Movie Review: Snowpiercer

Last week, zaiah and I decided to spend an evening sitting in a dark room with a bunch of strangers staring passively at a flickering screen. We were in the mood for B science fiction, so we decided to go watch a low-budget sci-fi allegory about classism and economic repression whose characters are faced with losing body parts and whose plot heavily involves ice.

No, I don’t mean Ice Pirates. I mean the one that’s set on a train. I mean this one:

I must admit, it’s a worthy heir to the Ice Pirates crown. Without question, Snowpiercer is the best low-budget sci-fi allegory about classism and economic repression whose characters are faced with losing body parts and whose plot heavily involves ice that’s ever been set on a train.

The movie goes something like this:

Well-intentioned but incompetent scientists: Global warming is a thing. To fight global warming, we will spread a magic chemical in the air that will reduce global temperatures because magic, and also chemtrails. We will not model the results first, nor pay attention to the effects, because in this world modeling and verification are not things.

The WELL-INTENTIONED BUT INCOMPETENT SCIENTISTS spread MAGIC CHEMICALS in the AIR because MAGIC and also CHEMTRAILS. Global temperatures PLUMMET OVERNIGHT because THERMAL INERTIA ALSO ISN’T A THING.

Well-intentioned but incompetent scientists: Wow, we didn’t see that coming! The entire earth is now a frozen snowball and all life is extinct. Oops, our bad.

Jamie Bell: It sure does suck being one of the last human beings alive and being stuck in the back of this train. We should rebel and go to the front of the train. Chris Evans, you should lead us!
Chris Evans: Waitaminnit. If the world suddenly started freezing, why are the only survivors on a train? Why wouldn’t people make domed cities? Or dig shelters underground? For that matter, how come this train is even moving? Where does it get its fuel from?
Jamie Bell: It has a perpetual motion engine, of course! Duh.
Chris Evans: Oh, boy. It’s going to be one of those movies. And I thought my role in Captain America: The Winter Soldier was implausible. Man, I have got to talk to my agent about these winter-themed movies I keep getting cast in.


Click here for more (here be spoilers galore!):

Chris Evans: The soldiers are coming into our train car with wibbly-wobbly food bars. Look, the doors stay open for a few seconds! That is an Important Plot Point. Pay attention, this will be on the test later.
Soldiers: We are here with your wibbly-wobbly food bars. Also, we’re basically assholes, because the Stanford Prison Experiment works just as well on a train as in a university.
Chris Evans: An unknown person is hiding cryptic messages in our wibbly-wobbly food bars. The time for our revolution is at hand.

The doors open UNEXPECTEDLY. Children are MEASURED with a TAPE MEASURE and then CARRIED OFF. People CARRY ON about it. ANDREW throws a SHOE at a WOMAN IN AN UGLY YELLOW OUTFIT.

Tilda Swinton: Andrew, you threw a shoe at the woman in the ugly yellow outfit. We will hang a clock around your neck and then stick your arm through this special hole in the side of the train while I carry on about class and shoes and knowing your place.

TILDA SWINTON carries on about CLASS and SHOES and KNOWING YOUR PLACE. The CLOCK goes off.

Tilda Swinton: Okay, that’s enough carrying on about class and shoes and knowing your place. Now that your arm is totally frozen solid, we will hit it with a hammer and smash it to pieces.

The STANFORD PRISON GUARDS hit ANDREW’S ARM and it smashes to PIECES

Chris Evans: Waitaminnit. Even liquid nitrogen, which is −321 degrees Fahrenheit, can’t freeze a piece of the body that big that quickly. And I can look outside and see air, so the air isn’t liquid, which means the temperature is way warmer than that. Did anyone do any fact-checking to make this movie?
Tilda Swinton: Shut up.
John Hurt: Chris Evans, you do not have time to think about plot or plausibility now. You must lead our people in revolt.
Chris Evans: I can’t lead us. I still have both my arms and both legs. You have a pegleg and an umbrella handle for an arm. You must lead us.
John Hurt: I am still recovering from the injuries to plot and plausibility I incurred during the Dr. Who special. You must lead us.
Chris Evans: Okay.

