“You Suffer From the Misplaced Optimism of the Doomed” Snowpiercer: The Nature of Social Order

I love media that is about class conflict in a post-apocalyptic world.  If it’s not obvious, I was addicted to the YA Dystopia genre as a child, practically inhaling anything related to dystopia and classism. If you read my little The Hunger Games review that was posted two months back, you know that I love these sorts of movies. Snowpiercer, one of my Letterboxd top four, is like the grown-up version of the 2010’s YA Dystopian genre.

If you don’t know what Snowpiercer is about, it’s a science fiction film set in a post-apocalyptic world where the Earth has become a frozen wasteland due to a failed experiment to combat global warming. The surviving remnants of humanity reside on a massive, perpetually moving train called the Snowpiercer, which circles the globe once every year. The train is divided into sections based on social class, an allegory for real-world class structures. The wealthy and privileged reside in the luxurious front class, while the impoverished and oppressed live in the tail section. The story follows our main character, Curtis Everett (played by Chris Evans), and his fight for freedom as a resident of the tail section. Curtis, along with a group of fellow tail section dwellers, plans to fight their way through the different compartments to reach the front of the train and seize control from Wilford, the enigmatic creator and ruler of the Snowpiercer. They progress through the story and encounter various obstacles, including heavily armed guards, violent fights, and disturbing revelations about the true nature of the train’s social order. The film explores the themes of class struggle, social inequality and the inherent flaws of a rigid social hierarchy. It delves into the dark and brutal consequences of maintaining such a system, while also questioning the ethics of rebellion and the lengths people are willing to go to for their freedom. 

Like many other post-apocalyptic stories, the film is an allegory for the system of capitalism. The Snowpiercer train was advertised as an ark of salvation but has become a prison for all but those who are privileged. Interestingly, money has become completely obsolete in this world- this system deals in the labor and flesh of the tail section. The anti-capitalist sentiment even seeps into one of the major characters, such as Mason, played by Tilda Swinton. Her resemblance to the widely hated British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, is unmistakable. Thatcher was born to a lower-middle-class family and was mocked for her appearance. Her policies ruined British industries and had a hand in the suffering of the working-class people. Similar to Thatcher, Mason boarded the train as a low-class citizen but eventually became Minister, making her a class traitor. 

There is a scene in the movie where a group of school children are placed in a parody of a classroom and are taught to adore the train, adore the engine and adore the enigmatic conductor, Wildford. We see the next generation of front-section kids taught to worship the Engine and to hate those who live in the tail section. Not only that, the teacher is pregnant, symbolizing how the next generation of children are already corrupted. Additionally, the children are taught simple gestures to worship the Engine. This is meant to be a small way to show how propaganda works; condensing difficult and complex ideologies into verbal or visual symbols that can be replicated over and over again. 

Around the midpoint of the movie, there is a fight at the infamous Yakterina Bridge. This is where the planned revolution was meant to cease, but the spark of resistance comes from Chan, a tail section child, lighting a fire at the back of the train. But more significantly, the same matches that were used by Chan are utilized again by Yona, who blows up the door to the outside world. Yona is the daughter of Nam, the man who created the inter-car doors. Yona is also a clairvoyant, as she’s able to see what’s on the other side of the doors. I believe this is foreshadowing meant to inexplicably show the viewers that Yona will be the one to escape the train and the system. Unlike the others, Yona is thinking outside of the train- outside of the system.  

Then, the anticipated escape happens: a door is blown up to the outside, triggering an avalanche that destroys everything, the train and everyone on board. No survivors are left, except Timmy and Yona, two tail section kids born on the train. The new world comes at a cost and Snowpiercer doesn’t hide from that fact. That’s the core message of the film, that sacrifice is needed to create a new world. Curtis, our main character, isn’t allowed to be part of the new world because he believes that life could not exist outside of the train. Even though he is a revolutionary, he is still a man of the train, and can only ever believe in life existing inside of the train. Nam, the father of Yona, cannot be part of the new world too, as he invented the doors that kept everyone segregated for 17 years. And by the end of the movie, we learn that the Engine that all of those in the front section revered is not divine or eternal, it is broken and kept alive by the kidnapped tail section children. See what the movie is trying to convey? The front-section children are bred to continue the oppressive system while the tail-section children are the cogs in the machine, yet they are the system’s eventual downfall. Snowpiercer is one of the few films that shows us what sacrifices have to be made to bring down a corrupt regime (capitalism). We don’t see a quiet revolution, only fire and blood. 

Even though the film primarily focuses on social and political themes, it indirectly highlights the catastrophic consequences of climate change. The Snowpiercer train itself represents humanity’s desperate attempt to survive in a frozen world. It symbolises the consequences of environmental negligence and the extreme measures taken to combat the effects of climate change. 

While Snowpiercer isn’t the most complex film ever, it’s still great because it simplifies difficult ideas into something easily understandable. The flick presents the train as a microcosm of a capitalistic regime, those who are in the front section are the bourgeoisie (the business owners and privileged) and the tail section are the proletariats (the working class). To break the system, you must escape the train. 

At the end of the day, it’s a great film. It’s thought-provoking, interesting and is a masterclass in dystopian cinema. It blends gorey storytelling with exceptional performances and high-brow social commentary. Bong Joon-ho’s (yes, the guy who made Parasite) direction truly makes the film great and I highly recommend everyone to watch it at least once in their lives. 

Written By: Mei

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