What Went Right With… Snowpiercer?

A review of Snowpiercer (2013) by What Went Wrong Or Right With...?

Snowpiercer is a science fiction film released in 2013 written and directed by Bong Joon-ho based on a 1982 graphic novel titled Le Transperceneige. The film which stars Chris Evans, is a dystopian look at our future, it’s set in a second ice age where the world’s population have almost become extinct. The movie is set in 2031, 17 years after an attempted reversal of global warming. With climate engineering leading to the world freezing, the remaining humans board an ark called the “Snowpiercer”, a train which circles the globe and never stops moving. Humanity’s survivors are huddled into this train but not all of the carriages are open to its occupants. The back of the train houses the lowest class, the middle cars hold the middle classes and the front is home to the elite including the leader and creator of the train.


Aboard this train, education, recreation, and the best food and drink is a reserve of the rich. The poor are fed a cube of protein jelly known as “protein blocks” (similar to Soylent Green although not as bad) whereas the upper-classes enjoy eating steak. Drugs are also used to dumb-down the poor, in the film “Kronole” is a narcotic made from flammable industrial waste that people are addicted to (a comment about cheap, bad-quality drugs such as crystal meth perhaps?). The back of the train is home to the destitute; people who live in Victorian-esque misery and squalor, subjected to rations and mistreatment by the armed guards who routinely do a body count to check they’re not “overpopulating” the train. Most of them know nothing about the greater world, in fact “in the whole-wide train” has become an expression. Some of these people however, like in all the best sci-fi stories, are planning an uprising, a revolution to redress the balance and inequality of the train by going forward car by car, violently taking control of each carriage and ultimately overthrowing the front of the Snowpiercer.

This film isn’t just about the class system, the train constantly moving is possibly a metaphor for the Earth spinning: you cannot leave it no matter how terrible life becomes. With the line “the train is the world”, this metaphor is confirmed. Lines such as “we control the engine, we control the world” and “we control the water, we control the negotiations” mirrors our life: whoever controls the supply of natural resources controls our population too. We might not be in an ice age but the hierarchical set-up of our current world isn’t that far from what is depicted in Snowpiercer. We see guards (who are recruited from the lower classes) oppressing their own which reminds me of the “yellow vests” in France or any kind of protesters around the world who are beaten by people from their own social class simply because they’ve been given some “power”. It’s scary how easy it is to oppress the people; you hand a select few some weapons and give them special dispensation, and they use them to subdue their own rather than turning them against the swine in charge, but I digress.

We the viewer are told that the train is a “closed ecosystem” and therefore “[we] must always strive for balance”. We’re told that “air, water, food supply, population, must always be kept in balance” (a nod to the Georgia Guidestones or Section 1 of Agenda 21?). It’s odd that fish in a pond never over-breed or overpopulate and yet humans apparently do – are our instincts telling us there’s more space on Earth than we’re led to believe? But I digress once more.

Snowpiercer is very bleak but there is some dark humour here and there. There’s a funny sing-a-long in the school car which ends with the line “we all freeze and die” and the Wilford Story shown on the TV is very similar in tone to the Back To The Future Part II Biff Tannen museum. We’re also shown Easter celebrations (boiled eggs) and New Year’s Day celebrations (one circle of the earth by the train) which to me illustrate that celebrations are ultimately pointless: they’re merely a random date to keep you fixated on so you don’t realise how monotonous life actually is.

In this film, insurgents, revolutions, even terrorism is orchestrated to give the lower-class people the hope of overthrowing those in charge (even though it will never happen). It is later revealed that the leaders of the head and the tail section are working together, that among the population there’s sellouts helping to oppress them. In my opinion, the ending in which some polar bears along with one female and one male survive is where the film falters (I’m not sure if this is because of the novel). In my opinion, they should have just ended humanity, given that everything we’re warned about in books and films keeps being ignored, it’s not really worth saving.

