Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Philosophy of Snowpiercer

WARNING: The following blog post contains a lot of spoilers. If you have not yet seen Snowpiercer and wish to do so without having the plot given away, then do not read this.

Source: http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v281/Palada/SpoilerAlert.jpg

Snowpiercer has been called a sci-fi action film. It’s hardly sci-fi. If people insist on referring to it as a sci-fi film, those people will have to admit that it is based on very bad sci-fi. The movie begins with the premise that Mankind finds a way to combat global warming with a man-made chemical that is used to cool Earth’s atmosphere. And cool Earth’s atmosphere it does. So much so that the whole planet undergoes a new Ice Age period, thus leading to a mass extinction of life as we know it. At least until the very end of the movie when a polar bear appears on screen thus throwing that whole “mass extinction of life as we know it” plot right out the window.

That the audience is expected to believe that scientists would not have tested this Earth-altering chemical ad nauseam before it is unleashed into the stratosphere is ludicrous. Even more ludicrous is the fact that the audience is told to believe that the one thing that not only survives but also supports what is left of humanity in this freezing hell is a train that is running around the world non-stop.

Snowpiercer is a good sci-fi film just as much as Animal Farm is a reliable farmer’s almanac. That being said, just like Animal Farm is a wonderful allegorical story, so is Snowpiercer. There are those who might say that Snowpiercer is bad allegory because it doesn’t resemble the real world that we live in today. Those critics are not wrong. The movie doesn’t resemble the real world that we live in today. However, Animal Farm didn’t resemble real life 1940s English society that the English used to live in either.

Source: http://aminarchi.edublogs.org/files/2011/02/animalfarm-1jvsb08.jpg

I watched Snowpiercer about two weeks ago and when the movie ended, two thoughts occurred to me. The first thought that occurred to me was that I had just witnessed a very rare find – a movie that respected the audience’s intelligence. The second thought that occurred to me was that most people are seldom ever honest about what we know and almost always dishonest about what we don’t know. In other words, most things that most people claim to know, especially in regards to the social sciences (such as politics, economics, and philosophy; themes that this movie touches on), are a pretense of knowledge.

As such, because this movie operates on the assumption that the audience is intelligent, and then proceeds to touch on themes that are, unfortunately, subjected to mind numbing subjectivity, the conclusion that I reached was that there were going to be many people who were going to watch this movie through the lens of very dumbed down current event stories that they might have watched on the news.

Because everyone knows how a mob has always traditionally been associated with intelligence.
Source: http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/files/2011/11/800px-Day_14_Occupy_Wall_Street_September_30_2011_Shankbone_2.jpg

That there are only a small number of movie reviews for Snowpiercer that claims that the main theme that the movie focuses on is class warfare, a far too simplistic overview, is most likely due to the fact that Snowpiercer has yet to be shown in movie theaters outside of Korea just yet. It’s only a matter of when before harebrained newspaper columnists who see themselves as enlightened populists decide to hail this movie as a rallying call for the Occupy Movement. Yes, class warfare is certainly one of the topics that the movie explores but there is so much more than what meets the eye.

Like Animal Farm, what Snowpiercer does is to challenge totalitarianism and all of the little despotisms that exist within it. Taking on the position of opposing totalitarianism while not living in a totalitarian state hardly seems edgy. However, another more subtle criticism that the movie deals with is the morality (or the lack thereof) of political leadership regardless of what stripe it comes in. More on this later.

Throughout the whole movie, there isn’t a single element that has not been somehow affected by the totalitarian nature of the train’s leadership. From the very beginning of the movie, the audience is made to dive right in to the deep end of the tense environment that surrounds the tail section of the train – the claustrophobic Dickensian world that is home to the train’s poorest inhabitants. Crammed into a tight, squalid space, these individuals, including the movie’s main protagonist, Curtis (played by Chris Evans), live, if it can be called that, a miserable existence.

Source: http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/underwire/2013/01/Snowpiercer_concept-art_660.jpg

Revolution is boiling beneath the surface and it doesn’t take long for the audience to sympathize with the tail enders; as the audience’s blood is churned and made to call out for bloody revenge when we see an anonymous guard brutally smashing his rifle’s butt into the face of an unarmed elderly woman. Considering the real life events that have unfolded around us, such as the Arab Spring and the various anti-austerity protests that we have seen throughout Europe and the United States, it becomes easy for people to root for the tail enders, while at the same time jumping to the conclusion that the movie is about the oppressed 99 percent fighting for justice against the tyrannical 1 percent.

Source: http://thinkmarketingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/EGYPT-PROTESTS.jpg

People who claim that this movie is an allegorical indictment of the inherent injustice that exists in capitalism are missing the point of not just the movie but the very nature of capitalism itself.

Many anti-capitalists would jump to tell anyone who is willing to listen that income mobility that is claimed to exist in a capitalist economic system is a myth – that one’s economic fate is predetermined by the socioeconomic status that one is born into and has no opportunity whatsoever to move up that proverbial ladder. The fact that there are immigrants who arrive in developed countries with very little money and very little knowledge of the local language, who nevertheless persevere and rise in those societies or that many of their children excel in school and go on to obtain professional careers and establish businesses does not seem to detract those anti-capitalists from their religion.

The fact that economic classes exist in capitalist societies is undeniable. However, the anti-capitalists’ insinuation that the members who make up those classes are static is nothing less than willful ignorance.

Whereas the thing that anti-capitalists claim to fight against does not actually exist in real life societies that practice capitalism, it does exist in Snowpiecer’s world. In Snowpiecer’s world, one’s socioeconomic fate is preordained by the tickets that everyone had purchased (or not purchased) before the train embarked on its non-stop seventeen-year journey – fist class, economy, and free loaders. Even the children of those who are born on the train, long after the events that initially took place for this story to be set in motion, are forced to live in the stations that their parents had first found themselves in. “The people at the front of the train are the head and those at the back of the train are the feet,” claims Mason (played by Tilda Swinton), one of the movie’s deliciously evil antagonists, who hisses with authoritarian finality, “Know your place, keep your place!”

The social system that the train operates on is based on a medieval feudalistic system, which is enforced by brutal violence. This is hardly a capitalist society.

Source: http://6claymendoffeudalism.weebly.com/uploads/4/1/4/2/4142501/5395891.jpg

When people watch this movie without thinking more deeply into it, it becomes easy to assume that it is about a war between the haves and have-nots, a situation that capitalism purportedly permitted to exist. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Capitalism, by its very nature, requires political freedom, which includes, among other things, the opportunity for socioeconomic mobility. Snowpiercer was not an indictment of capitalism, but rather an indictment of tyranny.

In another sign that this movie’s challenge is toward tyranny rather than capitalism, the audience is shown how the tail enders receive their food. During meal time, the tail enders who are constantly hungry and malnourished are assembled by the guards and counted each time so that they may be rationed the appropriate amount of food – brown gelatinous bars, which are simply referred to as protein bars. It is later revealed that none of the tail enders was informed what those protein bars were made of – mashed cockroaches (the movie never explains where all those cockroaches came from).

