At least once in your life, someone probably told you that if you work hard enough you can succeed in any endeavor. Unfortunately, that person was lying to you.
Not everyone has the same starting point in the rat race. The world is notoriously constructed in a social class structure full of unequal opportunities. Children born into the upper classes are introduced to the world with luxurious privileges and a significant head start on their way to success, while people born at the bottom of the ladder have to overcome treacherous obstacles and challenges that richer people never encounter.
This unpleasant truth is on full display in Oscar winner Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 film, Snowpiercer. In a post-apocalyptic 2032 inspired by the French graphic novel of the same name, the world has frozen over and is now uninhabitable thanks to a disastrous attempt to combat global warming through climate engineering. The only known survivors live aboard a self-sustaining circumnavigational train called Snowpiercer, created and conducted by the mononymous Wilford (Ed Harris). The train travels around the world without stopping, all while producing enough energy, food, and water to keep its occupants alive.
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The wealthy passengers live luxuriously in the front cars, while the poor citizens live in the caboose (or tail, as they call it) under horrendous conditions. Armed guards constantly patrol the tail to ensure this underclass doesn’t interfere with the wealthy elite. Then, a revolution begins.
Our main character, Curtis Everett (Chris Evans), a poor man living in the back of the train, decides to lead a revolt against the rich. In an intense struggle, Curtis and his allies push back the guards and eventually reach the front of the train, encountering strange subcultures that populate its many cars along the way. The revolutionaries recruit Namgoong Minsoo (Song Kang-ho), the specialist who created the train’s security features, but also suffer numerous casualties, most notably in a bloody battle fought almost entirely in darkness as the train passes through a long tunnel.
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In the end, Curtis meets Wilford and is surprised to learn the brutal truth of the Snowpiercer. I won’t spoil it here, but the machinations of the train are even more devious than we thought, and this is a movie where Captain America talks about eating babies. Snowpiercer ends with more bloodshed, but also a glimmer of hope for a future free from Wilford’s imposed social hierarchy.
Snowpiercer expertly displays the corruption of a heavily stratified class structure, and I always find myself recommending it to people seeking a film that will make them see the world in a whole new light. Bong Joon-ho provides insightful commentary without ever making it feel like a lecture: The poor don’t get the help they need from the rich, which keeps them trapped in crippling poverty and servitude. Because of this, a large amount of humanity doesn’t reach their full potential and live meaningful lives. It’s vital that we as human beings do our best to help all those who need it, and not just because it will piss off Chris Evans if we don’t.
Snowpiercer is available to rent on Amazon Video.