Below are three perspectives on the 2013 film Snowpiercer.
Engine or tail; where do you belong on the train?
In 2013, Bong Joon-ho directed a film that received universal acclaim for keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. Snowpiercer is an action, drama, and science-fiction film that introduces viewers to a world where the lines between good and evil are blurred. Chris Evans portrays Curtis, the tail-section passenger determined to reach the front of the train. Jamie Bell plays Edgar, a young man who worships Curtis, but never seems to be able to impress him.
As the film progresses, Curtis is able to form a plan that gets tail-section dwellers to the front section. As the audience goes on this journey with Curtis, we see his horror as he realizes that the insects on the train are being used for the protein blocks being fed to the tail-section passengers.
We feel his hope, as he releases Nam and his daughter Yona from the prison car to open the security doors along the train. We know his shock, as the security doors open and an ambush is waiting for them. We experience his anguish, as Curtis sacrifices Edgar in order to capture Mason. The devastation in Edgar’s eyes as he realizes what really matters to Curtis, causes us to wonder why the “leader” of the tail section has such a single-minded focus.
Bong uses small sets to enhance the feeling of being cramped, enclosed, and without escape. There is a drastic difference between the living quarters of the tail passengers and the amenities available for the front-section passengers. Bong allows the audience to experience the indignity of life at the back of the train, then brings us through the cars as life on the train progressively improves.
From a simple shower to a steak dinner, Bong uses each detail in Snowpiercer to elicit a specific reaction from the audience, causing us to reflect on our present society and makes us ask the question: Where do we belong on the train?
The Loco-MOTIVE of Snowpiercer
“You know what I hate about myself? I know what people taste like. I know babies taste the best.” Few films that feature quotes like this can cause audiences to question our world. Snowpiercer by Bong Joon-ho is a film that uses its unique storyline to show an overlaying message about our society.
The film is an allegorical piece, as it shows our society as a whole. It shows the linear movement of people at the back of the train and their view of each section of the train. For instance, the back of the train is the lower class. They are just fighting to survive with their lack of food or opportunities. The back of the train then revolts and begins its descent into the lives of the middle and upper classes of the train.
They experience the working class of the train (sushi chef and gardeners), who are completely oblivious to the upper class’ wrongdoing because they are living comfortable lives. As the group from the back of the train progresses to the front of the train, they witness a very alarming scene that is the classroom where they watch the youth of the train consuming propaganda laid out by Wilford, the train’s leader. The children who reside in the classroom sections are all very prejudiced toward the back of the train and give off a cult-like vibe towards Wilford. The back section proceeds and witnesses the front of the train, where sadness and drug use is exhibited, showing that the front and back aren’t that different.
The train itself is linear; the ideas and rules are very orderly and safe, and this depicts our society. The outside of the train shows the opposite of the generic lifestyle that is laid out for us, symbolizing free thinking and going against the norm. Just like in our reality, governments try to scare us away from going against the grain by saying it can lead to a life of despair and hardships.
Snowpiercer‘s unique story outlines the world we live in today by bringing to light this caste-like system that has been laid out for us and showing the power of revolution and the breaking of barriers both literally and figuratively.
Allegory of The Train
The post-apocalyptic thriller — especially of the weather-related kind — has quickly become its own sub-genre in the high-concept universe of science fiction. South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s collaborative Snowpiercer is a clear standout as east meets west for this dark cinematic triumph.
After the governments of the world came together to throw a Hail Mary pass at combating global warming, a swift and relentless ice age ensued and wiped out virtually all sustainable life on Earth. Set eighteen years later, humanity’s last hope is left trapped on the “Rattling Ark” — a perpetual motion train speeding along on a track circumnavigating the now frozen planet. The train has split into classes; those in the front cars live in luxury provided by their revered leader, Wilford, while the “tailers” have been forced into squalor and subjugation by the same man.
Bong subtly incorporates allusions to sci-fi movies of old. The big reveal of what the tail section’s protein blocks are really made of may not be as grotesque as, but certainly hints at, 1973’s Soylent Green.
Hong Kyung-pyo’s cinematography, along with the extreme detail found within each train car, beautifully conveys the bleak and confining environment. Although each car the tailers move into looks better than the last, the settings seem staged and give viewers the feeling that something is not quite right in this tragic display of what happens to humanity when it is trapped in such a small space.
The driving force behind Snowpiercer is the tremendous work from its cast. Ed Harris delivers a terrifically disingenuous performance reminiscent of his work on The Truman Show as the train’s mysterious conductor, Wilford. Chris Evans shows us that his ability stretches far beyond the alpha male archetype in many of his previous castings. This film could have quickly digressed into “Captain America on a Train,” but Evans brings to the table a deeply emotional and somewhat vulnerable performance as the tailers’ reluctant leader, Curtis. The guilt in his eyes and his somber monologue leave you wondering how much of a hero he really is. Tilda Swinton is outrageous and hysterical from her lines to her costume as she embodies the ultimate political parody in Deputy Minister Mason.
The crew of tailers shrinks as they make their video game-esque journey from car to car (level to level). Marco Beltrami’s simple, yet heart-pounding and tense score continuously builds while we’re given repeated close-ups into the unwavering determination that rests in the tail-section characters’ eyes. In one of the final scenes, as Evans’ character contemplates taking Wilford up on his Willy Wonka-like offer, Beltrami’s brooding score and Bong’s mise-en-scene is evocative of the final temptation of Christ before Curtis is reminded of where he comes from and how the front section exploits the tail section.
As the humans destroy their protection from the lifeless world outside, the ending’s logic is similar to that of Cabin in the Woods (i.e. if this is what it takes to keep the status quo, maybe this world is not worth preserving). The film may leave you with a lot more questions than answers, but plot holes and The Hunger Games parallels be damned! Suspend your disbelief and do not miss this thought-provoking and immensely entertaining allegorical take on modern society and the human condition.
Sarah George is a student at Lewis University, currently working toward her bachelor’s degree in nursing. This is her first publication for the Jet Fuel Review, and she hopes that she will publish many more reviews in the future. In her rare, but coveted free time, Sarah enjoys spending time with her family, playing the piano, and reading. Sarah is currently reading Me Before You by Jojo Moyes and is enjoying it very much.
Endi Kajtezovic is currently a student at Lewis University with a major in computer science and a minor in mathematics. This is his first publication ever, and possibly his last (early retirement from movie reviews seems imminent). You can catch Endi at your local watering hole studying or listening to music.
Phil Siddu is a senior at Lewis University working toward a degree in criminal/social justice and psychology. This is his second publication for the Jet Fuel Review. When not studying or working, Phil enjoys drawing and spending time with his two sons.