A dude draws PICTURES of the children who are CARRIED OFF. The people in the back of the TRAIN prepare to stage a REVOLT

Chris Evans: The guards are here early! But never fear, I think they are out of bullets. I will test my hypothesis by trying to make one of the guards shoot me in the head.
Jamie Bell:
Jamie Bell: That’s your idea?
Jamie Bell: Dude, that’s…it’s…
Jamie Bell: Dude, you’re brilliant! That’s brilliant! How else could we possibly find out if they have bullets in their guns? This is why you must lead us.

The ragtag band of misfits overpowers the GUARDS and storms into the PRISON CAR

Chris Evans: We must release Namgoong Minsu, because he designed the security systems on the train. He can open the doors between cars for us.
Namgoong Minsu: I will not open the doors for you unless you also release my daughter.
Chris Evans: Okay.
Namgoong Minsu: And give me drugs.
Chris Evans: Okay.
Namgoong Minsu: Drugs that are made of industrial waste.
Chris Evans: Okay.
Namgoong Minsu: Large quantities of drugs that are made of industrial waste and are highly flammable, explosive, and unstable.
Chris Evans: Okay.
Namgoong Minsu:
Namgoong Minsu: Work with me here, I’m trying to do foreshadowing.
Chris Evans: What?
Namgoong Minsu: Nothing.

NAMGOONG MINSU unlocks the door to the WIBBLY-WOBBLY PROTEIN BAR CAR. The WIBBLY-WOBBLY PROTEIN BAR CHEF tries to RUN AWAY.

Jamie Bell: Eww, the wibbly-wobbly protein bars are made out of bugs.
Chris Evans: Wait, what? Where are all the bugs coming from? What are they eating? Wouldn’t it be easier and more efficient to make protein bars out of algae or something?
Chris Evans: I mean, bugs are not even the bottom of the food chain, so what’s supporting them?
Jamie Bell: Man, it’s like I don’t even know you.
Chris Evans: I really, really need to talk to my agent.

NAMGOONG MINSU starts to unlock the next DOOR

Chris Evans: Hey Namgoong Minsu’s daughter, I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s some drugs, are you psychic maybe?
Namgoong Minsu’s daughter: Funny you should ask. I am! Why?
Chris Evans: What’s behind the next door?
Namgoong Minsu’s daughter: Something bad. Plus, I can also tell you that we’re going to discover a sinister–
Chris Evans: No, no, just want to know about the door, thanks.

The door OPENS. Behind it is a bunch of GOONS wearing HOODS and carrying AXES. The GOONS gut a FISH.

Jamie Bell: I will avenge that fish!
Tilda Swinton: Shoes! Classism! Place-knowing! Kill!

They have an EPIC BATTLE in a TRAIN CAR

Namgoong Minsu: Look, we’re crossing over a bridge!

The epic battle STOPS

Tilda Swinton: Happy new year!
Goons: Happy new year!
Chris Evans: Happy new year!
Jamie Bell: I will avenge that fish!

The lights go OFF. The GOONS put on NIGHT VISION GOGGLES

Chris Evans: Um, guys? What’s going on? It’s not night yet.
Namgoong Minsu: There’s a tunnel after the bridge.
Chris Evans: Okay.
Namgoong Minsu: A long tunnel.
Chris Evans: Okay.
Namgoong Minsu: A long, dark tunnel.
Chris Evans: Oh.

It gets DARK. The GOONS use their NIGHT VISION GOGGLES to MASSACRE PEOPLE with AXES

Chris Evans: We need torches.

The people in the BACK OF THE TRAIN run forward with TORCHES

Jamie Bell: Dude, that’s brilliant! That’s why you’re our leader.
Tilda Swinton: Damn these people with their mobile fire technology! Damn them!

The BACK OF THE TRAIN PEOPLE with their MOBILE FIRE TECHNOLOGY kill the BETTER-ARMED GOONS

Chris Evans: I will capture Tilda Swinton.
Goon: If you capture Tilda Swinton, I will kill Jamie Bell.
Chris Evans: Your terms are acceptable.
Jamie Bell: Dude, you tell him! That’s why you’re our leader. Wait, what?

Jamie Bell DIES. CHRIS EVANS captures TILDA SWINTON

Tilda Swinton: I will take you to the front of the train.
Chris Evans: Okay.

They go into an AQUARIUM and eat SUSHI

Chris Evans: This is good sushi.

