Snowpiercer, on the surface, is a typical action packed post apocalyptic thriller, complete with most of the genre’s usual hallmarks. Underneath, however, it is an ingenious discussion of what it takes to maintain balance, and the horrors mankind can be capable of.
The premise of the movie is taken from “Le transperceneige”, a French graphic novel, but that’s where the similarities end. The movie is set in the near future where, trying to combat global warming, humanity inadvertently triggered an Ice Age, and all life on earth froze. The precious few that survived, live on a self-sustaining, globetrotting train. It has been 18 years since life froze, and a hierarchy has evolved on the train, with the people in front leading lavish, extravagant lives, while the people in the tail section are left to rot in their own filth, without any space, and minimal food. The society that has evolved on the train strongly resembles the kinds of elitist societies that existed in our violent and bloody history.
Through the course of the movie, Snowpiercer delivers a subtle but clever commentary on how society cannot function without a strict hierarchy, and a consequence of this hierarchy is that someone always ends up at the bottom. The protagonist, Curtis, played by a weary Chris Evans desperately attempts to upheave the established order, and the finale ends up showing him how much of a joke the entire rebellion was. “A blockbuster production with a devilishly unpredictable plot”, is how Wilford, played by a pragmatic Ed Harris describes the revolution led by Curtis, as he reveals that the whole thing had been orchestrated to reduce the population of the train to sustainable levels. Quite depressing really, the way his entire crusade is made out to be a farce, showing him (and by extension, the audience) just how futile it can be to fight the existing order.
**End of spoilers**
Curtis, the protagonist, is the unspoken leader of the passengers of the tail. At first, it seems like his character is just a rehash of Captain America’s personality, and the movie knows this. It plays with the viewer, delivering an initial scene vaguely reminiscent of a certain scene from The Avengers, leaving us wondering whether Marvel’s favorite Chris has been typecast for this picture. Nothing could be further from the truth. As the movie progresses, it becomes clear just how broken Curtis actually is. Chris Evans does an amazing job of selling this character, delivering one of his most nuanced performances to date.
In fact, the entire cast goes above and beyond. Their performances are consistently top-notch, with Tilda Swinton especially standing out. She plays Mason, a fanatic messenger from the front end of the train, and does so brilliantly. Her character is presented as the quintessential elitist, with no qualms about stepping on the passengers from the back
The action deserves a special mention. The choreography is excellent, it’s creative in all the right ways, and it gets your blood pumping. There’s an action scene about halfway through which is extremely violent, with plenty of gore, but never enough to seem gratuitous. The violence simply serves to showcase how much eighteen years in a metal box has affected these people.
Snowpiercer is one of those rare movies that utilises every minute of its runtime. There are no throwaway scenes, no meaningless lines and every single thing that occurs on-screen is important to the story. In that sense, this movie is a perfect example of one with no bloat. In fact, snowpiercer is a great example of many things, of how to write dialogue, how to choreograph action. Mostly though, it is a prime example of how to make a thrilling, thought-provoking action flick.