Sunday, August 18, 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.


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 awful 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 laughable 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 beautiful allegorical story, so is Snowpiercer. Some might say that Snowpiercer is a lousy allegory because it doesn’t resemble the real world that we live in today. Those critics are not wrong. The movie doesn’t match the 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.


I watched Snowpiercer about two weeks ago, and when the movie ended, two thoughts occurred to me. The first thought that happened to me was that I had just witnessed a rare find – a film 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 the 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.

That there are only a small number of movie reviews for Snowpiercer that claims that the central 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 undoubtedly one of the topics that the film 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 authoritarianism 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 into 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.


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.


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 film 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, but 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 do 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 freeloaders. 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.


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 mealtime, 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 witnessed has been the result of, to use a euphemism, political mismanagement.


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.


Another theme that the movie touches on is how the train’s leaders treat the tail-enders. Early on in the film, 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 hurled 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 glory 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 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, pieces that are required 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 to manually repair the train. 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 give her an insect-like appearance, sports a thick Yorkshire accent, and her imperious lips appear perfect just to issue orders.


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 an extended length 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?

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 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 studies 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 undoubtedly 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 decadently rich binge excessively on alcohol and drugs indicate 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

What’s important to remember about the aquarium scene is that the fish in the aquarium is 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 sent 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 to ensure that the violent proletarian revolution would occur. This would compel both the tail-enders and the upper class to kill off one another. That way, the population of the train, both the tail-enders and the elites of the upper-class section, would be 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, even though 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.

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 on 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.

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 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 Wilford’s place 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.


The audience could easily sneer at the irony of Wilford’s self-pity. However, I doubt that Wilford was disingenuous. In fact, Wilford is likely the most self-aware and honest character in the entire movie. Unlike Mason, Wilford doesn’t suffer from any kind 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. 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’s desire to fulfill his thoughts and desires is nothing more than a circular logic. He wishes to rule, and they want 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

Gilliam, on the other hand, is a more complicated 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.


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 to whom people are being commanded to sacrifice. However, it doesn’t change the fact that people are being ordered to make sacrifices. And it stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, someone is collecting sacrificial offerings. Where there is service, someone is 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 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 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.


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 was 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.


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, 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, mainly 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 unique 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 film 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 faithful to his vision, his truth.  He could have compromised; tried to be all the things that were 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. 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, to say 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.



  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.

    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.

    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.

    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!

    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).

    5. John from Daejeon, you are an idiot... I will not elaborate on that, however I do feel it needs to be said.

    6. The train must have been nuclear powered, possibly using thorium. It's main job was to clear the tracks. The train had to keep moving on that circular track. If it stopped even for an hour in that intense cold they would never get it moving again. In that case the tracks would not be cleared and the train would slowly become buried in snow, spelling doom for its passengers. As long as the train kept moving there was at least some hope. Perhaps the climate would eventually improve. However, the movie doesn't answer all my questions. "Who repairs the track when it needs fixing?"

    7. Maybe no one. What I found interesting was the fact that Wilford and everyone else refers to the train as having an 'infinite engine' despite the fact that parts of it are breaking and have to be replaced by child slave labour. They've been running for 17 years non-stop and things are starting to fall apart. The engine is clearly not infinite, but the mental investment in the idea of it is so great that no one except Minsu can picture a society that doesn't have the train in it. They think of it as the infinite engine because they *have to* for survival as they know it to make any sense. The engine is finite in the same way that the Earth is finite.

  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.

    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.

  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.

    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.

    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.

  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.

    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.

  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.

    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.

    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...

  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.

  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?

    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.

    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.

    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

    4. Anyone drawing parallels with Huxley's Brave New World? My rationale is rather a drop in the philosophical sea, but I feel that the whole thing with Ford, which is even similar in name, is the enlightened despot, the citizens live in a contained environment with distinct social classes and seek to please themselves, you have a tormented outsider trying to figure out things, you have the same social themes.

  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.


    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.

    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.

    3. Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses

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

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

    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.

    2. That could be - although I could see a simpler reason: they symbolically spill the blood of an actual fish before they metaphorically cull the figurative fish of the uprising. Interestingly, the sushi station lets the people of the train enjoy the fruits of this practice, and it would seem that those involved in the "person cull" also get the side benefit of enjoying this necessary activity...

      Just saw the film in Austin, Texas!

