In Perpetual Motion: Snowpiercer

Image by Garth Jones.

By all contemporary western metrics, it turns out, Captain America is a ruthless, merciless terrorist.

As Snowpiercer kicks off, our man Curtis — a cagey, brittle arsekicker played by Chris Evans (The First Avenger) — leads a desperate uprising against the privileged upper classes who tyrannise the have-nots.

The year is 2031 and it’s all gone tits up. Our last ditch efforts to thwart climate change have proved cataclysmically and ironically misguided, plunging the planet into another Ice Age. For all intents and purposes humanity has been rendered extinct.

The few remaining survivors are bundled onto the titular Snowpiercer (AKA The Rattling Ark), a stainless steel bullet train endlessly circumnavigating the globe on a three hundred and sixty five day loop, propelled ever forward by unseen genius and sinister demagogue Wilford’s perpetual-motion engine.

Life’s a grim dystopian slog of poverty, kidnappings, humiliations, thuggery, brutality and suspect looking protein bars for sustenance.

Happily, the tail end is at least an egalitarian, globalised melting pot living in relative harmony; it’s the luridly attired, faux aristo whiteys with their simpering, middle management diabolism up the front that are living in a WASP-y, clinically interior designed fantasia.

One of the ever dwindling few who remember life pre-Ice Age, Curtis and his cattle class insurgents, huddled in cramped, windowless confines, concoct a plan to overthrow the one percenters up the front, whose grotesque, debauched existence comes at the expense of the tail enders’ brutal exploitation.

The plan, in a nutshell: control the engine…control the world.

Joining Curtis on his quest to gain control of the Sacred Engine are Gilliam (John Hurt) — the wizened veteran of multiple past uprisings; Curtis’ nominal adopted brother — the hot-headed Edgar (Jamie Bell); the grizzled, drug hoovering lock picker extraordinaire Namoong (Kang-ho Song) and his tweaky, clairvoyant daughter Yona (Ah-sung Ko).

Between Curtis and his objective is the Ayn Rand inspired upper management grotesque Mason (an utterly off reservation Tilda Swinton), whose sneering disdain for ‘freeloaders’ and exhortations to ‘know your place’ and definitive, absolute statements of moral certainty bring to mind recent exhortations from members of certain conservative governments locally and abroad.

Embracing the aesthetics of first person shooters and beat ’em ups, Snowpiercer is a relentless, ever escalating running battle from the steampunk horrors of the tail end of the Ark through grimly realised, claustrophobic environs wherein close quarter violence is rendered horribly intimate.

The train is a rolling caste system, a progression through social strata from the squalid to the phantasmagoric, from poverty and hard scrabble squalor to lush, luridly narcotic decadence.

Based on the 1982 graphic novel, Le Transperceneige, the film’s tagline, and Curtis’ mantra — we move forward — informs every desperate fight for survival at any cost. Every beat of the film is a propulsive exercise in forward momentum and ever increasing stakes.

Handily influenced by the tactile, burnished aesthetics of Terry Gilliam and Jean Pierre Jeunet, director Bong Joon-ho’s (The Host), wry, agile camera also nods to Park Chan-Wook’s poetically inventive Oldboy ultraviolence, dizzying, claret spraying forays into extreme absurdity.

Arriving just after the Australian government’s repeal of the Carbon Price, our climate crisis an ever pressing reality, this updated Ark parable sits comfortably in the vanguard of Apocalypse cinema. A sub-zero Mad Max to accompany the Occupy inspired concerns of the flawed but admirable Elysium, the Planet of the Apes remakes, even Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and its fantastical meditations on the survival of the species.

Snowpiercer is an astounding, grim, bonkers side-scrolling class conflict dust up, a pure blast of gonzo adrenaline entertainment stealthily delivering a humane, thoughtful meditation on the bind we all find ourselves confronted by as passengers on this Ark Earth.

Originally published at