They go into a CLASSROOM FULL OF KIDS and talk to a PREGNANT TEACHER

Pregnant Teacher: Now class, who are the makers?
Class: The rich!
Pregnant Teacher: And who are the takers?
Class: The poor!
Pregnant Teacher: And who do we worship?
Class: Ronald Reagan! Oh, and also the guy who built the train.
Pregnant Teacher: And do we do on Sunday afternoon?
Class: Tea Party!
Pregnant Teacher: And how do we vote?
Class: Tea Party!
Pregnant Teacher: That’s very good, class. This nice gentleman has eggs for you.

A nice GENTLEMAN starts handing everyone EGGS from a BASKET

Chris Evans: I thought all the chickens were extinct.
Nice Gentleman: Chickens aren’t the only things you thought were extinct that are still in plentiful supply.
Chris Evans: Huh?
Nice Gentleman: There’s something else you thought we were out of that we still have.
Chris Evans: What?
Nice Gentleman: Something else. Something you were really sure we don’t have. We actually do have them. Something sinister. See my facial expression? Sinister. I’m being threatening here.
Chris Evans: Still not getting it.
Nice Gentleman: Oh, for God’s sake.

The nice GENTLEMAN pulls out a GUN and starts SHOOTING PEOPLE. The pregnant TEACHER pulls out a GUN and JOINS IN

Chris Evans: Oh, I get it! Bullets. I thought you didn’t have any bullets, but you did. Ha ha! That’s a good one.

Some GOONS shoot JOHN HURT on CCTV

Chris Evans: Noooooooooooooo!

CHRIS EVANS shoots TILDA SWINTON

Franco the Elder: I am going to kill all of you now.

There is a SHOOTOUT. The train goes around a CURVE. FRANCO THE ELDER tries to shoot CHRIS EVANS through the WINDOW

Chris Evans: Waitaminnit. If it’s so cold outside that a person’s arm freezes faster than it would in liquid nitrogen, leaving aside for the moment that weather that cold means there wouldn’t be an atmosphere, wouldn’t shooting holes in the train ruin its insulation and condemn everyone to death?
Franco the Elder: You expect continuity and plausibility in a movie about a train with a perpetual motion engine that keeps driving all the way around the world because it’s cold outside?
Franco the Elder: What’s wrong with you?

CHRIS EVANS leads his few remaining FOLLOWERS into a SAUNA CAR

Franco the Elder: Okay, I can kill you in a sauna car, whatever.

FRANCO THE ELDER shoots ALMOST ALL THE REMAINING FOLLOWERS and gets STABBED

Chris Evans: I will complete my mission. I will go to the front of the train. And, err, avenge Jamie Bell. Or the fish. Or something.
Namgoong Minsu: Okay.

They go into the RAVER CAR, because of course there’s a RAVER CAR. The RAVERS are listening to MUSIC and doing DRUGS and having SEX because that’s what ravers DO

Namgoong Minsu: I am going to steal your drugs. And your drugs. Oh, and your drugs, too. You have some drugs? Don’t mind if I do!

They go to the FRONT OF THE TRAIN and stop at the VERY LAST DOOR

Namgoong Minsu: I am not going to open the very last door.
Chris Evans: Wait, what?
Namgoong Minsu: I think it is not very cold outside. Plus, it is getting warmer.
Chris Evans: In spite of the below-liquid-nitrogen-temperature, arm-freezing-and-shattering thing? You’re not an empiricist, are you?
Chris Evans: Let me tell you something, mister.
Chris Evans: Let me tell you a long, rambling story about how we weren’t given any food in the back of the train at first, which might make you wonder why they let us on board in the first place, but we won’t look at that question too closely.
Chris Evans: Instead, I’ll handwave over that bit and get to the part where we started eating each other, and how I killed Jamie Bell’s mom when he was a little boy because babies taste the best, see, and then John Hurt cut off his own arm and suggested we eat that instead, which is how come leaders in our society don’t have all their limbs, because in order to become a leader you had to cut off your limbs so the rest of us could eat, see, and…
Namgoong Minsu: Wait, what?
Namgoong Minsu: That makes no sense.
Namgoong Minsu: If losing a limb is a badge of honor, why would the people up front punish whassname for throwing a shoe by taking his arm off? Wouldn’t that essentially be creating a leader?
Chris Evans:
Chris Evans: What?
Namgoong Minsu: Forget the exposition. I talked to an Inuit. She told me how to recognize snow.
Chris Evans: Oh, right.
Namgoong Minsu: I am going to turn these drugs into a bomb and blow open the door to outside so that people can leave the train. That is why I agreed to help you, so that I could get to the front of the train and blow the door off.
Chris Evans: Wait, what? If you have explosives that can blow the door off, why not just blow a window open? Did you see those windows? They’re huge! Wouldn’t that be easier than coming all the way up here just to open a door?
Chris Evans: I mean, you’re willing to risk killing us all because you saw the right kind of snowflake, but you’re not willing to walk through a window, oh no. It has to be a door for you. You’re going to get my entire team killed because you aren’t willing to go out through a window.
Namgoong Minsu:
Chris Evans: And while we’re on the subject, the guy who built this train can invent perpetual motion, but can’t figure out how to make a door lock? He needed you for that? And you designed a security system that’s so shit, all you have to do is touch wires together to make the doors open?
Chris Evans: Like, you’ve never heard of digital code locks? Secure cryptography?
Chris Evans: And another thing…

