Hope is hard to find when you’re trapped in a cold iron box — surrounded by sickness, violence and 1,000 lean starving bodies with no room to move. But hope is there — buried in Pandora’s box.
It’s the fire in Curtis’ (Chris Evans) eyes as he patiently plans for rebellion. It’s the rumble in Edgar’s (Jamie Bell) belly as he hungers for steak. It’s the desperation in Tanya’s (Octavia Spencer) voice as she searches for her son, Timmy (Marcanthonee Reis). And it’s the feeling in our gut as we watch Bong Joon-ho’s two-hour dystopian film, “Snowpiercer.”
Inspired by Benjamin Legrand, Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette’s French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige,” “Snowpiercer” takes place in 2031 — 17 years after man’s remedy for global warming froze the earth. Humanity survives on Wilford’s (Ed Harris) sacred ark — a transcontinental train seated by social class. At its head is Wilford, the train’s divine engineer, and Wilfred’s mouthpiece Mason (played by the excellent Tilda Swinton). It’s caboose contains the dirty and destitute, yearning for a better life.
Captain America’s spearheading this revolution, trading his red, white and blue titanium shield for an inconspicuous wool hat. Evans’ almost unrecognizable in the hat and dark beard and you quickly forget his more popular on-screen persona. By the time he takes off his hat, revealing short, dark hair, he’s Curtis, the mysteriously reluctant leader in this fictional uprising. That’s a testament to the smart costume design by Catherine George and the work of the hair and make-up team (Linda Eisenhamerova, Chris Lyons, Gabriela Polakova, Paula Price, Matthew Smith, Bobo Sobotka and Jeremy Woodhead).
Under their direction (and Swinton’s acting, of course), the androgynous Swinton resembles a cross between “The Hunger Games'” Effie Trinket and “Harry Potter’s” deranged temporary headmaster Dolores Umbridge.
“Would you wear a shoe on your head?” says Mason. “I am the head. You are the shoe… Know your place.”
As Mason compares a shoe to life on Wilfred’s train, she holds a shoe in her hand and slowly twists it — as if its were a moving locomotive and she, the conductor.
Like his friend Park Chan-wook’s (“Stoker,” “Oldboy”) works, Bong’s “Snowpiercer” is visually striking. Bong even draws upon Park’s work. In one scene, Evans fights his way through a train compartment full of butch men in ski masks. It’s reminiscent to a scene from “Oldboy” (2003) — when the film’s hero, Oh Dae-su, fights through an corridor of men.
Written by Bong and Kelly Masterson, “Snowpiercer” (which is the Korean director’s first English language film) echoes the themes of Ayn Rand’s “Anthem” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” Order is the code to survival — even if the fruit of freedom tastes sweeter. Nonetheless, in the grimmest of tales, a glimmer of hope resides.
“Snowpiercer” was directed by Bong Joon-ho and written by Bong and Kelly Masterson.