How many times, you think to yourself as you read the blurb on the back of the dvd case for Snowpiercer are we going to rehash the tired old plot of haves and have-nots in a bleak future where mankind is so far reduced in number that we exist as barely a notch on Mother Nature's bedpost? The struggle for survival in a setting where the oft mentioned fecal matter flows down hill has been a plot so over, and often poorly, used as to elicit a groan from even the most tried and true fan of apocalyptic fiction. I approached this film with great trepidation; the circumstances and the setting both seemed too far fetched to allow anything like plot or characters any sort of growth. I am pleased to say that I was totally shocked, in the most pleasant way, that not only was the plot great, the acting was stellar as well.
I gave this movie the chance I did because of two of the actors involved with the project, Tilda Swinton and Chris Evans. I have been a fan of Tilda's since the very early years of her career. I remember watching the epic Orlando, where she played an immortal who changed many times throughout the centuries, able to appear as either man or woman; her portrayal of both was just intoxicating. We all remember her as the conniving White Witch in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and her malicious turn as the angel Gabriel in Constantine. Here she is at her best; vicious, pithy with just the slightest air of lunacy. There is a scene where Mason (her character) compares a torn and ruined shoe to the life they now live aboard the train. “I am the head and you are the shoe.” she extols to all the poor, famished souls at the rear of the great train. She, of course, is one of the lucky few who live in the front. “This, is not a shoe.” she tolls “This is size ten chaos.”. You have to laugh, for though the scene is dark her speech therein is simply just too crazy not to.
Chris Evans, of course, IS Captain America and those films have been wonderful bits of comic book action and melodrama. Mr Evans is growing into his acting chops, in this movie he shows a much greater range of emotion than he ever has in his career. The fight scenes however, are very reminiscent of his Captain America moves. There is a scene toward the end of the movie, where Curtis (Evans) tells the tale of cannibalism and horror that has been played out in the tail of the train. His speech is heart wrenching “I hate that I know what that tastes like.” he sobs, speaking about human flesh. His part in the film is obviously the reluctant hero, perhaps even savior, of the last vestige of humanity. The weather control experiment that wiped out all mankind accept those on the train, also seems to have killed all other living creatures on the planet. There are points in this movie when I, as a viewer, thought that perhaps humans had no right at all to survive and that if what was on the train was the last remaining few, survival looked unlikely at best anyway. Snowpiercer is certainly a movie that makes you think.
The rest of the cast are just as wonderful, each character wearing their faults as well as their strengths on their collective sleeves. Every being left is more than a little fractured; those at the rear of the train due to the depredations they have had to face in order to receive their meager allotment of food and water, and those in the front because they have become banal and decadent, having so much and working so little for it. This movie is society in miniature. It is a rat colony overburdened with a surplus population, it is a shark tank full to the brim with great whites circling the poor halibut at the center. I would suggest repeated watchings, as I noticed new things every time. Were I to stumble upon a crystal ball tomorrow and glimpse this future in the glass, I would make sure to be standing outside when the world froze solid.