I have no clear idea what propelled me to watch this movie. Maybe it was because it fit in the sci-fi genre (ma favvv). Or maybe it was because it had Chris Evans in a very de-glamourized role. Honestly, I have no idea. And after I watched it, I literally questioned myself why I even watched it (?!?). Like what was I thinking?
In a nutshell, the movie focuses on a post apocalyptic world. In an effort to “fix” global warming, scientists end up triggering an ice age. Life on Earth is virtually wiped out. The only people who managed to survive, are aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that continually travels around the Earth (for over 17 years). However, the inhabitants in the train are also divided along class lines. The Elites live near the front of the train, bathing in luxury. For example, on the train, they’re given freshly grown fruit (there’s a literal green house in a train compartment), children are educated, they have extravagant parties, and there’s even a “drug” they are hooked on. All in all, basically living like the elites of today, but just on a train. On the flip side, both literally and metaphorically, are the poor residing in the rear of the train. They are treated quite horribly and only given a small gelatinous protein bars to sustain them. Similarly, their children are not educated and they barely have any access to clean water.
In the beginning of the movie, we’re treated to scenes from the lives of the poor people. Along with being subject to threats, violence, poor food and living conditions, their children are also inspected and occasionally taken away. Chris Evans plays Curtis, one of the poorer people. He’s been receiving covert messages from someone in certain gelatinous bars. Motived by these messages and their general living conditions, Curtis and his mentor, an elderly man named Gillam (portrayed by John Hurt), begin thinking of ways to revolt, to improve their conditions. With the general poor populous, they theorize that if they can get to the front of the train, they can control it and their living conditions. Hence, they set out. What happens next, are bloody, violent, crazy battles through which Curtis and his companions progress. Seriously, it’s pretty insane with people being stabbed, shot at, axed, etc.
At the end of the film, after having to sacrifice many of his close companions, Curtis finally reaches the front of the train and meets its creator, Wilford, played by Ed Harris. Here’s where things get flipped, and Wilford reveals that the entire revolution was actually engineered BY him and Gillam (!!). Wilford explains that the train was originally built with a specific, balanced ecosystem. However, over time, as the populations of the rich and poor increased, the ecosystem went off balance. As the train was the “true eternal,” it was imperative that the ecosystem be maintained. So along with his friend Gillam (Wilford and Gillam were friends), the two conspired to have Curtis and his poor companions revolt. In the ensuing revolt, the plan was that 74% of the poor people would be killed in the carnage, to ensure that the ecosystem would return to balance. Along with balancing the ecosystem, the revolt would also ensure that the poor people still had hope (hope meant that they wouldn’t *all* join the fight so less chance of it being successful) and its violent suppression would keep the system intact through a fear of authority (remember, a lot of people were killed in the revolt).
After revealing all this, Wilford explains that he’s grown old and would like to give Curtis the reigns of the train. In other words, Curtis would become the leader and be responsible for maintaining the ecosystem. Curtis is Wilford’s choice, because as he puts it, Curtis is only one who has seen the entire train, from back to front, and hence actually understands how the train works as a balanced ecosystem. Curtis is distraught after learning this, especially about Gillam’s role in the plot. However, just before Curtis could accept the offer of leadership, it’s reveals that the train uses child labour. As the train had been continuously running for 17 years, some parts had become extinct. In order to ensure that the train continued to run, because it was the only “eternal,” the children of the poor people were used as machine parts. For example, a child was forced to crouch down in small, unsanitary, dangerous, polluted conditions and manually pull out coal from the movie train to ensure that the train didn’t stop. This is the final straw for Curtis, as it turns out that one of the children used as slave labour, is actually the child of one of his friends, a child that he himself adores. He’s vehemently disgusted, refuses Wilford’s offer, and sacrifices his arm to save the child, Timmy.
