A hidden, gripping gem

Snowpiercer is disturbing but captivating

Snowpiercer is one of those movies that should have been a big box office hit but wasn’t. People love this stuff, this kind of Hunger Games-esque material that is both profoundly disturbing and gripping.

When I say, “I never want to see that movie again,” it can mean two things. One: unimpressed. Two: I am profoundly shaken and it’s going to take me a while to recover. Snowpiercer is in category two. In many ways, it’s a testament to a movie’s genius if I don’t want to watch it more than once. It means I got everything I think I was supposed to get on the first go, and it means that something slightly disturbing resonated with me.

Snowpiercer is about how, in a last-ditch attempt to stop global warming, scientists released a chemical into the atmosphere that would drastically lower global temperatures. But things got out of hand and the entire world froze, and the only people who survived are on a train that runs on a track in a continuous loop around the whole world. The train is divided by a class system between the wealthy people in the front of the train and the destitute in the back. The whole is governed by gunslinging riot police. The train is a self-sustaining ecosystem, complete with a school, an aquarium, and a sushi bar, but these are reserved for the upper class alone.

At first glance, the main plot is an uprising, where the tail end of the train decides, under the leadership of Curtis, to take over the engine. Here’s where things get interesting. The writing is structured such that the plot works like an eternal Jenga tower. About the time you think you’ve got things figured out, something happens that collapses the entire thing. So you rebuild it around a new set of predictions, only to have that fall to the ground as well. It’s hard to accurately guess where this story is headed based on the first 30 minutes of the film.

Something I found intriguing was the definite lack of romance in Snowpiercer. While something like The Hunger Games or even Divergent is so obviously tied to the main character’s love interest, Snowpiercer just doesn’t bring the issue up. And it’s not because Curtis as a character is shallow or too good for that sort of thing. He’s just got other problems on his mind. Running deeper than that, though, is just how much this choice breaks contemporary conventions. I think I spent nearly half the movie looking for Curtis’s love interest simply because Hollywood taught me that that’s how it goes.

The production choices in Snowpiercer were also pretty spectacular. I did some research and learned that they actually built a train in a studio in order to shoot the movie.

My final verdict? If The Hunger Games was a little tame for you, Snowpiercer should be your next Friday night movie.