    3. To maintain your analysis, John, might it be that the slaughter of the fish was symbolic of the coming slaughter of the occupants from the rear of the train? After all, Mason did point out in a later scene that the fish were culled on a regular basis in order to maintain "balance".

      The fact that Curtis slips and falls on the fish may have added symbolism, I'm not sure. It certainly felt a little bit too much like slapstick when I was watching the film in the moment.

      Wonderful analysis and discussion here. What a joy to have found this!

  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 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.

    1. Not surprised that you're surprised. Are you special or something?

    2. Spoken like a true blue collar moron, Sean.

  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!

  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:

    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...

  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...

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

    2. My guess? Because they're just as much a part of the train as the other worn-out parts of the train. [Know your place, keep your place?]. Wilford was probably the wisest character on the train (putting aside the forced hero worship), and that wisdom does not tend to make somebody happy (despite the presence of steak dinners); he knew he was 'worn out', needed to be replaced.

      For such a closed system to work, substitution on a much grander scale becomes necessary. In the real world, this is diluted; in the fictional world of the train, it's concentrated: they're every bit performing a task that is as meaningful and repetitive as the children tasked with keeping the engine running. Were these children not performing a sacrifice? Did these children not, perhaps, have more wisdom than Curtis himself, at the end there, refusing to budge?

      FWIW, I actually disagree with some of what the author wrote; what I most disagree with is the conclusion (never mind how much I disliked the ending of the movie from a logical perspective). There are differences between temporary sacrifices and totalitarianism to retain order in order to eventually relinquish it and give freedom, and permanent sacrifices and totalitarianism purely for the sake of BELIEVING what is 'best for the people'.

      To John: A question: While sacrifices must be made, is it, or was it, Curtis's, or anybody else's, right to choose to sacrifice everybody else for THEIR philosophy? In the end, wasn't Curtis, et al, worse than Wilford himself? Didn't Curtis make the far more selfish and totalitarian choice? He became worse than the monster that he was asked to become to keep a system of balances in place (that was quite obviously not one that Wilford actually cherished, although it's arguably more physically comfortable, there were flaws satisfying all characters' respective Maslowian needs).

      Since you consider yourself a Rand fan, were you reminded at all of a specific scene in a certain book where a particular female character deliberately dropped a work of art, and why?

      The problem is, the train needed to be the way it needed to be to function. Getting back to the original answer to Ladislav, though: Yet more allegory.

      At the end, didn't Curtis, et al, make the same hasty choice as the scientists' that released the chemicals out into the world to begin with? There was plenty of time to be judicious in Curtis's case; he was GIVEN control of the train.

      The remainder of the allegory, perhaps: People will never learn.

    3. Hah. The OP's most recent post quite largely referenced Maslow, and I'd only come to this page via a Google search on Snowpiercer. Synchronicity?

  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.

  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.


  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.


    bernard baruch carman
    ∞Liberty (
    ∞ ∞ ∞

  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.

  19. Grateful AnonymousApril 9, 2014 at 4:33 AM

    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. :)

  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.

  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!

  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 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.)

    1. I agree, this was the analogy I thought of too when watching it.

    2. You do know the liberals caused this mass ice age due to their climate change hysteria? Chew on dat.

    3. Yes and the Viewers are the elite.


  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.

  24. I really enjoyed reading your article, as I did watching the film, and it gave me much to think about. Thank you!

    1. Check out my blog too at:


  25. I don't know if anyone has played the game Bioshock, but this movie is very, very, much like the first one :))

  26. Thank you John, for the detailed views.

  27. Thank you very much for the time you took to analyze the movie and write a lenghty (in a positive meaning) interpretation of it. Great work on your part and I agree with most of your conclusions. Your blog just got bookmarked!

  28. You have a good blog with a detailed analysis. You really have to check out my blog I´ll be posting on 8Ap2014. I think I can add to your analysis. I´m impressed with your blog.
    I enjoyed the movie "Snowpiercer" and put it on my blog at



  29. good analysis!
    The only thing is though, I didn't like Curtis's decision in the end...Wilford and Gilliam were right: you have to maintain the balance. If I were Curtis, I would take over as the train driver, then try to implement some democracy...but hell, that would be too messy...and impractical. No one would want to go to the tail.

    The big issue then, is the fact that people can't move between carriages. So I would implement a system where people are assigned to a carriage based on their skill sets...or do rotations or something. This would be a near perfect system.

