Snowpiercer was a highly anticipated movie for me as soon as I heard the plot and the cast. Claiming science fiction as my favorite genre, a climate fiction movie composed of high action beats and intense dramatic ramifications meant that Snowpiercer may have been made just for me. As a forewarning this movie is graphic, violent, and has many scenes that may force you to look away if you tend to be squeamish. I attempted to avoid spoilers as much as possible but things slip out in a review.
The plot of the movie is best left simply explained, as the twists and reveals are what give Snowpiercer its constant barrage of emotional gut-punches. The extremely diminished population of Earth is living onboard a train in constant motion. The world outside of the train is a barren and frozen tundra caused by scientists attempting to avert global warming, succeeding but throwing the process in reverse, causing a new Ice Age. On the train the people are segregated by class with the malnourished commoners in the back and the rich elite occupying the front. The train and plan to save humanity was all orchestrated by a visionary named Wilford, but getting into any more than his name takes away a central mystery to the movie. The desolate in the back of the train are led by the strategic Curtis and his old decrepit mentor Gilliam. Forced to eat disgusting protein blocks and live in squalor, Curtis bides his time waiting to lead a revolution.
There is a grotesque torture scene near the beginning of the movie that perfectly encompasses the brutality of life on the train. Describing this movie as a blood bath does not do the fight choreographers justice. Once the action and plot get in motion it rarely slows down as Curtis accompanied by other characters rebel and crawl their way to the front of the train. Lots of characters die, children are constantly in danger, and you will see and hear taboo content that is rarely touched upon in other movies. Snowpiercer is an Indy film that was only screened in selective theaters, explaining how it gets away with a few of its more noteworthy scenes. All of the grizzly scenes would be excessive had they not been backed up by the fantastic acting that makes this world feel all too possible.
The movie touches on a multitude of complex sci-fi issues such as geoengineering, eugenics, and “big brother” controlling the masses. Class exploitation and self-sacrifice are a main focus and while the film expresses that mankind is responsible for its own downfall; Capitalism is also to blame for the predicament that the train goers find themselves in. Curtis has a choice to make at the end of the movie with no clear cut answer. Is it better to attempt to change and fix the oppressing society, or burn the whole thing to the ground and begin anew? The ending of the movie did not go where I expected it to, but the revelations in the end of the movie justify Curtis’ decision and emotional journey whether you agree with his decisions or not.
In the secondary reading I chose for Snowpiercer, “A Snowpiercer Thinkpiece, Not to Be Taken Too Seriously, But For Very Serious Reasons” by Aaron Bady, I agree with a lot of the points that he made. I mentioned Curtis choice already and Bady had the same thought if the world “Is it worth sustaining? This is a question that the movie raises at several points, particularly when we learn why so many of the passengers lack arms and legs”. I had been confused during one scene in the movie when the rich train-goers and partiers are seemingly happy to have the opportunity to tear the lower class citizens limb from limb, and Bady gives a good explanation on why that may be, “Without occasional violence, there would be only pleasure, and pleasure fades when there is nothing but pleasure. At a certain point, you need blood; the revolution provides that blood, as does counter-revolutionary violence against the bare-life tail-section passengers”. I had not thought about it myself , but Bady makes a great point when he says that, “Snowpiercer is not about the revolution we might have today, then; it’s about the time after revolution has ceased to be possible”. I believe that the previous quote is a much better way to describe this film after the revelation in the end.
Overall the action, world building, and emotional beats make this a must see film for any fan of sci-fi, cli-fi, and dystopian fiction in general.