The Snowpiercer is a film by Korean director Joon-ho Bong . The film depicts a dystopian future where humans have developed a new method of dealing with global warming. A chemical agent is released into the atmosphere however, something goes terribly wrong. The earth is sent into another ice age and life as we know it seizes to exist; except for a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine.
The train has become the world, and the people are its inhabitants. Just like our world today, a system has been put in place to maintain order. The elites inhabit the front of the train, and the poor live in the tail. The people in the back of the train are treated like prisoners. Guards periodically come to provide protein blocks or “food”, they keep a body count, and sometimes they take children away from their families. The people do not have any say in the matter. People can only take so much, and inevitably some of the inhabitants decide to form a rebellion. Curtis (Chris Evans) plays the role of the reluctant leader.
On the surface, The Snowpiercer is another dystopian tale that seems similar to the likes of The Hunger Games or Divergent. The premise of these films are very much the same. However, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to The Snowpiercer.
Many political and philosophical principles are interwoven in the plot. Malthus’ principle of population is evidenced by the strict control of the food supply. The population of the train is also kept at a ‘sustainable’ level. This entails the execution of lower class train passengers when the body count goes too high.
Another theme is that of a preordained destiny. One of the films antagonists named Mason, played wonderfully by Tilda Swinton exclaims, “Know your place, keep your place!” She further explains that the tail-enders are like the feet, and those at the front are the head. It’s preposterous to put your shoe on top of your head isn’t it? It doesn’t belong there. Well, it’s a very convenient explanation for people who have everything to tell those who have nothing. This fallacious argument can only last so long. Eventually people realize that we’re all made equal. We’re all entitled to the same opportunities.
Revolution is the answer to authoritarian rule. Curtis leads his rebellion against Wilford’s (Ed Harris) tyranny. However, this is a critical point where The Snowpiercer distinguishes itself. The film begs the question, “and then what?” After the tyrant has been eliminated, what’s next? Is that the answer to the problem? Reflecting on recent world events, the solution isn’t as clear cut. For instance, the Egyptians removed Mubarak in 2011 but, the country is far from achieving its desired state. Things in the real world are more complicated. Most films will go so far as defeating the bad guy, and then everyone lives happily ever after. The Snowpiercer treats its audience with more respect than that. The audience has the ability to think for itself.
The first English language film by Joon-ho Bong is a visceral, and thought provoking film. Yes, some of you may be thinking that some of the events in the film are absurd. I agree, it does seem very improbable that the survival of humanity would ever surmount to a locomotive. Also, it’s illogical to think that humans would release a compound into the air without rigorous testing. On the other hand, humans have tried to play god before. Case in point, genetically modified organisms.
I suppose not everything in a film has to make sense, or has to be explained. If it doesn’t further the plot or develop a character, it doesn’t have to be included. I’m willing to forego some of these weak points and I’m willing to recognize some of the more significant themes. The Snowpiercer is a dystopian film you should actually go see.