are banished to the crowded, dirty tail end.
Periodically, the denizens of the tail end rise up in revolt and attempt to get to the front of the train and seize control. All attempts have been brutally put down. Time is ripe for another try, led by Curtis (Chris Evans) and Gilliam (John Hurt). Encouraged by cryptic messages sent in small tubes from somewhere in front of the tail end, Curtis starts the revolt, and he and the tail enders begin to fight their way to midsection, where they plan to bust a locksmith out of prison and continue to the front. Along the way, they encounter stiff, sometimes surreal resistance, and the stakes get higher and higher, ratcheting up the suspense.
The story is based on a French graphic novel and directed by Joon-ho Bong, who did The Host. (Also from that movie is Kang-ho Song, playing the drug-addled locksmith.) Interestingly, the movie fought a battle just getting to the screen intact, as producer Harvey Weinstein reportedly initially refused to release the movie without cutting twenty minutes. He didn’t win that fight, but instead, the film opened to a more limited release than planned. However, balancing that limitation, the film was simultaneously released on iTunes and Video On Demand.
Worth seeing? Yes, unless graphic violence bothers you a lot. You do have to suspend disbelief rather vigorously, but once you get over that initial hump, the implausibilities don’t intrude too much and the story carries you along. Chris Evans is believable as the driven revolutionary with a dark past, and his loyal crew ably supports him. Drawing on deep reservoirs of weird and looking even more like a praying mantis than usual, Tilda Swinton is a standout. The story is compelling, since really Snowpiercer is just a microcosm of the situation we Earthicans are in. As a dystopia, it’s grim, but it does remind us of the important truth that rich or poor, tail end or front end, we’re all stuck with each other and if we don’t figure it out, we’re not long for this world.