The woman in the UGLY YELLOW OUTFIT opens the last DOOR and shoots NAMGOONG MINSU

Woman in the ugly yellow outfit: Boring conversation anyway. The Source of All Evil will see you now.
The Source of All Evil: Would you like something to eat?
Chris Evans: Huh?
The Source of All Evil: You know, dinner. I’m going to sit down and have dinner with you while I explain everything that’s going on and talk about my evil plot.
Chris Evans: Is this a James Bond movie now?
The Source of All Evil: Ho ho ho! No, this is an implausible B movie full of plot holes that is still the best low-budget sci-fi allegory about classism and economic repression whose characters are faced with losing body parts and whose plot heavily involves ice that’s ever been made!
Chris Evans: What about Ice Pirates?
The Source of All Evil: We have a cyberpunk train.
Chris Evans: Ice Pirates has Mary Crosby in a weird shiny skin-tight outfit.

The Source of All Evil: Touche.
Chris Evans: So hey. Listen, about that low-budget sci-fi allegory thing. Remind me to talk to my agent…
The Source of All Evil: No time for that now! You’re in this ’til the end. I want you to take my place. You see, this train has to remain exactly in balance, because it’s a closed ecosystem, so whenever there get to be too many of you, John Hurt and I would incite a revolution at your end of the train so we could kill a bunch of you off.
Chris Evans: Isn’t that wasteful? Why not just, I don’t know, limit reproduction?
The Source of All Evil: Because we need children. You see, we use children to crawl around in the engine and fix things and work things and stuff!
Chris Evans:
Chris Evans: Let me get this straight.
Chris Evans: You invented perpetual motion.
Chris Evans: Perpetual. Motion.
Chris Evans: But you’re not capable of designing a system that can be maintained by adults.
Chris Evans: What. The. Fuck.
Chris Evans: So you’re simultaneously the best and the worst mechanical engineer who has ever lived. The alpha and omega.
The Source of All Evil: Well, you see…

The dialog WEDGES

Franco the Elder: This dialog sucks. I have come back from the dead to kill you all, just to put a stop to it.
Chris Evans: This dialog sucks. I’m going to reach into this machine and pull out this child and let the machine chop off my arm, just to put a stop to it.
Namgoong Minsu’s daughter: This dialog sucks. I’m going to set off this bomb just to put a stop to it.

Namgoong Minsu’s DAUGHTER sets off the BOMB. It triggers and AVALANCHE that destroys the TRAIN. Everybody DIES except Namgoong Minsu’s DAUGHTER and the child from the MACHINE. A POLAR BEAR wanders by.

Namgoong Minsu’s daughter: Snowpiercer? More like Snow Crasher.
Neal Stephenson: Hey!

The movie ENDS

Chris Evans: I’ve really got to stop doing any movies about winter. Or snow. Or snow in winter. Or winter snow.

10 thoughts on “Movie Review: Snowpiercer

  1. Snowpiercer

    My much shorter review for friends was “good as an action movie/thriller, but there are some holes in the plot”. I hadn’t quite realised the scale of the holes in the plot (the plot holes have their own plot holes) until I read your awesome review/plot summary. Definitely one of those “don’t think about the plot” action movies. (For instance, the ice build up on the track seems very low for what is apparently “visited once a year”. Maybe that’s explained by “warmer now”, but before now… I guess the magical train caused it to mostly melt away by perpetual motion waves.)