In the real world, since the mid-nineteenth century, the countries in the world where famine occurred have been the countries that were run by tyrannical regimes that attempted to control, distribute, and ration food and farming based on political decisions. Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, the Kim Dynasty’s North Korea, Mao Tse Tung’s China, Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Ethiopia, Mohamed Farrah Aidid’s Somalia. In the past one hundred and fifty years, every single famine that the world has beared witness to has been the result of, to use a euphemism, political mismanagement.

Source: http://media.salon.com/2013/05/somalia-famine-deaths.jpeg4-1280x960.jpg

However, toward the end of the movie, it is later revealed that the tail enders’ diet did not consist of only these mashed cockroach bars. When Curtis explains his motivation for wanting to take his revolution all the way to the front of the train, he reveals that there was a time when he was forced to eat human flesh.

In the frantic early days when the train was about to begin its journey as it raced against the oncoming Ice Age, the tail enders who didn’t buy a ticket but were fortunate enough to board the train were left with no food to eat. As a result, when hunger set in, they began to cannibalize each other. Curtis mentions that he knows what human meat tastes like and that “babies taste the best.” He confesses that when Edgar (played by Jamie Bell), his second-in-command, was a baby, Curtis almost killed and ate him but was prevented from doing so by Gilliam (played by John Hurt), the tail enders’ elder leader and Curtis’ mentor and father-figure, who cut off his own hand for the hungry tail enders to eat in exchange for letting Edgar live. It was only after many people had been cannibalized and had voluntarily amputated their own limbs to feed each other that they were provided rationed protein bars.

In Snowpiercer, the train is the country, which is ruled by a tyrant; the people forcefully imprisoned in their stations under the penalty of death. The people’s malnourished state and their being forced to eat bugs and each other is a story that we have seen far too many times on the news (here, here, here, here). As Curtis recounts his past experience in having eaten human flesh, he says that though it makes intellectual sense for the tail enders to show gratitude for being allowed to board the train and live, considering the hell that they were forced to live through, it was impossible to feel one iota of gratitude. It is impossible not to sympathize with him.

Source: http://www.goenglish.com/GoEnglish_com_OutOfTheFryingPanAndIntoTheFire.gif
Another theme that the movie touches on is the manner in which the train’s leaders treat the tail enders. Early on in the movie, a mysterious, plump looking woman who wears a bright yellow coat, in stark contrast to the sooty grey that surrounds the tail end of the train, enters the scene with several armed guards. Carrying a simple tape measure, she measures the height and width of two small children and wordlessly whisks them away to the front of the train. Before the woman can take the two children away, however, one of the child’s parent throws his shoe at the woman, reminding the audience of a similar event that occurred in real life when a desperate man threw his shoe at the most powerful man in the world.

Such lawlessness, of course, cannot go unpunished. The train’s inventor and chief engineer and Dear Leader, the mysterious Wilford (played by Ed Harris), sends Mason to punish this act of rebellion. Before the shoe-thrower’s sentence can be carried out, a punishment which appears to be a method that the Saudi government would have adopted had the Arabian peninsula been covered in permafrost as opposed to sun-scorched sand, Mason gives a speech, which the audience feels has been given to the tail enders many times before. In the first sign of Wilford’s cult of personality, not unlike the kind of praise that is showered on North Korea’s Kim Dynasty, Mason offers glorious praise to Wilford, stating that he is merciful and kind. Therefore, any sort of rebellion against such mercy and kindness is that much more magnified and thus cannot go unpunished.  Know your place, keep your place.”


It is later revealed toward the end of the movie that the woman in the yellow coat took those children to the front of the train in order to work as slaves. Wilford explains that in the train’s seventeen-year journey, parts have needed to be repaired and replaced. However, in that time, parts that are needed to keep the train running have “gone extinct” and that therefore, small children are needed to crawl into tight spaces that no adult can squeeze into in order to manually repair the train constantly. In other words, the tail enders are treated no better than cattle. They’re fed just enough to be kept alive, they are “disciplined” when the need arises, and they are used as beasts of burden.

As for Mason, she offers a microcosmic view of what abusive political power can do to a human being. No one in the world is born evil. As such, Mason must have, at one point in her life, been a sweet, innocent, and good-natured child. Had Mason possessed any of these characteristics, however, none of it was present by the time she makes her first appearance in the movie. Mason is shown wearing large spectacles that gives her an insect-like appearance, sports a thick Yorkshire accent, and her imperious lips appear perfect just to issue orders.

Source: http://wac.450f.edgecastcdn.net/80450F/screencrush.com/files/2013/04/snowpiercer_poster_tilda_swinton_full.jpg

Everything about Mason – her looks, her dress, her mannerisms, her speech – shows that she is the end product of having possessed despotic power over the lives of others for a long period of time. She is cruel, mean, petty, and expects the people that she stomps on and treats like trash to be grateful to her. It is the price that tyrants have to pay – sacrificing their humanity for power, and reason for delusions.

The movie could have offered just a simple solution – “The tail enders succeed in their revolution and once the tyrant and the haves have been taken out, all the tail enders whose rights as human beings had been stripped away live happily ever after.”

But once again, the movie treats the audience like intelligent adults. In a short scene, after Gilliam listens to Curtis’ plan on how he plans to lead his ragtag group of revolutionaries to the front of the train, he slowly and cryptically asks “And then what?” It is a deep philosophical question that has no easy answers. However, Curtis has no time for all that. “We kill Wilford,” he says without hesitation; as though somehow that is the solution to all of their problems.

But that is a question whose weight has been far too understated in this movie – “And then what?” This same question is currently being asked in Egypt and other Arab nations. So the mob finally fought back and showed the world that Hosni Mubarak was nothing more than a paper tiger. And then what? So the mob got back together and showed the world that Mohamed Morsi wasn’t even half the paper tiger that Mubarak was. And then what? Judging from what we see on the news, it hardly seems that the Egyptians have found their happily ever after fairy tale ending.

And then what?”

Now what?
Source: http://images2.fanpop.com/images/photos/3500000/Finding-Nemo-finding-nemo-3570108-853-480.jpg

As Curtis and his ragtag team of revolutionaries fight their way into one car after another, they begin to see whole new worlds that the tail enders had not even known to exist in their wildest dreams. And with each progression they make, the more decadent the scenery becomes. Initially, we see a whole train car that has been fitted to serve as a horticultural orchard that grows fruits. In another car, the entire car is used as an aquarium that the front enders harvest twice a year that they may eat fresh fish while at the same time making sure that the fish are culled in moderation in order to avoid population crashes. This theme gets explored again later.

In other cars, people enjoy Swedish saunas and in others, they binge on alcohol and drugs as they rave the night and day away. However, the most surreal car that the revolutionaries enter is the school car. In this car, which is designed as a preppy grade school classroom, an overly cheerful and hyper teacher (played by Alison Pill) leads about a dozen or so students in their lessons. However, the lessons have less to do with maths or grammar but instead focuses on singing adulatory praise for Wilford; again, not unlike the education that we find in tyrannical regimes like in North Korea (here, here, here).

