Set just 17 years into the future, a destructive Ice Age has wiped out the human race on earth, following a failed experiment to eradicate the dangers of global warming. However a leading engineer who feared such an outcome, designed an infallible train, that journeys around the globe consistently, using a perpetual-motion engine – and aboard this train are the only surviving members of the human race. Engulfed in a class system, the upper class occupy the front of the train, while the lower live in squalor at the very foot of it, living solely on rations of protein bars. Given the conditions and mistreatment of his people, Curtis (Chris Evans) leads a vicious uprising, alongside Edgar (Jamie Bell), Gilliam (John Hurt) and others – as they finally attempt to work their way down the train, destroying anything in their path and claim it as their own once and for all. However with the sadistic Mason (Tilda Swinton) keeping an eye on proceedings – complete with an army of brutal security guards – it won’t be an easy task.
Based on the graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, Bong has brought this tale to life in quite miraculous fashion, as a heavily layered, nuanced piece that has so much to say about the complexities of the human race. Studying how we function, it’s intriguing to see how this takes place aboard a fictitious, futuristic train, and yet as a race we still manage to find a way to tear ourselves apart from one another, segregated in a socio-economic class system, rather than work together as a unit. It seems no matter the setting, there will always be a food chain, so to speak, as our intrinsic animalistic traits and instincts are explored, as war breaks out amongst the masses. That being said, there is an inspiring aspect to this tale, in the way the proletariats come together as a unit to rebel against the bourgeoisie.
It’s incredibly dark, with an uncomfortable undercurrent running right the way through it, and yet it remains exceedingly easy to indulge in, with the feeling of a video game, in how our characters have to go through different carriages and face different ‘levels’. It looks incredible up on the big screen too, and though some of the computer generated material leaves a lot to be desired, the grainy, almost B-movie type feel adds to the film’s charm. The authenticity of the visuals is somewhat irrelevant, as the content and execution is so strong that we fully adhere to it nonetheless. By avoiding too many special effects and set pieces it becomes more intimate and human anyway, which is quite the achievement given the immensity of the narrative, with the future of the human race at stake. Evans stands out as the film’s protagonist, really showcasing off his acting ability, in a role with so much depth, as he balances the emotive elements with the barbaric.
Though completely absurd in many ways, Bong’s handling of the source material is so expertly done that we’re completely immersed in this tale, allowing for ourselves to be taken wherever the South Korean director sees fit. He strike that perfect balance between being overtly cinematic, but also offering a fair take on a hypothetical future, somehow making this all seem, dare I say it, somewhat plausible, which is a rather wonderful achievement.