Reeling it in: ‘Snowpiercer’ a thought-provoking ride



2 hours, 6 minutes


I find it a depressing fact of life, but more and more small, independent, or unique foreign films are premiering on VOD (video on-demand — basically streaming online) instead of in theaters. If the movie is high profile enough, such as this week’s “Snowpiercer,” the movie will come out in theaters and VOD simultaneously, but only in big cities or niche theaters.

I’d heard a lot about this movie, was excited to see it, and in the end, enjoyed it. But I won’t get the experience that the filmmakers had in mind when they designed the film — I won’t see it on the big screen in a theater with an audience. VOD is convenient and potentially a cheaper option than going out to a movie, but is it worth the trade-off? Not for me.

Chris Evans, otherwise known as Captain America, stars as Curtis in this bizarre, yet completely engaging post-apocalyptic thriller. Sometime in the very near future, the movie posits, scientists battling global warming come up new chemical compound which, when introduced into the atmosphere, is supposed to cool the planet gradually to a manageable temperature. Instead, due to some unknown miscalculation, the experiment plunges the planet into a complete global ice-age. Everyone everywhere perishes in the frigid temperatures.

Everyone, that is, except for those who were lucky enough to make it onto the Train. The Train, Wilford’s train, is the result of a fabulously wealthy man’s quixotic attempt to create a track to circumnavigate the globe, and an engine to run on it. Never stopping, generating its own power, the Train makes a pass around the globe once a year, and has been doing so every year for almost 20, without fail.

In the intervening years, in the absence of outside stimulus, the Train has become a kind of religion, with Wilfred its deity. In the front of the train, the wealthy live lives of ease and indulgence, while in the tail end, the poor and disenfranchised scrabble over scraps just to survive. Life is hard, and made harder by periodic visits from the front section to kidnap people from the tail for unknown sinister purposes.

Curtis is planning to change things, and, with the help of his wizened mentor Gilliam, played by John Hurt, the plan is to use an army to march right through to the front of the train, and take it.

The plot of “Snowpiercer” is good sci-fi, but what elevates the movie is the sense of strangeness, of oddity with which Korean director Joon-ho Bong infuses the entire production. The Train is like no train you’ve ever seen — the windowless rear cars calling to mind a Soviet-era Gulag, with bodies crammed in and filth and disease rampant. The production design is meticulous.

From there the train travels through the services areas, heat, water, police, and production of food for the rear — gelatinous “protein blocks” made from, well, you don’t want to know.

It’s amazing how the filmmakers are able to create a sense of spaciousness when you get to the front cars, vast compartments of luxury and leisure, though logic suggests these cars are the exact same size as the ones in back. Tilda Swinton, on top of her bizarre but very funny role as an 85-year old woman in “Grand Budapest Hotel” here takes on another strange character, Mason, a bureaucrat in charge of meting out justice to the back. Swinton is perfect in the role, managing to be both menacing and comical at the same time. What makes her performance so good is that she illustrates the undercurrent of madness running through the entire train. What would being cooped up like that do to you after 17 years, even in the comfort of the front cars?

When we are finally introduced to Wilfred himself, another fine performance by Ed Harris, it becomes obvious that even god is not immune to the pressures of isolation.

“Snowpiercer” is very good, but gets to be a little monotonous in the fight scenes. After seeing excellent action films like Indonesia’s “The Raid,” it’s obvious that close quarter battles can be thrilling. These felt almost as though Bong were hedging his bets, never quite showing all the violence in case he needed to edit to a PG-13, but including enough blood to get a solid R. It’s ironic that the film has this feel because one of the reasons “Snowpiercer” is even on the radar at all is due to a fairly well-publicized fight the director had with the Weinstein Co. over proposed cuts to the American release of the film. Reportedly, the studio wanted to release a sanitized version of the film to U.S. audiences and Joon-ho Bong set his feet. I’m glad he did, because aside from the violence, which I didn’t find to be much of an issue for an R-rated film, I’m sure much of the strangeness would have been excised from a re-edited version of the film.

That would have been a shame.

Grade: A-

“Snowpiercer” is rated R for bloody violence, language, and disturbing scenes.


Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

More in Life

Will Morrow (courtesy)
Older and wiser, or not

Turning 50 has been a more laid-back experience

Sara DeVolld performs as part of the Waltz of the Flowers Corps de Ballet in “The Nutcracker” with Eugene Ballet at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Shona DeVolld)
Becoming part of a ‘magical holiday tradition’

Local ballet dancer Sara DeVolld performs in Anchorage for ‘The Nutcracker’

A copy of Sherry Simpson’s “The Way Winter Comes” is held in the Peninsula Clarion offices on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Off the Shelf: Inhabited by winter

Juneau writer spins haunting tales of Alaska’s darkest season in 1998 short story collection

Charles Riddiford, far right in the back row, posed for this Spokane Post Office staff photo in 1898 when he was just a clerk. The photo appeared in a 1922 edition of the Spokesman Review, along with a discussion of the post office’s tremendous growth.
Riddiford: Story of a Name Change — Part 1

So who was this Riddiford, and why did this name hold such sway at the site of Joseph Cooper’s boat landing for more than a decade?

These festive gingerbread cookies are topped with royal icing and sprinkles. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Rolling out the gingerbread

With Christmas around the corner, it’s time for the holiday classic

Paper chains made of gratitude strips adorn a Christmas tree at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna. (Photo courtesy Meredith Harber)
Minister’s Message: Grateful and kind

What if, instead of gathering around tables and talking about what has already happened TO us, we challenge ourselves to return kindness to the world around us

Roasted broccoli Caesar salad provides some much-needed greens and fiber to balance out the rolls and gravy. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
A toasty, warm salad for a cozy Thanksgiving

This warm side dish provides some much-needed greens and fiber to balance out the rolls and gravy

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Some things never change. Nor should they

In the dawdling days prior to Thanksgiving, things are usually as serene as a gentle snowfall within our modest piece of nirvana

This photo from the early 1960s shows Jackson Ball enjoying the Christmas holidays with his eldest three daughters. His fourth and youngest daughter was born less than a year and a half before Ball’s death in 1968. (Photo from Ball Family memorial slideshow, 2022)
Human Complexity: The Story of Jackson Ball — Part 3

Misfortune was written across the recent history of the Arlon Elwood “Jackson” Ball family

Most Read