Guest / Limited Access /
Page 2 of 3

Snowpiercer takes a decidedly more pessimistic view, though perhaps also a more realistic one. I won't spoil anything, but no one emerges from this story untainted. By the end, you've learned enough about every likable character that it puts the question at the forefront: "So then, who cares if they all die. Maybe that'd be best."

The movie doesn't conclude on that point, but its willingness to even address that question is both deeply brave and exceedingly rare—most Hollywood apocalyptic movies feel content to just threaten their central characters with Bad Things Happening so that they'll be brave, while still mostly refraining from hurting them.

Chris Evans in 'Snowpiercer'
The Weinstein Company

Chris Evans in 'Snowpiercer'

Dystopian stories, by contrast, confront us a question that's not as pithy, but has been haunting literature since the end of WWII: what if it's just so much staggeringly easier to go along with a system you know is not right? Do you do it? What if you're "just following orders?" What if you think you're making a brief moral sacrifice for the "good of the group?" From Brave New World to 1984, from Terry Gilliam's Brazil to The Lives of Others, the fundamental question is whether you can ever escape the system you're in.

Snowpiercer literalizes this question, but never gets too on the nose—from subtle references that you can only get after the fact (an aquarium the rich only poach from twice a year; a garden being meticulously tended; the seemingly endless cycle of revolts aboard the train—what do all these have in common?) to the train conductor's grandiose proclamation that "the train—the train is the world. And all the people on it are Humanity."

Maybe the best thing about the film is the way it seems to root for Life (messy, chaotic, uncontrolled, unsterilized, scary Life) as something to cherish and value above cold and sterile utilitarian calculus: best, because that's not the option I likely would have picked; best, because the movie forced me to reflect on the choices I would have made had I been in that position.

There's too much going on in Snowpiercer to possibly sum up in just one go—in that way it bears far more resemblance to an Art House flick than your standard summertime disaster movie, as the film's willing to not just examine the uncertainty of the issue but really rest in it. It never vocally backs any position 100%, which may leave some viewers upset at being "unsatisfied" (likely the same kinds of viewers who complain when a film's main character isn't "likable"). But it also makes the movie infinitely more thought-provoking than any other dystopian or apocalyptic movie of the past decade. In a world full of Divergents and Hunger Games and 2012s, Snowpiercer not only has the confidence to ask difficult questions—it also has the courage make the viewer answer them for his or herself.

Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer, and Tilda Swinton in 'Snowpiercer'
The Weinstein Company

Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer, and Tilda Swinton in 'Snowpiercer'

Caveat Spectator

Roughly 60 f—ks and s—ts litter the script, as well as maybe two dozen other third-tier profanities. A character has his arm frozen and then smashed with a sledgehammer; while the action occurs off-screen, it's still a haunting and disturbing moment. Characters predominately fight with melee weapons, and the violence remains around the level of Gladiator, more or less. Characters are also executed with guns, but not on-screen. There's a discussion of some passengers who got so hungry they reverted to cannibalism, even towards babies. Two characters consistently get high off of some kind of industrial waste drug. In the background of one scene in a opium-den it may be possible to discern some nudity, but it's so unclear and non-sexual as to almost be a non-issue.

Browse All Movie Reviews By:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Current IssueDoes Protestantism Need to Die?
Subscriber Access Only
Does Protestantism Need to Die?
Or to recover its riches? Two Protestant luminaries look at the legacy of the Reformation, 500 years later.
TrendingWhy Max Lucado Broke His Political Silence for Trump
Why Max Lucado Broke His Political Silence for Trump
In the face of a candidate’s antics, ‘America’s Pastor’ speaks out.
Editor's PickThe Year of Living Hopelessly
The Year of Living Hopelessly
2016 tempted us toward nihilism. We don’t have to go there.
View this article in Reader Mode
Christianity Today