Snowpiercer stars Chris Evans (as Curtis), he’s the film’s protagonist and hero but his background includes some immorality so the character isn’t one-dimensional. The film also stars Song Kang-ho (Namgoong), Ko Asung (Yona), Tilda Swinton (Mason), Octavia Spencer (Tanya), Jamie Bell (Edgar), John Hurt (Gilliam), and Ed Harris as Wilford, the train’s creator. It has to be acknowledged that Ed Harris is in two of the most important films which question the construct of our reality and in addition to The Truman Show, here in Snowpiercer he once again plays the god-like creator.

It’s hard to remember a time when Chris Evans was anything other than Captain America. I mean, remember when he was known as a decent comedy actor? Well this film proves he was also a talented dramatic actor too. Tilda Swinton is also brilliant in this film as Mason, the overseer. Tilda’s accent and her mannerisms are first-rate, this is possibly the best character she’s played and is arguably her best performance in any film. In one scene, after a President Bush-esque throwing of a shoe, Mason hilariously retorts by saying “this is not a shoe, this is disorder”. Mason says “I am a head, you are a shoe” which is a humourous metaphor for the class system or “preordained position” as the film puts it.

Snowpiercer includes lots of fantastic quotables. For instance Wilford says “Curtis, everyone has their preordained position and everyone is in their place except you” to which Curtis replies “That’s what people in the best place say to the people in the worst place”. The scenes in which Curtis and Wilford exchange views are the most memorable. These include a scene where Wilford says “As Gilliam well understood we need to maintain a proper balance of anxiety and fear, chaos and horror, in order to keep life going”. He continues “And if we don’t have that we need to invent it”.

The tail section provides the train with a steady supply of kids (which mirrors our working-classes going to war or doing the drudgery of menial work until they end up in a retirement home and then in a grave). The poor work and die in the engine, slaves to serve the elites but Wilford defends this system. He says “you’ve seen what people do without leadership, they devour one another”. This comment refers to the fact that people will resort to cannibalism if dying of starvation. There’s a very emotional monologue by Evans straight to the camera: “It was a thousand people in an iron box. No food, no water. After a month we ate the weak. You know what I hate about myself? I know what people taste like. I know that babies taste best”. We forget how good an actor Chris Evans was before he became a full-time Marvel employee. Refresh yourself with his skills by streaming Snowpiercer on whatever platform you can.

The director of this film is Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Okja) and Bong is also the writer (along with Kelly Masterson). The film is slightly Terry Gilliam-esque, with a Twelve Monkeys-style, overly-depressing yet steam-punk-ish future. Thanks to Joon-ho, the film doesn’t resemble a typical Hollywood CGI-fest with an overly-stylised visual aesthetic. The scene with the door opening to reveal balaclava-wearing, axe-wielding men is superb, it looks cool and scary in equal measures without resembling a fight set-up in a contemporary action movie.

Similar to Cube, I assume this film was relatively cheap to make, only needing a couple of sets (or train carriages) that could be redecorated to play another room or carriage car. Regardless of the budget or how it was made, the film looks like an independent movie in parts and a blockbuster in others. The lasting impression of Snowpiercer is the very distinct and refreshing point of view: it’s pro-resistance, pro-revolution, anti-establishment, anti-class, even anti-natalist. It emotionally engages you but it also makes you think.

When this film starts, you’ll notice “The Weinstein Company” logo and like me, you may find it strange that a studio with a reputation for turning small, indie movies into big, critically-acclaimed films didn’t achieve any success with Snowpiercer. Well, it turns out that owner Harvey Weinstein is responsible for the non-release and the subduing of this film. Weinstein apparently wanted 20 minutes to be “re-edited” (makes you wonder which parts) but thankfully Bong declined. Because of this, the film wasn’t released when it should have been and by the time it did, it did so with a much smaller distributor who could only release it in a limited fashion (in “art house” cinemas and the like). The fact that this corpulent cunt jeopardised this film’s release as well as potentially destroying its message, is surely another reason to hate Harvey Weinstein?

