Snowpiercer (R)

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Cast: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Sang Kang-ho

Let’s get this out of the way: the plot is cliched. The pesky entitlement class is at it again, trying to get out from under the Italian leather sole of the rich, not necessarily so that they can take all the wealth for themselves, but so that they can stop being forced to eat gelatin bars made from bug paste. If I had a nickel.

The subtle and tongue-in-cheek political hook of Snowpiercer, however, is the stage on which this story of horizontal mobility is set: inside the greatest train ever built, powered by a perpetual motion engine – both the brain children of every wealthy capitalist’s favorite pinup girl, Ayn Rand.

Not only are the dastardly egalitarians relegated to the back of the train (running on rails of Rearden Steel, no doubt), the locomotive’s technologically perfect engine was dreamed up and is guarded fiercely by one brilliant man living in his own private Atlantis who isn’t about to let anyone, especially not the parasites in the rear cars, mooch off of his brilliance. Let them eat bug-cake. Plagued by global warming a changed climate exacerbated by a trigger-happy mankind, the conductor/Keeper of the Sacred Engine/God/Ed Harris somehow built a gazillion miles of railroad to conserve the last traces of life on earth. He feeds and shelters the parasites, and feels inclined to do little more, since they’re of only one particular use to him, and only a small handful of them at that. But what is the responsibility connected with allowing someone to live? 

The future role of wealthy tech capitalists will become increasingly dichotomous, since there is no way to incentivize helping the poor, a label that will eventually be stamped on anyone who doesn’t own a piece of the technology that human life will depend on. Concerning their desire to prevent the impoverished from obtaining too much power, which would ostensibly be used to overthrow the wealthy, it would make little sense to divulge an amazing new technology (such as a perpetual motion engine) to so many people who couldn’t afford to reap its benefits. But knowing humans, the scoundrels, they’re liable to try and take it anyway. So better stock up on guns and minions to fire them.

The film seemed to imply that the role of technology and the greed behind its makers will be something that our future multicultural thralls will be forced to overcome; that the wealth and power will belong to the creators and owners of the technology that keeps everyone alive (and does most of the other work, too), while those who don’t own anything – pretty much everyone – will be forced to comply to the way of life allowed them by the tech’s owner, or perish. The film seemed hopeful, however, that even with the language barrier – more hindered than helped by blippy computer translators – the human will to break free from oppression might still have the power to overcome, even fighting with only fire and fist.

In the future world of Snowpiercer, the earth is completely devoid of life and technology, save for the most sophisticated thing ever built hurtling over and around the globe. If you can swallow that premise, the film is at least somewhat thought-provoking, blatantly so at times. But it won’t provoke any thoughts or elucidate any plights that we haven’t heard and ignored before. In its best moments, it recalls Christopher Priest’s crazy vision for his novel “The Inverted World”, and our proclivity for remaining blind to and accepting our peculiar existence. In its worst, it felt like a sci-fi version of Under Siege 2. But throughout the entire story, as in many other apocalyptic tales of erased, malfunctioning, or spiteful technology, this reviewer couldn’t help but think of Einstein, who said of tech’s implications on the future of mankind, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” 

And snowballs, Al. Don’t forget the snowballs.