About halfway through Snowpiercer, I came to a conclusion: there really isn't another movie to compare this to. Some corners of the internet disagree with me, floating the odd but strangely fitting theory that it is a spiritual sequel to the 1971 Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. I myself felt some semblance to the David Lynch adaptation of Dune. But it is hard to make comparisons, because Snowpiercer is unique in so much of its setting, plot and overall message.
But first, the basics: Snowpiercer is a 2013 movie, of South Korean origin and based on a French comic book from the early 1980s. Despite being produced and directed by a South Korea company, the movie is shot in English, and there is only one Korean character. The movie stars Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt and Ed Harris. The movie is a near future science-fiction movie, but to me, the atmosphere was more of a surreal fantasy than science-fiction.
In the early 20th century, to combat global warming, the sky is seeded with a chemical to bring down the temperature. It does so, catastrophically, covering the entire world in snow and ice, and destroying all life, except for the humans that take refuge on a gigantic train, built by an eccentric engineer, that goes in a gigantic loop around the world, completing one cycle every year. The train is divided into strictly delineated classes, with the people at the back of the train living in squalor while the people at the front of the train live in luxury. The plot of the movie starts when Curtis (Chris Evans), living in the tail section of the train, plans a rebellion with the other oppressed passengers at the end of the train, working their way forward through the train. What follows is a surreal and violent series of conflicts as they move forward, car by car, finally seeing the luxurious life of people further ahead on the train. And this is one of the things that sets Snowpiercer apart: post-apocalypse films are released several times a year, with similar levels of grim and gritty, but Snowpiercer looks and feels more like an art film than a standard action movie. The villains balance their evil with a hammy weirdness (one of the reasons why I thought of David Lynch's Dune).
If there is one problem I had with the movie it is that it was a bit too atmospheric at first: since the main characters are introduced in the dark tail section of the train, it was kind of hard for me to differentiate the characters and the motivations, since smudgy, mumbly people in a dark room aren't easy to follow. However, that is something a more attentive viewer might be able to avoid.
What is this film about? One of the easy answers is that it is a film about class differences and class struggle. However, one of the revelations in the last few scenes of the movie is that the class struggles and periodic rebellions are part of the closed ecosystem of the train: they are planned as a way to eliminate surplus population. For me, the final message of the movie is that The only winning move is not to play. The train is a closed system, going around in a circle in a dead world. It is (excuse the term), an Ouroboros, and the movie take place in Eternity Served Cold. The final revelation of the movie is that the only way is to reject the idea of a closed system, not to try to win within it. That is my own interpretation: this is a movie that comes from layered cultural contexts, and the French comic book writers, Korean directors, and British actors that made it come alive might have had a very different idea in mind behind this film.
I would recommend watching this film and figuring out what it all means for yourself, however, I will caution that the film had some pretty explicit content, and is not always an easy film to watch.