Although this movie is certainly an allegorical tale that criticizes tyranny, and not capitalism as anti-capitalists would have people believe, it is difficult to know for sure what kind of economic system exists on this train. We never get to see a trade transaction. We see food being rationed out, which implies that production is centrally planned but the scene where the decadent rich binge excessively on alcohol and drugs implies that, assuming that production is centrally planned, there is an underground economy of sorts that circumvents the central planning authority, which seems impossible considering the fact that they are all on a train which no one can get off of.

What we do know for sure is what had been hinted to us earlier at the aquarium scene and later spelled out toward the end of the movie – population control is enforced and based on Malthusian principles that would have made Paul R. Ehrlich proud.

Paul R. Ehrlich
Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e3/Paul_Ehrlich_-_1974.jpg/463px-Paul_Ehrlich_-_1974.jpg

What’s important to remember about the aquarium scene is that the fish in the aquarium are culled in moderation twice a year so that the upper class may enjoy eating fish while avoiding crashing the aquarium’s fish population. When Curtis finally meets Wilford for the very first (and the very last) time at the engine room, whose design looked like a minimalist version of a Plaza Hotel suite, Wilford reveals that Curtis’ revolution had been planned and orchestrated all along by him. Throughout the movie, Curtis receives notes from an anonymous source from the front of the train, which goad him to keep fighting on. It turned out that the person who was sending Curtis those notes of encouragement was none other than Wilford himself.

So why would Wilford foment a violent revolution that is aimed at himself? He explains that he did so in order to ensure that the violent proletarian revolution would occur, thus requiring both the tail enders and the upper class to kill off one another so that the population of the train, both the tail enders and the elites of the upper-class section, is kept in check. Wilford reveals to Curtis that he had to make this choice because he could not wait for natural selection to take its course; had he done so, the exponential population growth would have outpaced the arithmetical level of food production, which would have caused everyone to slowly starve to death.

In the real world, Malthus limited his apocalyptic prediction to limited food production. However, despite the fact that those predictions were proven to be false even within Malthus’ own lifetime, his views never really went away. In fact, neo-Malthusianism has been the rallying call for many of the world’s modern-day environmentalists, such as the aforementioned Paul R. Ehrlich who made a similar (debunked) prediction in his 1968 bestseller, The Population Bomb. In his book, he predicted that hundreds of millions of deaths would occur per year throughout the 1970s and he insisted that the only way to avert this catastrophe was through mass population control “by compulsion if voluntary methods fail.”

Killing millions to save millions?  Makes perfect sense.
Source: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-cWfbgzEDuAs/T1_7XR5QGUI/AAAAAAAAArw/JbcXWfeMgAA/s400/rwanda+genocide+skull+tomb.jpg

However, as we all know, instead of the global-scale famine and widespread death that Ehrlich predicted, the 1970s witnessed a modern agricultural revolution, which continues to this day. Despite a doubling of the world’s population, food production continues to grow as technological innovation creates more and more food on each acre of farmland. As mentioned earlier, the people in the world who suffer from starvation and famine suffer not because of a lack of food but because of, again with the euphemism, political mismanagement.

In the real world, Malthus, Ehrlich, and other similar-minded people have been debunked. But what about aboard the Snowpiercer? Does Malthus’ apocalyptic prediction bear any weight for the train’s inhabitants? Sadly, yes. Firstly, food production can only occur in the train, which, unlike fertile farmland, cannot be expanded or tilled. Secondly, and more importantly, as the only human beings left on the planet are all located inside the train, trade with the outside world is impossible. What that means is that food production is clearly limited and that the train’s inhabitants have no choice but to be self-reliant.

In some ways, the situation that the train’s inhabitants find themselves in is similar to North Korea’s juche system, an ideology which all but destroyed North Korea’s economy and social systems. Considering the heavy security apparatus that Wilford employs (which bears parallels to North Korea’s million-man army) who mostly carry rifles that have no ammo (which bears parallels to North Korea’s ammunition shortage) whose job it is to pacify (which bears parallels to North Korean soldiers being used to terrorize the people into submission) the hungry tail enders (who bear parallels to North Korea’s hungry citizens), the fictional world of Snowpiercer bears striking resemblance to the Malthusian reality that is North Korea’s juche ideology.

The reality that is juche.
Source: http://bibliojunkie.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/north-korea-is-dark.jpg?w=600&h=444

Under such conditions, not only does the culling of people become possible, it becomes necessary. It is the full blossoming of Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism, the philosophical school of thought that calls for “the greatest good for the greatest number,” which when one thinks about it, one begins to realize that it is one of the most vicious slogans ever foisted on humanity. Utilitarianism is a horror because it never defines “good” except that it is whatever is good for the greatest number. Who, in any particular issue, decides what is good for the greatest number? And why does numerical superiority immediately mean that it is the good? It is a horrific philosophy but in North Korea and aboard the Snowpiercer, its horrors take a backseat to its necessity.

The difference between the leadership that oversees the Snowpiercer and their real-life counterparts in North Korea is that the former was forced into its predicament by a rapidly changing climate that was no longer conducive to human survival whereas the latter voluntarily chose to create its own hell. Differences in matters of choice aside, however, it does not change the fact that both leaders are guilty of overseeing the mass murder of their own peoples. This was the movie’s stance on Mathusianism; it is a philosophy that legitimizes mass murder and one that is only possible in a tyrannical regime.

Lastly, the movie touches on the morality of the two leaders of the train – Wilford who rules with an iron fist from the front of the train and Gilliam who preaches (and practices) self-sacrifice from the back of the train. Of the two, Wilford is easier to analyze.

When Wilford and Curtis meet for the first time, besides admitting that Curtis’ revolution and all the previous revolutions that came before were pre-planned efforts at keeping a check on the train’s population, Wilford tells Curtis that everyone on the train has their place; it just so happens that his is at the front of the train. He then says something remarkable to Curtis. While wearing what appears to be a silk robe and cooking a steak dinner in his engine room, which, again, looks like a minimalist version of a Plaza Hotel suite, Wilford says to the clearly exhausted, soot-covered, malnourished, and bleeding Curtis that he, too, has to bear a cost for being at the front of the train; that contrary to what Curtis might think, Wilford isn’t very happy with his lot in life either.

Source: http://ic.pics.livejournal.com/brent360/14736544/16182/16182_600.jpg

The audience could easily sneer at the irony of Wilford’s self-pity. However, I doubt that Wilford was being disingenuous. In fact, it is very likely that Wilford is the most self-aware and honest character in the entire movie. Unlike Mason, Wilford doesn’t suffer from any kinds of delusions. He knows what he wants and he knows the price that he has to pay for it.

What he wants is power; he simply wants to rule. The cult-like manner in which his henchmen worship him is proof of this. He is not destined for happiness; and he knows this. He simply wants to rule. In order to rule, Wilford had to design the world that he wanted. It wasn’t just the train that he designed. He designed a world of obedience – a world where the thought of each man will not be his own, but an attempt to guess Wilford’s thoughts. A world where no man will hold a desire for himself, but will direct all his efforts to satisfy Wilford’s desires. However, Wilford’s thoughts and desires and everyone else’ desire to fulfill his thoughts and desires is nothing more than a circular logic. He wishes to rule and they wish to be ruled. And the wheels of the bus go round and round.

