Curtis (Chris Evans), the crowd-appointed leader of the tail section, has one mission: to get to the front of the train. In what seems to have been an attempt to stop global warming, the entire universe has frozen over, and what’s left is the Snowpiercer, a train left circling the earth in 2031 on a journey to nowhere that is keeping earth’s remaining inhabitants alive. The Snowpiercer, which is based on the vessel in French post-apocolyptic novel Le Transperceneige, has been barreling along through ice and desolation for 17 years now. On it, a cross section of what society once was and a class system is maintained with the bottom dwellers at the back of the train surviving off of jelly-like protein blocks made of insects.
Under the leadership of Mentor Gilliam (John Hurt), Curtis and members of the tail section, such as Edgar (Jamie Bell) and Tanya (Octavia Spencer), are planning an uprising against the guards, spokeswoman from the front, Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton), and ultimately Wilford (Ed Harris), the unseen leader of the train and keeper of the beloved engine. These insurgents aren’t just sick of eating protein blocks and being treated like prisoners, but their agitations are peaked when two small children are whisked away without explanation (one is Tanya’s son), presumably to the front of the train.
When Curtis suspects that the guards have run out of bullets, what ensues is a calculated but risky revolt, gate by gate. The revolt is made possible after the tail section frees prisoner Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song), who once designed the Snowpiercer’s doors, and his clairvoyant daughter Yona (Ah-sung Ko). The duo, addicts bribed by their drug of choice, a flammable substance called Kronol, accompany Curtis and others through the bloody journey to the front where Wilford dwells.
Along the way, many lives are sacrificed in violent moments including what seemed to be a ninja fight in the dark and even a shootout in a schoolroom. To the back-dwellers’ surprise, the train boasts a number of elaborate compartments from a greenhouse, to an aquarium, sushi bar, sauna and even a nightclub. It becomes apparent the further Curtis and his supporters go, that the front-dwellers have been living a first class life, while they suffered through the challenges of cannibalism and lost limbs.
Ultimately Curtis does reach Wilford, with few supporters at his side. It’s unclear, however, if all the lives lost were worth it, because Curtis does not simply take over and lead the train as we would suspect (no spoilers here). The film by Bong Joon-ho is full of mind-bending moments and memorable performances, especially by denture-wearing Tilda Swinton and Octavia Spencer, who plays a courageous, relentless mother. Although the end may not provide sufficient closure and some themes are predictable, excitement, thrill and imagination are far from lacking in this sci-fi hit.