Snowpiercer posits an intriguing near-future scenario. It’s the year 2031. To fight global warming, a chemical component was released into the air and things went horribly wrong. The world froze over and mankind is all but wiped out. Around 1000 survivors circle the globe on a giant railway track, in a self-sustaining microcosm aboard a train.
As you can see, Snowpiercer requires you to suspend your disbelief quite a bit from the very beginning. Let’s not be nit-picky and assume the inside of the train has indeed managed a delicate ecological balance that allows it to keep 1000 people alive indefinitely. Let’s even assume that there is an engine that can keep generating energy without a clear source. The major hurdle is that a train could keep running in loops on a track without any upkeep to the tracks or to the outside of the train. Here in The Netherlands at least, a stiff breeze and some leaves on the tracks are enough to make the railway system grind to a screeching halt. The train in Snowpiercer has been zooming around non-stop for 17 years. That’s not a feat of engineering, that’s a miracle.
In any case, this fascinating milieu serves as the backdrop to a social allegory. The people in the front of the train live in luxury and comfort, the people in the back are downtrodden and live in squalor. There has been an uprising or two, but nothing that took. Now another one is brewing, this time led by Curtis (Chris Evans) a man still hunky despite being covered in layers of grime. The scene seems set for a brainless action movie, but what results is more odd and thoughtful, despite there being no shortage of bloodshed. There are some beautiful sets as the rebels travel forward through the train, showing a world only about three meters wide that seems to go on forever. The acting from the upper class is over the top, with especially Tilda Swinton turning in an entertainingly batty performance. There is a bizarre, Terry Gilliam-esque feel to the second half of the film.
The ending is downbeat, calling to mind scifi from the seventies. And the final shot is hopeful, but does leave you wondering ‘Okay. So now what?’ The story obviously doesn’t really end when the movie does and it offers poetic closure more than practical closure. But for all the cracks in the foundation of this scifi story, it is entertaining and tickles the imagination.