This film took me completely by surprise. It is one of those films that on the face of it sounds ridiculous and yes it was ridiculous but in a fun way. I began watching it with very low expectations. The premise is that the world has experienced a devastating Ice Age after a failed attempt to solve climate change the remnants of humanity now all live on non-stop super train that circles the globe once a year.
The train is an allegory for a split society with the poor in the cramped tail end and the rich, living a life of decadence in the front. Our heroes are the subjugated poor in the rear who, with help from a mysterious benefactor, plan a revolution by bringing out of storage the man who designed the locking systems between that carriages.
To really enjoy the film you need to embrace the silliness of the concept and treat the train as a vehicle, pardon the pun, for the moral plot and not something realistic. The train shown in the film is not long enough in my view and whilst the director takes great effort to show us food production, water and energy production there are serious logistic issues once you start to dig any deeper.
Speaking of direction, this was handled by Bong Joon-Ho who also co-wrote it with Kelly Masterson from the French Comic book Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Bejamin LeGrand and Jean-marc Rochette. Bong create a flashy kind of film with what seemed to be a small budget. Stunts and action were handled well and he acting was very good.
This is what surprised me. On the face of it the film looked like a low rent b-movie but as I watched I began to recognise people, the lead is Chris Evan… for ages I thought it was a look alike until I checked IMDB. His side kick is Jamie Bell, John Hurt fathers the revolution whilst Ed Harris is the engine master and Tilda Swinton a delightful zealot. These are A-class celebrities and I think it is their talent that grabs the attention and draws you into the story.
The film is very violent and a lot of people die in it but the action builds to a satisfying conclusion with the odd twist and turn along the way. The film has that left field craziness that you might expect from say a Tim Burton movie and in fact I would compare the mania in the film to be very close to Mad Max: Fury Road.
This is a very dystopian future with the moral ethics drawn right out of classic sci-fi novels like Fahrenheit 451 or George Orwell’s 1984 mixed with action from a modern film blended in. The film quickly establishes how downtrodden the tail enders are and sets up several mysteries, who is the mysterious benefactor sending them notes and why are the children needed by the front enders.
As the team of rebels make their way up the train each carriage demonstrates both a new challenge and a new outlook, particularly chilling is the classroom section and the sequence there.
Tilda Swinton does an amazing job as a mid level functionary who is cold hearted to the core and and indoctrinated to the way of the train, she espouses a pseudo-religious zeal for the creator of the train and portrays the woman as someone whose beliefs have rendered her unable to understand anything other than her own view. To continue with the acting I would have to say that although Chris Evans and the others were great the most interesting character is the South Korean actor Song Kang-ho. His drug obsessed locksmith was well executed. It may have been that I didn’t understand what he was saying even when the Evans used a translator box (Until I realised I could turn on the subtitle, you will really need this turned on to fully understand the ending) but I could still get a feel for his motivations and drive. He of all the characters had the greatest overall view of what the world was like and what it could be.
The film takes you on a linear journey up the train that like walking up a seesaw began to tip the balance. Towards the end of the film you begin to question whether our heroes are right? Is such freedom necessary when all of Humanity exists on this one rain and the corollary of this, is humanity worth anything if people can do and say anything as long as it helps the human race survive, how far can we shed our humanity and still be a race worth surviving.
The film ends in a semi-satisfying way. The setups are all paid of and Evans does a good job of emoting the conflict within himself. Ed Harris is fascinating as the engine driver, the man behind it all but ultimately the ending feels like a bit of a cop out, I m not going to spoil it but I will say that the question of morals, survival and the future is left to the viewer to decide. One can take hope or doom away from it, I for one would have preferred Boon to hammer his colours to the mast and go all in for the nihilistic ending.
All in all a crazy and fun watch.