    Ewen

    PS: One gets the impression that “the best low-budget sci-fi allegory about classism and economic repression whose characters are faced with losing body parts and whose plot heavily involves ice that’s ever been set on a train” is trivially true (competition: none). Everyone’s a winner if the categories are precisely enough defined…

  2. Snowpiercer

    My much shorter review for friends was “good as an action movie/thriller, but there are some holes in the plot”. I hadn’t quite realised the scale of the holes in the plot (the plot holes have their own plot holes) until I read your awesome review/plot summary. Definitely one of those “don’t think about the plot” action movies. (For instance, the ice build up on the track seems very low for what is apparently “visited once a year”. Maybe that’s explained by “warmer now”, but before now… I guess the magical train caused it to mostly melt away by perpetual motion waves.)

    Ewen

    PS: One gets the impression that “the best low-budget sci-fi allegory about classism and economic repression whose characters are faced with losing body parts and whose plot heavily involves ice that’s ever been set on a train” is trivially true (competition: none). Everyone’s a winner if the categories are precisely enough defined…

  3. I haven’t seen it, and don’t plan to…

    …But the “plot hole” about needing children to deal with the engine probably isn’t one, if you think about it.

    If someone jury-rigged an *existing* train with a prototype perpetual-motion engine that wasn’t specifically designed for it during an *apocalypse* which apparently happened practically overnight (no way there would have been time to create either from scratch) then they may not have had time to make everything easily accessible. And once it was already up and running, there may not have been any way to reconfigure it to be more accessible without stopping the engine or going outside or exposing the engine room to the elements – any of which is likely to be a very bad thing, at least according to all the other stuff in the film.

    There might be something about the scene which makes all that unlikely, or there’s some additional joke here that I’m not getting (I mean, clearly it can’t be a normal train engine, so I get that part) but with everything else that’s going on, it’s probably the least implausible part.

    • Re: I haven’t seen it, and don’t plan to…

      According to the long, meandering exposition from the pregnant schoolteacher near the end of the movie, right before she starts blowing people away with a machine gun, the person who built the train somehow knew the world would end, and built the train specifically to house the last remnants of humanity. So there’s that.

      • Re: I haven’t seen it, and don’t plan to…

        Right-O. Well, Hollywood scripts are usually re-written in pieces by a dozen or so different people who have no contact with each other or the original writer, then the disconnected parts get stitched together, then the director throws in a few new scenes that weren’t part of the original concept, then the editors cut out a few key scenes that are needed to make sense of some parts of the plot because the film’s too long (and because those parts feel too much like pointless filler exposition in isolation)… so you usually get a barely-coherent mess.

        Which is why I don’t bother to watch Hollywood films in the first place, they’re usually too jarring and non-immersive for me to enjoy.

  4. I haven’t seen it, and don’t plan to…

    …But the “plot hole” about needing children to deal with the engine probably isn’t one, if you think about it.

    If someone jury-rigged an *existing* train with a prototype perpetual-motion engine that wasn’t specifically designed for it during an *apocalypse* which apparently happened practically overnight (no way there would have been time to create either from scratch) then they may not have had time to make everything easily accessible. And once it was already up and running, there may not have been any way to reconfigure it to be more accessible without stopping the engine or going outside or exposing the engine room to the elements – any of which is likely to be a very bad thing, at least according to all the other stuff in the film.

    There might be something about the scene which makes all that unlikely, or there’s some additional joke here that I’m not getting (I mean, clearly it can’t be a normal train engine, so I get that part) but with everything else that’s going on, it’s probably the least implausible part.

  5. Re: I haven’t seen it, and don’t plan to…

    According to the long, meandering exposition from the pregnant schoolteacher near the end of the movie, right before she starts blowing people away with a machine gun, the person who built the train somehow knew the world would end, and built the train specifically to house the last remnants of humanity. So there’s that.

  6. Re: I haven’t seen it, and don’t plan to…

    Right-O. Well, Hollywood scripts are usually re-written in pieces by a dozen or so different people who have no contact with each other or the original writer, then the disconnected parts get stitched together, then the director throws in a few new scenes that weren’t part of the original concept, then the editors cut out a few key scenes that are needed to make sense of some parts of the plot because the film’s too long (and because those parts feel too much like pointless filler exposition in isolation)… so you usually get a barely-coherent mess.

    Which is why I don’t bother to watch Hollywood films in the first place, they’re usually too jarring and non-immersive for me to enjoy.

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