But to get what he wants, he has to pay a price. The price that he has to pay is that he has no purpose except to keep the people, the very people whom he despises, contented. He has to lie, flatter, praise, and inflate their vanities and vulgarities. He has less independence than even the mediocrities that he rules over. At least his henchmen rule over the tail enders and torture them for whatever sadistic pleasure that they derive from it. Wilford, however, is far too intelligent and self-aware to stoop to that level of stupidity and barbarism. He merely uses people for the sake of what he can do for them. It’s his only function. He has no other private purpose. It’s the price that he has to pay for power.

An empty shell of a man
Source: http://jimsomerville.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/humptydumpty1.jpg

Gilliam, on the other hand, is a more complex case study. Contrary to Wilford’s regal appearance, Gilliam looks disheveled and wears what appears to be sackcloth. In some ways, it’s what I have always imagined John the Baptist to look like. Furthermore, due to his message of self-sacrifice, which he also practices, at least an arm and a leg have been voluntarily amputated to feed the tail enders before they were provided with their mashed-cockroach protein bar rations. His arm has since been replaced by what looks like a crook handle from an umbrella while his leg has since been replaced by a broomstick.

Source: http://ic.pics.livejournal.com/brent360/14736544/16630/16630_600.jpg

For all intents and purposes, Gilliam seems to be Wilford’s polar opposite. However, during Wilford’s fateful meeting with Curtis, it is revealed that both Wilford and Gilliam were actually friends and had been cooperating with one another from the very beginning; Wilford running things from the front of the train and Gilliam from the back of the train. Though they seldom met face to face, it is revealed that they spoke to each other regularly on the phone in the middle of the night. This was how Wilford knew to send those notes to Curtis to incite his revolution. This is when we realize that Gilliam and Wilford are not actually polar opposites, but, in fact, are mirror images of one another. They are the two sides of the same coin.

In essence, whereas Wilford was demanding that everyone sacrifice their thoughts and their desires to his will, Gilliam was demanding that everyone sacrifice their thoughts and their desires to each other. The difference is whom people are being demanded to sacrifice to. However, it doesn’t change the fact that the people are being demanded to make sacrifices. And it stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there is someone collecting sacrificial offerings. Where there is service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters and he intends to be the master.

However, Gilliam’s idea of ruling over the masses is more perverse than Wilford’s. According to Gilliam’s notion of self-sacrifice, the world that he envisions is one where the thoughts and desires of each man will not be his own, but an attempt to guess the thoughts and desires of the man next to him who in turn will have no thought or desire of his own. It is a world where everyone is subjugated to the will of everyone else. It is a world where people are slaves to each other, a world that does not even offer the dignity of serving a master.

Wilford’s message was that the individual has no rights; that the Führer, him, is all that matters. In the order that Wilford offers, no private motive is permitted. The only motive that he permits to exist is that of service to him.

On the other hand, Gilliam’s message is that the individual has no rights; that the collective is all that matters. In the order that Gilliam offers, no private motive is permitted. The only motive that he permits to exist is that of service to the masses.

Both men fixed the game from the very beginning. Heads – sacrifice. Tails – sacrifice. It doesn’t matter whether they give up their soul to the Führer or to each other; so long as they give it up. So long as the people accept that self-abnegation and self-denial are considered uncompromisable and sacred values.

Self-sacrifice, however, cannot continue to exist without a leader to collect the alms. In the real world, traditionally, there have been two kinds of leaders who collected these alms. As different as they were, however, like Wilford and Gilliam, they have always been but mirror images of each other. The leaders have always been either God or Society. The people who reaped the alms for the leaders could not, however, be mere mortals. We are mere mortals and no one knows better than us just how imperfect that we can be. The reapers had to possess a certain kind of moral or political authority over the rest of us. As a result, they have been given various names over human history – Priests, Commissars, Kings, Parliamentarians, etc.

So long as individuals are not free to choose to live our own lives the way we see fit, it doesn’t matter whether we serve God or the Führer or the Proletariat. At the end of the day, we are all just slaves waiting for our turn to be called to the altar.

Source: http://genelempp.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/sacrificial-stone2.gif

That is the ultimate question that Curtis had to answer. Is the human race worth saving if we’re nothing more than slaves to each other? The only correct answer is “No.”

After the train is destroyed, we see that all the main characters, the good, the bad, and the ugly, are all dead. It’s all well and good. All of those characters’ hideous morality were the end result of a putrid philosophy. No good could have possibly come out of their survival.

The only two survivors are a young boy and a slightly older girl, two characters who were born on the train and whose total combined screen time couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes. With the train and its contents destroyed and everyone who had been on board dead, the odds of survival are overwhelmingly stacked against these two young children.

However, whether or not the human race survives is irrelevant. What is relevant is that they are free and that their survival depends on their own independent minds.  This is the movie's final message: the importance of freedom; damn the odds.
Source: http://www.encognitive.com/files/images/free%20to%20choice--live%20with%20consequences%20of%20your%20choice.jpg
From what I have read online, not only has this movie yet to be released outside of Korea, there isn't even a release date.  Furthermore, according to Collider.com, the Weinstein Company, which owns the rights to distribute Snowpiercer in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, wants to cut twenty minutes from the movie, specifically from the bits that give character details, ‘to make sure the film will be understood by audiences in Iowa... and Oklahoma.’

Though I am not sure how this movie will change when it is released in the rest of the world, I sincerely hope that the changes will not detract too much from the movie’s overall philosophy.  This movie is special because it is intelligent and because it treats the audience as though we were intelligent.  To lose that would be to sacrifice what makes this movie special in the first place.  And that would be a terrible shame.


EDIT: February 8th 2014

It has just been announced on IGN that the director's cut of Snowpiercer, and not the cut version that Harvey Weinstein wanted, will be released in the US.  Although there is no word yet about a US release date, it seems that it will only be a matter of time before it is announced.

Bong Joon-ho, the director, appears to have stuck to his guns and refused to compromise on his basic principles.  Had he done as Weinstein wanted, and cut twenty minutes from the movie's more serious story-focused portions, the movie would have probably dissatisfied everybody.  Mr. Bong could have focused only on his immediate financial earnings and done as was asked by Weinstein, but he instead chose to remain true to his vision, his truth.  He could have compromised; tried to be all the things that was demanded, but both he and the movie might have ended up being nothing more than a disappointment to everyone.

This speaks volumes about the man's integrity, and as an individual, the best compliment that I can offer him is, despite the world that we live in today, where virtual information is so easily transferable, this is one movie that I have paid to watch in the theater, and will pay to watch again when it is released on Blu-ray.

Source: http://blogs.nature.com/naturejobs/files/2012/10/122279910_integrity1-1024x682.jpg

42 comments:

  1. "This movie is special because it is intelligent and because it treats the audience as though we were intelligent."

    Really? And just how was all that beef and poultry raised on the train? I saw a massive amount of beef and poultry in storage that would have taken tremendous amounts of feed, and storage, to raise. Even insects need vegetation to grow and thrive, and the film treats its viewers poorly in glossing over these obvious shortcomings.