Since I’m into conspiracies, for me there was another reason that this movie was suppressed. If you think about the various messages this film conveys, it’s not exactly something the mainstream media want to show the general public, especially since much of it contradicts what they want us to think about the world…

  • Firstly, it’s not global warming but scientists attempting to fix the problem that leads to Earth’s destruction (definitely not something they want us to think about our scientist saviours).

  • We’re shown a chemical called “CW-7” discharging from airliners in an attempt to fix the ozone layer, showing audience members two things: that chemtrails may exist and that they are used for weather manipulation.

  • The elite and powerful use the military and police to control the poor, and their power comes in the form of guns whereas the regular folk have no arms to defend themselves or uprise with.

  • The revelation at the end also suggests that terrorism is orchestrated by the people higher up and that stories of insurgencies and revolutions are then used to control the masses into thinking a certain way.

…But that’s not all. There’s also the fact that the rich live lavishly at the expense of the poor, they party, get the best schooling, while the lower-classes either strive to be like them or become part of the surplus population; poked, prodded, used as cheap, expendable labour until they die. With the class system in full swing in this train, it’s only the rich who consume meat including steak, the poor on the other hand eat crushed insects, and given all the propaganda about cow farts contributing to climate change and the promotion of “environmentally friendly protein” including insects, the powers-that-be want you to think you’re doing something good by rejecting meat. In reality it’s not our choice, they want the best-reared and best-farmed protein to become accessible only by the privileged and therefore food will also be part of the widening class rift in the real world. They want the working class slaves to actively refuse cow, pig, and chicken flesh and instead ask to be fed freeze-dried crickets and be happy about it… you know, to save the planet… cough, cough.

Given all the things news and entertainment shows shove down our throats about gun control, overpopulation, climate change, and changing our diets, Snowpiercer could never be allowed to be a massively popular film or the people may have begun to see past the bullshit that’s continually promoted to them. This may be the reason for the upcoming TV series adaptation of Snowpiercer: basically to make the public think of an inferior version every time the title is mentioned (and to supersede the original in search engine results). The graphic novel apparently mentions a virus which the protagonist spreads throughout the train, there’s also a second train, so this film does without all the extra, dare I say crap that complicates the plot. This is a streamlined and more poignant telling of the Snowpiercer story, something that I’m sure the TV series will undo (for obvious reasons). Just like the needless TV remake of Westworld (and the aforementioned Twelve Monkeys) which elongated a simple plot for no reason and in doing so cast a giant indelible shadow on the classic film that preceded it, I’m certain that the upcoming TV show will attempt to make you forget about the movie whilst convoluting or diluting the bold point of view this movie had.

With the debacle of the theatrical release (and the lack of a Blu-ray release in some countries including the UK) thankfully Snowpiercer is finally available to watch on Netflix. Netflix as usual are ruining the subtitles (merging the foreign subtitles with the closed caption subtitles) but at least they’re making this underrated and underexposed movie available to the public. Watch this and ignore the TBS show – this movie is without a doubt a classic. The TV version will be a lacklustre retread, stretching the plot until viewers forget what is being shown to them. You’re living in a…

A Cold World.

Writing: 8/10

Directing: 8/10

Acting: 8/10

Overall: 8/10

4 replies »

  1. Speaking of crystal meth, what are your thoughts of Breaking Bad? And a Cold World? Is that a reference to GZA’s track on Liquid Swords or just a bad pun? I’d like to check out this movie. Never heard of it till today. Thanks.

  2. Bong Joon-ho has got another movie out this year called Parasite… A major plus about it being a social commentary between the rich vs the poor

    Furthermore, he’s got other great films in his belt that I think not many have watched (besides the disappointing Okja which I felt was purposefully made for a mainstream American audience)…

    Like Memories of Murder, Barking Dogs Never Bite and Mother

    His use of dark and slapstick humor along with some dramatic moments in most of his movies are commendable

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