Watch this if: You are a fan of social commentary and novels like Animal Farm and 1984. Don’t watch this if you’re after a shining hero story. This isn’t really that.
I give this one a three out of five for originality – the premise is awesome, the visuals are pretty good and there are some interesting characters in it – though I wasn’t moved to tears by any of their arcs like I have been with other movies. These characters obviously serve a Purpose. Read no further if you are not into spoilers. I have so many spoilers! Like so many of my anticipated science fiction shows, the damn thing falls just short of awesome. At the beginning, there is a news broadcast about global warming and how the world leaders have decided that using a chemical to reverse the damage was a good idea, but “oops!” instead it caused an ice age. (Surprise) and even though there is an explanation later on in the classroom scene (which, in itself is really bizarre) there isn’t really much of an explanation given for why the bloody train was constructed in the first place. Short of the builders being Noah-figures, that is – which I have issue with for one reason – it’s just a little bit too convenient. Yes, it explains why there is only one train, but it really could have used same more illumination. And how is it powered? Perpetual motion implies perpetual power, so why use it on a train? There are far more practical uses during the apocalypse than a moving death trap. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea which is why I started watching it in the first place. It’s unique and original, having a self-sustaining Eco-system on a moving train is awesome. I also think it’s interesting that a class system would develop when there are limited resources – but the total frivolity and hedonism of the upper train was a bit over the top (there’s even the equivalent of an opium den! Complete with fur-clad oneironauts) even for a social commentary like this (This is especially hard to swallow coming right after rabbit-teeth’s explanation of how sushi is only available twice a year).
And then there are bizarre moments: like the fish and the axes (what?) where the symbolism is totally lost on the audience. The peppy school teacher turned homicidal maniac is another. Or the scene where they punish someone by sticking his arm out into the cold – it freezes solid in seven minutes and then they use a sledgehammer to break it off. And what about the crazy bitch in yellow with the tape measure who seems to enjoy licking the blood off her hands just a little too much?! Near the engine, Curtis, our erstwhile hero is left with the lock-genius, and his partner, who are essentially both space cadet addicts one of whom just might be psychic and all the people with actual brains are dead. (this is where I decided that this was an “and then everyone dies” type movie) Finally, at this point we hear about the first days of the train where we learn that the refugees who crammed onto the last cars of the train resorted to cannibalism to survive in the first months – and the revelation that our hero was probably the worst of the lot, having killed a woman in order to try and eat her baby until an old man cut off his own arm and offered it to him. (And after all that he’s disgusted by eating protein bars made of cockroaches?) NOW we understand the scene where the old man consoles him about having two whole arms.
And then we finally get into the engine room with Wilfred and we’re hit with the fact that the the revolution was staged in order to keep the population down – that the old man was working with him to orchestrate said revolution because it was part of some master plan and that Curtis was a pawn in it. Hello Matrix anyone? Especially when (surprise!) Wilfred tells him he wants Curtis to take over the train. Does he seriously think that Curtis will maintain the bizarre society as it is? Why not institute a more intelligent population control the way they do with the damn fish? Though I suppose that twice a year speech was an allusion to the ridiculous engineered uprising. (Though, looking back, who did Curtis think he was getting those damn red messages from?)
And then icing! Wilfred’s using children to maintain the engine because the thing is wearing out and they don’t have the means to make spare parts but the children are just the right size to do what needs to be done manually. I mean, how does that even work? It’s like they just had to add some Dickensian twist for flavour. (And WHY is the little kid such a zombie that he just climbs into he engine and sticks his arm inside it?) I think I might have preferred it if the steak I thought was “child” rather than “beef” actually had been – it would have served the same purpose. But anyway, Curtis finally gets to sacrifice his arm (how necessary is this aside from it’s figurative use?) to save the kid and then the nutter locksmiths daughter (? their relationship is not entirely clear) blows the hatch with the mashed together lumps of the drug they’ve been perpetually sniffing because it’s basically what, plastique? C4? (madness! and convenient!) and everything goes to hell.
Boom, avalanche train derails everyone’s dead except the seventeen year old and the little boy. She dresses them both in furs conveniently salvaged from the drug den on their way through (see? psychic) and then they set out, away from the destroyed train. She starts to freak out because they’ve been told over and over that there is no life outside of the train, but then they see it up on the side of the mountain, looking back at them: a polar bear. The implication then is that they will be alright and we get the credits.
Now I get that it’s a social commentary, I get that the movie shows us human society in microcosm from beginning to end (cue words like proletariat and elite here) and even that there was some serious symbolism going on in the background that I missed because of the WTF moments I was experiencing. On that end, yes, this movie is artful and pretty well thought out. However, here is something to be said for throwing things in from left field and making pretty big leaps in logic just to serve the story. I’d have to watch it a couple more times to fit all the pieces together and I think that’s what saves it from being a total hash. You see, I like movies that make me think and in spite of all the holes, this one certainly made me think.