    Anyhow, I went into the theater expecting an action-packed, top-notch, futuristic science-fiction film and was beyond disappointed in that regard. I wasn't looking for an illogical mess that only, marginally, succeeds on philosophical grounds. It seems I wasn't the only one scratching my head afterwards as most of the audience was underwhelmed and not impressed.

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    1. I'd like for you to note that I did not defend the movie's shortcomings in its sci-fi aspect. As I said:

      "Snowpiercer has been called a sci-fi action film. It’s hardly sci-fi. If people insist on referring to it as a sci-fi film, those people will have to admit that it is based on very bad sci-fi..."

      "...Snowpiercer is a good sci-fi film just as much as Animal Farm is a reliable farmer’s almanac."

      Furthermore, I also mentioned the cockroaches when I said:

      "The movie never explains where all those cockroaches came from."

      Admittedly, I did not mention the other logistical failures/limitations of the movie, especially in the way farming was glossed over.

      And you are, indeed, correct to point out these weaknesses of the story. That being said, I have an inkling that you're focusing so much on the trees that you're unable to see the forest.

      For instance, had the movie focused more on how poultry and cattle farming took place, or shown more clearly how the cockroaches were bred, would it have added to the story? Or would it have been unnecessary material that would have not only made the movie longer than it had to be, but also detracted the story's message?

      As a comparison, I would like to bring up the story of "Noah's Ark." Logistically speaking, the story makes no sense. Two animals of each species in the entire world being fit into one boat? On top of all that, none of the carnivorous predators fed on the herbivores that had nowhere to run? And we're later supposed to believe that those two animals of each species were able to proliferate to the extent that they have in the modern world? If we look at it from a logistical point of view, "Noah's Ark" was a terrible story. But the point of the story was not the logistical aspect of it, but the religious aspect.


      Personally, I can see such topics that you mentioned being shown in the DVD's "extras" section if the director feels like that is a good idea but I am not that entirely disappointed with the lack of such fine detail in the overall story itself.

      If we're talking about a movie like "Star Trek," which needs credible science fiction in order to tell its overall story, then I think any such shortcomings are fair game for heavy criticism. In the case of "Snowpiercer," however, it seems that its sci-fi shortcomings warrant nothing more than minor annoyances.

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    2. Oh and please pardon my lack of manners. I forgot to thank you for leaving behind a comment. Thank you, and, please, keep coming back.

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    3. I immensely enjoyed reading your article and comments. Your keen sense of observation balanced with a broad perspective of thought really drove home a clear analysis of the movie that had me absolutely baffled!

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    4. This movie is as absurd as the PC game series "Biosphere". The technology of the train does not make sense and there is no attempt to explain how the perpetual engine works (I mean, seriously? Perpetual engine = infinite energy = just build a perpetual heater to melt the snow : ) But having read this article, I see the grander picture: The train is the world. Some people live in luxury, some are drug addicts. A lot of 'innocent' people die, and the ones who kill them are sometimes a little innocent too. An interesting movie, but NOT sci-fi. More like a surealistic sociologic thought experiment (with a surprising likeness to North Korean conditions).

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  2. You're welcome for the comment, but Noah's ark is lost on me as it is most definitely fiction as is "everyone" on the planet supposedly being descended a single man and woman, Adam and Eve. Even in 2013CE, we are still just babes in the woods in our quest for true enlightenment, but religion does all it can to quell those seeking answers to religious nonsense. Horribly, people are so eager to kill each other so readily in the name of their gods/leaders/martyrs. Truly insane and far from fictional.

    Personally, I'd have much rather seen an actual South Korean film addressing the North's juche system and the real horrors north of the DMZ rather than this thinly-veiled parallel, but I guess the Powers That Be would not financially back that true-life, big-budget, horror film, especially as it would upset the current status quo on three sides of the border.

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    1. Oh I wasn't trying to say that "Noah's Ark" was a factual event. Whether or not someone believes in the authenticity of the Bible (or any other religious text for that matter) is irrelevant; at least for this discussion. I was merely using it as a comparison, as in, for some stories, at least, the logistics is not very important.

      As for a more realistic portrayal of North Korea's juche ideology on the silver screen, that sounds like it would be a Korean version of "Schindler's List." I'm not entirely sure if such a movie can be made now without appearing to be gross propaganda.

      On the other hand, using an allegory like "Snowpiercer" did, instead of blatantly stating that a particularly kind of tyranny is evil (Bong Jun-ho himself never stated that this was an anti-North Korean movie), I think that the movie is better able to resonate with more viewers. With allegory, people can see what they want. As I saw it, it was about tyranny in general. Someone else might think it was a purely anti-capitalist movie. Or just about political revolutions and the futility of it all.

      I could be wrong but I think that going the allegorical route might have given this movie a longer shelf life.

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  3. I went to see this movie three times - once alone, once in the company of my daughter - a philosophy major - and once with a friend who is an English teacher. Each time I left the cinema feeling punchdrunk. There were many moments where I literally had to remind myself to breathe.
    Your analysis of the themes of sacrifice demanded by the leaders, closed societies and their inevitable implosion, and the control of the masses by making it appear as if they have choices is accurate, but I have to add something. For me, this movie showed to what depths of violence and hatred people can sink, but also to what heights of bravery and love they can rise as protrayed by Edgar and Curtis's story. Edgar, unaware of Curtis's regrets about his actions and his agony at being considered a leader when he knows he is not worthy of it, flings himself in front of his friend to save him. And dies. Leaving Curtis with one more regret.
    Of course there are holes in the premise that the train is thundering through an icy wasteland, but I find those holes not quite as big as you do. Given how much of a mess we humans tend to make of the this world, tinkering without really considering the consequences, and sometimes not aware of how complex the systems are that we deal with, I can quite believe that people would grasp at the straw of a solution to global warming and release it without final testing, since, if we are talking science, how would you test it except by releasing it world-wide? Some tests don't scale up, you know. So I can believe it. And who says that all life was rendered extinct? Why, the people on the train, because, on the route they take, they see no life. They are focused inward - either on surviving, or on building up the culture of Wilford - and so only one man looks outward, and sees the retreat of the snow. As for species surviving, life surviving that the train does not know about - we are discovering new extremophiles every day. A polar bear survived? I can believe it, as I can believe that it lives on the arctic fish that also survived.
    In that respect it is like the Matrix trilogy - flawed but believeable - but ultimately an allegory and a myth about greed, power, love, humanity, survival, leadership, responsibility, arrogance, stupidity, determination and judgement.

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    1. Hm, it seems that you're taking the movie's use of the chemical to reverse global warming as an allegory for humans tending to tinker with nature without really considering the consequences. That would yet be another allegory that I have not considered. Thank you for that.

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    2. That's worthlessly sarcastic. Got his point. What about another angel of interpretation:
      Without the hirarchic, man-made system - akin to feudalism etc.-, we'd fall back to ice age
      (and maybe were unable to survive). Punchy, desolate and easy.

      Fighting for freedom's sake regardless of the consequences has not to lead anywhere.

      Above all ice bears, almost extinct predators: There's fish... unprobable meaning,
      Human is not tip of the world outside of his self-forged, synthetic habitat, called rationalised and bridled animal hirarchie. (without his machines).

