Every time I begin to recommend Snowpiercer to a friend, I experience an instant of jabbing fear and doubt. These feelings set in, like clockwork, at the onset of my description of the plot: “Global warming has wiped out humanity.” Every time, as whatever listener I have procured struggles to hide a wince, I question first if I can successfully articulate the experience I had with this movie… and then, as I consider the audacity in its premise alone, if it could have really been all that great to begin with.
But tasked with at the very least describing the little advertised Bong Joon-ho picture, I advance to the next element in my illustration of the story: “And everybody left alive is stuck on this giant train.” And every time, as the winces turn to looks of bewilderment, I begin to pick up speed. I careen through the explanation of the rigid caste system that envelops the train’s passengers/prisoners, the revolution that sparks at the dawn of the film, and the performances of stars John Hurt, Song Kang-ho, and a particularly miraculous Tilda Swinton. (Chris Evans isn't too bad either, but doesn't always keep up with the campy flavor of his comrades.)
Weinstein Company via Everett Collection
The uncertainty fades as I come to realize just how much fun I am having explaining what happens in Snowpiercer, sure to insist to my now wholly engaged audience that I’m hardly doing the movie justice. I'm reminded of how inviting the film is, shockingly so when you consider its grim conceit. Affability is no mean feat for a movie about human extinction, class warfare, murder, dismemberment, cannibalism... as dark as the movie gets, it's never repulsive. You're always driven to march on, from the caboose straight up the engine room, at the very least to see what new bit of twisted mania this movie has up its sleeve. The further we travel into the story, the more impressed and delighted we are by the imaginations of director Bong Joon-ho and the creators of the source graphic novel Le Transperceneige.
Snowpiercer's ultimate victory is how palatable it makes its unbelievably weird material. Things might get bonkers — a fact you rediscover when you inevitably decide to recommend the movie to somebody else ("...and then they get to the rave room...") — but they are always delivered in a fashion that prefers an intimacy with its audience, rather than the cold distance that some high concept pieces strive for... or at least wind up embodying regardless of intent.
This is never a problem with Snowpiercer. The weirder it gets, the more we get into it. You might not recognize this at first, or at the dawn of your recollection of the bats**t premise, but you'll get there quickly enough. This train doesn't take long to pick up momentum.