Review Submission by Amanda Bishop, MLIS
Creator: Bong Joon-ho (director), Bong Joon-ho and Kelly Masterson (screenplay); based on the graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette
Tags: ice age, ice, snow, global warming, Earth, leader, leadership, rights, trains, engineering, class, passengers, cargo, machine, engine, Movie, adults, rated R
Media Type: Film
Audience: Adults (18+) (film is Rated R)
Summary: Some seventeen-or-so years in the future, the remainder of human life on Earth lives on a single train, which is in constant motion across the planet. A global warming initiative taken on by world powers in 2014, of which the viewer learns in radio broadcast flashbacks at the beginning of the film, created a second Ice Age whose effects were so rapid that nearly everyone died. The Snowpiercer is the engine which sustains life for the wretched few that have managed to survive. This train hearkens back to a bygone time in which the (steam) engine was the pinnacle of modernity, although the Snowpiercer and its “eternal engine” is clearly vastly different in terms of its operation. As the vessel moves throughout this tale, the viewer sees it blast through ice formations in a snow-covered world, and learn increasingly more about this mysterious yet powerful conveyance right up until the end of the film.
While the engine itself may be the namesake and setting for the film, the story centers around the efforts of passengers of the “tail” of the train to better their conditions, led by Curtis (Chris Evans). The tail and its residents are unspeakably filthy, abused regularly, and the residents of these crowded and labyrinthine quarters get by on slippery-looking “protein” bars as their only source of food. Guarded ferociously by men in full military gear, occasional visits (and speeches) by Mason (Tilda Swinton), the conductor’s right-hand woman make it clear that the conditions for passenger cars more towards the front of the train are idyllic in comparison. Determined to fight against the injustices that are perpetrated upon the tail passengers, Curtis leads a blood-saturated charge to the front (just another in a long history of revolts) with the help of a drug-addled man named Namgoong Minsu and his daughter Yona. Interspersed with scenes of violent clashes (so fierce that this reviewer had to look away) are glimpses of how the other half lives – in luxurious comfort and good health. This constructed dichotomy between the haves and have-nots is not new, and divisions of humans predicated on class or socioeconomic standing in such a way also alludes to a more historic origin than the futuristic setting of Snowpiercer.
Bottom Line: Including this film in a list of steampunk resources may seem like kind of a stretch, as the engine isn’t steam-powered, but the class struggles and train setting decontextualizes the tale from its temporal situation.
Find It: In theaters