      The question arises whether there's sense in destroying the mechanismn, breaking out of order. Piercing the efficient self-sustaining society (the two structures whatsoever)
      we are bound to be needy (and literally exposed).

      Freedom without over-arching authority we are bound to end up uncivilisised.


      Anarchie as regards self-determination to the very core (family and community
      [not beneath that, there wouldn't be any form of society anymore whatsoever])
      doesn't seem able to bring up civilised supplies.

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  4. Kevin from Daejeon says,

    Hi John from Daejeon! I guess there's not much else to do in Daejeon besides see SNOWPIERCER. Thanks for the lengthy read y'all.

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    1. I am glad that you enjoyed reading this. If you guys keep coming back to read and comment here, I'll keep blogging and try to come up with better stuff each time.

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  5. Very interesting read. If I understand your interpretation of the movie correctly, the movie, particularly the ending, condemns feudalism and socialism and rather more poignantly advocates for what Ayn Rand referred to as "Objectivism"? If that is indeed the interpretation you are making I must argue that the only reason the two children are alive at the end of the movie are due to sacrifices made on their behalf. The young girl's father put himself in harms way multiple times to physically protect her and did everything he could to stop her from becoming morally tainted by preventing or attempting to persuade her from killing that one male elitist guard. And of course the young boy was saved due to Curtis' physical sacrifice at the end. In fact, the movie seems to suggest that Curtis was able to finally find peace, redemption, and actualization through this self-sacrificial deed. Once the train is destroyed the girl takes a moment to get her bearings but very quickly runs to the boy and takes his hand. She had clearly taken on a caregiver role to the younger child and it is not hard to envision her making self sacrificing actions in order to protect this child.

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    1. Dear Anonymous,

      Firstly, I’d like for you to know that I have got a huge grin on my face and am giving you applause for having correctly deduced my Objectivist influences. I was wondering how long it would take for someone to notice. It is a great pity that you chose to be anonymous. I would have much liked to speak to you again.

      Now, this is where I have to disagree with your premise that the act that led to the survival of the two children was indeed self-sacrifice. To clarify my point, we have to define ‘sacrifice,’ and this is where my Objectivist influences come in. A ‘sacrifice’ by definition requires the surrender of a higher value in order to gain a lesser value. If I give up something that I value highly in order to gain something that I value even more than what I initially gave up, that's not a sacrifice.

      You mentioned that the young girl’s father put himself in harms way multiple times to physically protect her and also prevented her from committing murder. But was that really an act of sacrifice? I don’t think it is. The father valued his daughter’s survival more than he valued the prospect of living his life without her.

      Now if the girl wasn’t his daughter whom he loved, but a worthless stranger, like Mason for example, then the father’s actions would most certainly have been an act of sacrifice as he would have put his life (a thing that he values highly) in danger in order to protect a woman (a thing that he values less) whom he despises.

      Seeing how the father’s actions fell under the realm of a hierarchy of rational values, I disagree with your premise.

      As for the little boy, you credited his survival to Curtis’ act of sacrifice. But again, I have to disagree with your premise. Had Curtis chosen to become Wilford’s successor, he would have become the very thing that he despised – the tyrant. However, Curtis also learned that the tyrant is not a free man; the tyrant is also a slave to the train. As I said about Wilford:

      “...he has no purpose except to keep the people, the very people whom he despises, contented. He has to lie, flatter, praise, and inflate their vanities and vulgarities. He has less independence than even the mediocrities that he rules over. At least his henchmen rule over the tail enders and torture them for whatever sadistic pleasure that they derive from it. Wilford, however, is far too intelligent and self-aware to stoop to that level of stupidity and barbarism. He merely uses people for the sake of what he can do for them. It’s his only function. He has no other private purpose. It’s the price that he has to pay for power.”

      In other words, despite the tempting offer that Wilford gave him, Curtis refused to sell his convictions. Even though he knew that his act of defying Wilford would cause his own death, he still chose to die because he preferred to die as a free man rather than live as a slave. Curtis chose a rational value that he valued higher over a value that he had contempt for. As a result, his action was not an act of sacrifice.

      Now I agree that in the aftermath, the girl does take on the role of a caregiver to the younger boy. Whether or not she chooses to sacrifice herself, in the strict definition of the word, for the younger boy is anyone’s guess. If she chooses to sacrifice herself, well, then that would indeed be a tragedy.

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    2. About the two children that survives
      If all society breaks down, then mankind will be as vulnerable as two lonely children in a dangerous world with vicious predators.
      Examples: Ukraine's population overthrew their "evil" government but are being "devoured" by Russia.
      I once hear someone say: "A bad government is better than anarchy" - if this is true, then even Hitler would have been better than no government at all...

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  6. “...he has no purpose except to keep the people, the very people whom he despises, contented. He has to lie, flatter, praise, and inflate their vanities and vulgarities. He has less independence than even the mediocrities that he rules over. At least his henchmen rule over the tail enders and torture them for whatever sadistic pleasure that they derive from it. Wilford, however, is far too intelligent and self-aware to stoop to that level of stupidity and barbarism. He merely uses people for the sake of what he can do for them. It’s his only function. He has no other private purpose. It’s the price that he has to pay for power.”

    It reminds me of Nietzsche's definition of "tyrant" in Jenseits von Gut und Böse and Also sprach Zarathustra... He considered the tyrant to be the slave of slaves, because he has to fear and keep constantly in check the masses he "rules" over.

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  7. Hi John,
    First of all I would like to thank you for writing this article. I have just seen the movie however the ending left me so perplex that I needed some answers from the Internet and you are the only critic that succeeds to analyze correctly the whole philosophy of the movie.
    What interests me the most is the part you wrote on utilitarianism. In an open world, I agree utilitarianism certainly can not defend the actions taken by any totalitarian system. However, in this confined world, Wilford (and Gilliam)'s utilitarian population-control scheme seems to me the sole solution for "the greatest number" / humanity to survive. I think the director shoots himself in the foot because he can not deliver a better solution to this way of ruling and therefore decides to blow up the train and kills off humanity (I don't believe for once the message of hope at the end).
    Thus I left the theater wondering for a while if the director really meant to defend a totalitarian system in that context because he certainly flops trying to convince me that utilitarianism is not the only thing that can keep those people alive.
    What do you think?

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    1. I am very sorry for replying to this a month late. I did not see this comment before just now.

      Whether or no the utilitarian population-control scheme is the sole solution for the survival of humanity on board the Snowpiercer is something that I can only speculate on. It depends on how rational the people are. Are they rational enough to know that they cannot eat everything today and still expect there to be food tomorrow? Or are they just a mindless mob who decide to consume everything because everyone else is doing it and if they don't, then they will lose out (see the Tragedy of the Commons). But I certainly do think that Wilford and Gilliam thought that this was the only solution. They saw themselves as masters and everyone else as mindless slaves. Their logic cannot allow them to see any other possible solution.

      And thank you for your comment.

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    2. "Analyze correctly"? I truly enjoyed reading the writer's analysis, but there is no right or wrong answer here. It's largely the writer's opinion and what they got out of the movie. There's a lot of room for debate and different interpretations and that's what makes this film so great.