That last part is actually really great because it functions as the closing of a circle. As Curtis explained in the film later, the initial conditions for those at the back of the train were so horrible, that they had to resort to cannibalism to survive. In fact, to his own horror and regret, Curtis participated. He describes how he was about to eat a baby (the baby coincidentally turns out to be his best friend later on L-O-L), when Gillam stopped and sacrificed his arm in lieu of the baby. Gillam’s single act of sacrifice moved everyone in the poor section and changed them. Instead of killing and eating each other, people began sacrificing themselves as food. However, Curtis could not bring himself to sacrifice his arm, no matter how much he tried. Eventually, as the train conditions settled, the poor people were given the gelatinous protein bars to eat, stopping the cannibalism. However, in the end, Curtis does in fact sacrifice his arm to save a child. So like I said, coming a full circle. Really great scene.
Anyways, the movie ends with the entire train exploding and only two people surviving, Curtis not among them. Like I said, pretty crazy movie. But, it would be amiss to assume the craziness to be synonymous with a bad movie as this movie is far from bad. It actually prompts some really great discussions and is peppered with decent script-writing, acting, and directing. I mean, I already mentioned the full-story circle of Curtis himself. However, that’s not the only themes at work in this movie. I read somewhere that the movie was actually an allegory and I’d have to completely agree. For me, one of the biggest themes throughout the movie was the theme of human hubris. In their ego and pride, humans believed they could eradicate global warming. And yet, their arrogance was what led to their downfall and they triggered the next ice age. Similarly, throughout the train, Wilford continually harps on about the train being the only “eternal,” believing that the train would go on forever. Thereby also justifying his actions and boosting his own ego. However, as the end of the movie shows, the train was not eternal and the world had in fact begun thawing from its ice age. In their own arrogance, the characters let their hubris cloud their minds and ended up warping the world and their actions.
I also really liked the way Curtis’s character evolved. Throughout the movie, Curtis is presented as the hero. The protagonist who’ll lead the poor people to a successful revolution and end up changing the world of the train. However, as the film continues, cracks appear in this description. We see how Curtis sacrifices his best friend in an effort to ensure his revolution succeeds. Curtis himself confesses how he was willing to resort to cannibalism to survive. In fact, he openly admits that he preferred to eat human babies because they ‘tasted better.’ He’s actually not the hero. This is especially highlighted when his views are contrasted with those of Namgoong, played by Song Kang-Ho, who was an engineer put into a coma as a punishment for doing too many drugs. On an abstract level, Curtis believes in the system of the train. He operates within the system and attempts to hold it in place. In other words, he implicitly supports Wilford’s ideas. On the other hand, Namgoong steadfastly refuses the system. While Curtis plans to take hold of the train by reaching the front, Namgoong plans to blast out of the train. He’s been observing the outside world and has come to the realization that things are changing, i.e. the ice age is subsiding. He openly rejects the system and instead embraces a new one, one not regulated by class or economics. In the end, its Namgoong whose plan Curtis concedes to. Hence, Curtis is shown to be wrong; he’s not the hero. However, he’s also not quite the villain, he’s just simply a human.
Of course, these are just two themes that I found and really resonated with. I’m convinced that there’s many others that I haven’t picked upon but others have. It’s an extremely thought-provoking film. And as this is technically a movie review, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the acting or directing or writing. In terms of acting, if you can’t tell by my review, Chris Evans really knocked it out of the park. He was fabulous as Curtis and gave a very believable performance (although I will say, he did look a tad too muscled, but that’s just me). And the supporting actors, like Song Kang-Ho, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt and Ed Harris were all really great as well. Directing was pretty good as well. It was actually directed by a South Korean filmmaker, Bong Joon-Ho and apparently this was his english-language debut. My only issue with his filming, was that he made Namgoong’s character speak exclusively Korean. I just thought it was kinda strange. Aside from that, I thought he did a pretty great job, especially when it came to the action sequences and the visual affects. Definitely enjoyed the cinamatography as well. And coming to writing, again, really good as well. Apparently the movie was based upon a French graphic novel. I have not read the novel, but I definitely really enjoyed the themes the movie touched upon.
My rating: watch it if you’re feeling philosophical and be prepared to be taken aback by the acting (Chris Evans especially) and its thought-provoking nature.