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    3. Agreed, however John has many good and convincing clues and drew helpful conclusions.

      Often hope for hefty and tangible meanings in novels or films, as long as they force to think.
      Nice riddles.


      What we are writing about here fosters idealism and criticism:

      Hence it only helps to make the world somewhat more romantic and colourful

      Bukowski got me

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  8. Hey John,

    Just saw this movie this morning (1st day premiering in Taiwan), and just wanted to drop a note of thanks for this awesome piece of commentary/analysis.

    With all the information overload in this day and age, I've started to consciously avoid other people's philosophical ramblings, since there's just too much junk out there.

    Stumbling upon this piece, on the other hand, was quite the unexpected pleasure. (I was just Googling what exactly the protein blocks were made of, as I didn't have my glasses with me at the movie). It's not often I find an article with such next-level analysis.

    Anyway, thanks again, you've given me some great food for thought to chew on.


    Cheers,
    Clarke

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    1. By the way, I'm wrapping up college and by the looks of your "About Me" page, we've had similar experiences moving around the world. The more I've seen and experienced, the more I've come to appreciate Objectivist principles. Maybe there's some correlation here, just an observation.

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    2. Thank you, Clarke, for your kind words.

      Sadly, however, in all my travels, I have never met another Objectivist in person. There are obviously Objectivists and students of Objectivism and those who are curious about it in the world but the vast majority of people that I have met have never heard of it. Those who have heard of it usually hold a caricatured knowledge about it and think it is even more evil than, well, evil.

      But occasionally meeting another fellow Objectivist, even if only online, does give me some sense of happiness.

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    3. Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses

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  9. it think john from daejon is just another stupid assholes who happened to watch the wrong sci-fi movie

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  10. any hint on the meaning of the fish cut by the axes of the "police" squad (weirdly dressed)?

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    1. Hi, Fede. When I saw that scene, I thought it was just a ritual that the men were performing to show that they were filled with bloodlust.

      However, I have heard it being explained elsewhere that it was a symbolism to mark the end of Christian charity. As you might or might not know, the fish has been associated with Christian symbolism. Some people have said that the act of gutting the fish with their ax was symbolic of the renunciation of the Christian idea of brotherly love, which was an omen to show that they were prepared to murder their "brothers."

      Thanks for the question.

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  11. Yeah...comment section....allegory, food, allegory, politics, allegory, Blah blah etc.
    Its a movie.sorry but screw reality and makiing since...or for that matter having to mean anything.it may and it may not. Did you make a better movie recently?
    Im amazed by how much people would rather feel smart and right with a vague opinion of there obvious and complete knowledge on film making instead of just enjoying the film. I bet you could make it so much better. Screw film school, your geniuses.
    Its a movie, i liked it. Enough said.
    Just try not to take art so serious in the future guys.

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  12. I just watched the Director's cut of Snowpiercer, and after watching the film, I was hungry for more information about the film and the original storyline. I was more than pleased to come across this website and your commentary...Sadly, I would have fallen victim to the whole "capitalism critique" argument, yet I myself could smell that wasn't quite the foundational argument to lean on. Ironically, the first time I watched this film online, there weren't any subtitles, so the speech delivered by the lead Korean protagonist/antagonist at the end was lost on me...THAT alone provided much needed information and insight.

    And to think there might be a shortened version of this film released to the public...if anything, that whole Weinstein debacle has tarnished a masterful film...reminds me of what happened to the Night Watch/Day Watch films...the original Russian versions were perfectly fine. Once edited with cheesy subtitle special effects, those films lost all their mojo. I hope that doesn't happen here.

    Props for a stellar blog enjoy -- Cheers!

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  13. Mr. Lee, first, let me thank your for your article and whe complexity of your analysis. It must have been very time consuming, but people will definitely appreciate your thorough work.

    There is one thing that has left me a bit botheres, and its the hand "tic" (jerk) of Wilford's and Mason's. I have noticed it in the scene with hand freezing at the beginning of the movie and later at the end in the final chamber when Wilford experienced it.

    I have two theories about this:
    ************************
    SPOILERS
    ************************

    1) both of them have adopted it as an effect of subconscious guilt

    2) this theorry is not likely, and basically contradicts all "facts" we have been told:
    the train was travelling since their childhood and they both experienced as 5 year old the "replacement phase" themselves...

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  14. that hand jerk thing was to represent the 5 year olds doing the same motion over and over again to replace the worn out parts of the train...

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    1. Sure I know, but why the jerk happened to Wilford and Mason ?

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  15. The train had a purpose. I would defend Wilford's position sadly. Under the scenario outlined it seemed like practical concerns of survival eclipse the concerns about morality. I was greatly disturbed by the impasse. The solution. The cold rational actions of Wilford. It was stupid for the train to be destroyed. If Wilford was correct it would end the human species. I couldn't understand the Japanese guy but he seemed to think people could survive outside. Fair enough. (I did sleep through the action sequence of the film it went as I predicted I woke for the end. The heinous acts everywhere. I had no clue what I was getting. Horrifying scenario well depicted.

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  16. thank you John Lee for such an in depth and thought provoking movie review and wise interpretation! i enjoyed reading your blog post on this about as much as i did watching the movie, which i just caught yesterday — illegally, i guess — at a friend’s pad via his computer on one of those pirate movie streaming sites. (please don’t tell anyone! ;-) i thought i’d share with you some of my thoughts…

    upon the start of the movie, i found it comical that this scenario was presented where the nations of the world decided to have their great scientists attempt to put an end to what could have easily been called "Global Warming" or "Climate Change", yet made everything worse.  the short scene showing the chemical spraying from aircraft in the sky reminded me of thoughts i've had for quite sometime now — the unknown ramifications of our attempts to manipulate the earth's weather and/or climate.  how can even so called "scientists" know for sure the ramifications of focusing mega-powerful RF beams of energy into the ionosphere from various locations around the planet (HAARP, among other facilities), or for that matter the result of spraying God only knows what into the earth's atmosphere?

    the entire time watching the movie i kept thinking about whether or not it was true that humans (or critters for that matter) could not survive outside the train.  outside of the creator's goal of the story to use a train as the societal/political metaphor, why would a train even be considered as THE place to even locate such a perpetual motion engine — why not simply put it in a stationary place and build around it with underground habitations where there is even soil to work with?  sure, there would be all sorts of obstacles in any such apocalyptic event.  but by contrast, who would be able to fix the track when necessary?

    at the end of the film, upon the revelation that both so called "sides" were working together in their manipulation of the masses, i couldn't help but thinking about the grand worldly political deception — that everyone must belong to one of two so called camps "liberal" & "conservative", when the truth of the matter is that these camps fall under the philosophy of Collectivism.  in both cases (Snowpiercer and reality) the Collectivist model has incorporated two so called "sides" in order to keep the masses fighting among themselves and enslaved under a system which fails to recognize the unalienable natural rights of the individual.

    (continued…)

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  17. (… continued)

    so while i can view the Snowpiercer train as being the country, i can also view it as being the SYSTEM the people of country live under.  the heroes of the story ultimately decided that this tyrannical collectivist system should not continue at any cost (including risking the survival of humanity itself), and that even a chance at somehow restoring LIBERTY should anyone survive is of greater value than continuing living in a condition of slavery.  therefore, they made sacrifices in order to put an end to the authoritarian collectivist tyrannical system — the train.

    yes, Objectivists, i said sacrifices!  8-)  while i most often overwhelmingly agree with Ayn Rand's philosophies, i suppose i just do not subscribe to the Objectivist standard when it comes to defining "sacrifice".  if i choose to sacrifice my life to save the life of another loved one, that doesn't necessarily mean i do so to only serve myself because i'd rather not live without the individual whose life i saved.  similarly, the protagonist characters who worked together in the end to risk their own lives as well as every life aboard the train by destroying the system (which was the train), really wouldn't benefit themselves whatsoever.  i believe such arguments among Objectivists are moot and merely serve to diminish the importance of the weightier matters which Rand attempted to convey through contrasting philosophies: Individualism leading to liberty VS Collectivism leading to tyranny/slavery.

    for those who enjoy exercising their grey matter like John Lee, author of this "Korean Foreigner" blog, the film provokes questions for all of us to consider.  what value is placed upon the unalienable natural rights of the individual which is the fundamental basis upon which a free society can be built?  i believe the value placed upon liberty by humanity is directly proportional to the amount of time throughout history humankind as spent as either free people or slaves.  if this statement has any truth to it, then it seems in general humanity has placed little value on liberty, for over the course of human history the masses have spent the vast majority of its existence being slaves of some sort.

    regarding the notion that such a level of tyranny is in any way a result of a would-be "free market" (aka: Capitalism) is of course absurd — only deceived collectivists (if there's any other kind) claim such nonsense.  We the People of the United States of America have over time traded our once free market for a controlled market.  a free market would be one without government interference or control.  in what i often refer to as "Neo-Amerika", the masses have been made into wage slaves under a controlled fraudulent and deceptive monetary, banking, and taxation system, while being deceived into gradually giving up our individual unalienable natural rights.  all this combined with a brainwashing education system controlled by the very same collectivist ruling class yields a system similar to that depicted in Snowpiercer, which is one under a very corrupted tyranny that keeps the masses brainwashed into thinking there is no other reality than the one in which we must reside.

    ... but hey, that's EVIL for ya!  8-)

    me?  like the author of the Snowpiercer and other thoughtful men of integrity like John Lee who took the time to write such an in depth and thought provoking movie review and wise interpretation, i will continue to strive to see through the various deceptions of our age and seek to throw off the yoke of tyranny fostered by the philosophy of Collectivism, while i embrace the philosophy of Individualism which has the potential of maximizing liberty if so acted upon by the deceived masses.

    8-)

    bernard baruch carman
    ∞Liberty (http://infinityliberty.blogspot.com)
    ∞ ∞ ∞

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  18. I am sorry to say this, but in the end there were only two hapless people left... and a bear... that had very little access to food. I didn't see the ending as very promising for the human race. From that standpoint, I would argue that the movie shows the polar opposites of tyranny, but also that in its essence it is unavoidable. The alternative is a complete crash.

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  19. Grateful AnonymousApril 8, 2014 at 12:33 PM

    I'm incredibly happy to see how at least some people understood this film, how the sci-fi part of it is merely the upper layer, the device that drives the allegory, the actual message of the film, forward. It blows my mind how something that, in my opinion, is not hidden deep inside like oil but more like worms underneath the ground can be overlooked, but then again, there's no accounting for people's intelligence, specially on the Internet.

    But enough of being bitchy and complaining about strangers, what I came to say here today is that I greatly appreciate your analysis and if I could buy you a beer... well, I'd buy you 4 or 5 at least, haha. It was a great read, thank you very much. :)

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  20. I am somewhat amused by my ability to overlook all of the plot holes that set the scene for the movie (covered ad nauseum here and elsewhere), yet I am bothered by the way that it is somewhat ambiguous whether or not it was the characters' fault that the train crashed. Avalanches don't need an explosion to occur, although the way the avalanche occurs immediately after the explosion on the train, it is obvious that the timing of this avalance was caused by the explosion on the train. Yet, mankind was in such a precarious spot already, can we really say that it is the fault of the passengers that the train crashed? How did they not already derail a hundred times due to track warpage of freezing ground? Mankind had the ability to invent a perpetual engine, but ended up having to use toddlers to replace worn-out engine parts. We could produce enough food on the fly (even after the freeze) to continuously feed the passengers and crew, but not engine parts or cigarettes. It's not just the engine parts that would wear out in 18 years, but any moving part. Yet the only worn-out-looking part of the train is the rear section. Where did the rest of the train get its spare parts? Did they continuously scavenge the rear section to re-fit the rest of the train? How did that man in the silver suit come back to life after being so thoroughly killed? Oh, no! I have started with the plot hole questions, now I can't stop.
    I really enjoyed this movie, yet the nerd in me cries in frustration. I can see both sides. I am glad that it was made.

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  21. Awesome article. Awesome movie.

    List of things that don't add up in the movie:

    1. The tail-enders have to be seriously malnourished if they've been living on cockroach-protein bars for 18 years.
    2. Where do they find those cockroaches?
    3. Why are there a lot of axes and guns and night-vision goggles on a luxury train?
    4. What is that industrial waste Kronol? How do they make it? And why the hell is it named Kronol?
    5. The most baffling of all, Yona's clairvoyance!

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  22. I think the train is an analogy of the present world, that's why it takes a whole year to complete one cycle, just like our solar cycle. A world in which inhabitants of wealthy countries live comfortable lifestyles blindly looking away from the hard truth and extreme poverty of other countries. Even if its unfair and its far from a perfect system our world as the train is in a false equilibrium, we can pretend that its eternal but its deteriorating as the trains machinery and we have no replacement parts to fix it. The world as we know it will only exist if things keep moving as they are, if we dont think its moral, the only exit is to start from scratch.
    I found some resemblance in the following among many others

    The tail wagon.... Poor countries
    The guards.......NATO & CO
    The Protein bars.....The aid and rations that wealthier countries give away.
    The cook......... N.P.O.s good guy used as instrument
    The Warriors........The armed forces that protect the wealthier countries wellness in the name of freedom
    The water supply.......as in our world the most import good we posses.
    Education........a place where any idea can be brainwashed into a malleable mind, call it religion etc.

    Night club and drug lounge.......empty distractions for people in opulent countries who only look for pleasure
    Spa and sauna, body cult in wealthier countries
    The last cigarette, things we enjoy but we have used up and extinguished (clean environment, fauna and flora...)
    the machine room....where our global economy is ruled from, wars are planned and where certain ugly things are ignored and people sacrificed in order to keep the machine running (innocent dying, child labour, etc.)




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  23. Excellent review and interpretation. I find it amusing that a lot of people leaving comments are still bothered by 'plot holes' even after your exhaustive explanation of what the intent of the movie was. I agree with you that the movie was made with the presumption that the audience would be intelligent and I pity that your audience simply refuses to be enlightened.

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