  30. "Although this movie is certainly an allegorical tale that criticizes tyranny, and not capitalism as anti-capitalists would have people believe"

    Yes, its not a capitalist system on the train, but capitalism and tyranny are not divisible. When wealth is inherited, you can't seperate capitalism from a feudal heirarchy. Social mobility is at around 5-10% at the upper range, most people even within capitalism occupy the strata into which they are born.

  31. Anyone who has taken an even basic political science course knows that the separation between capitalism and totalitarianism is a matter of degree. This movie is absolutely a critique of capitalism because inequality has become so high that it has turned into a totalitarian society. It's pretty simple, for you evangelical libertarians out there: capitalism inevitably turns into totalitarianism without proper democratic constraints. When do democratic constraints fail? Oh, thats right, when a small group of people own pretty much everything. I'll let you imagine the wild scenario where that could possibly happen *ahem* *seems eerily familiar* *ahem* *use your fucking head*. Anyway, when capitalism reaches a certain point of inequality, it becomes totalitarian - any moron who has a poll sic degree will tell you that. Have you ever studied political science, sociology, or public policy, you unimaginable twit (the original author)? The point is that ideology in any form will inevitably doom you to the fate of any circular system (ours). It doesn't matter who takes over the train, whether it be stalin or ghandi, because the real world is OUTSIDE OF THE TRAIN. Following revolutionary or oppressive orders dooms everyone to remain within the given system. Thats why it doesn't matter who takes over - the next leader will inevitably become more radical and end up in the same place that his predecessor did. The point is that religious/political ideology (lets face it - same thing) create a bounded world where people ignore the facts (the existence of fucking wildlife in a supposedly dead world, for example) and create their own narratives to replace it. As these narratives are passed down they create restrictive environments (the train) where groups of people fight each other for theoretical control of a space that doesn't matter anyway (because there's actually an entire living world out there). If you can't see this film as a critique of capitalism, because capitalism eventually becomes totalitarianism if left unchecked, and because capitalism is an ideology that limits the sphere of human activity to a system of rewards/punishments/material excess, I don't know what to say to you that the director wouldn't. This film is a critique of ideology that limits the scope of human endeavour and keeps it in a small space where it decays and eventually becomes cannibalistic. Why do you think Minsu's goal, a man who couldn't give a shit about either side of the 'revolution'/'establishment', was to open the door? He knew that they were trapped in a never ending cycle and that whoever went into the engine room would just become part of it. This film is a critique of established political ideologies and a warning of what will continue to happen if no one says 'hey, maybe there's something else'.

    1. Did you read the first paragraph of the article and then feel unable to resist the urge to comment before reading the full piece? The OP recognizes that the movie is a critique of totalitarian systems but they argue (well) that it is not specifically capitalist. Your specific fixation on capitalism is countered quite cleanly by points the OP makes above. Neither does the movie support the search for "something else", it sets up a choice between an immoral system and (quite probably) nothing else and suggests that in some situations immoral systems aren't worth sustaining no matter the cost.

      Despite the OPs interest in Objectivism the movie does not, however, seem to offer any form of support to such a worldview. Arguing against Utilitarianism does not equate to support for Objectivism. The latter (being a philosphy hand-tooled for sociopaths and psychopaths) is hardly a reasonable counterpoint to a closed system dominated by a dynamic cult-worshipped engineer. Despite his desire to "stop the engine of the world", Curtis is far less a John Galt figure than Wilford - the epitome of both Objectivist and rational Utilitarian success (as the OP points out, this is what Wilford wants, it just also happens to be the (rational) greatest happiness for the greatest number).

      The psychopath comment is not simply a jab at Objectivists. Unlike what Rand could know in her time (believing in the blank state and the shaping of people by their own thoughts and actions), neuroscience has now made quite clear that we are not universal simulacra, but rather differ fundamentally in what was once considered 'human nature'. Some are born with heightened empathy, leading them toward specific patterns of socialisation, others deficit in the same faculties, leading them toward far more self-serving patterns of behavior. Objectivism's focus on rational self-fulfillment simply encourages and exonerates the exploitation of social structures by individuals unbound by social drives. While Neitzschean arguments might be made for such views, I do not see anywhere that the movie does so.

      In contrast to Objectivism's "rational self interest" the anti-utilitarian view would be that as emotional animals there are points at which an emotional (rather than logic based) morality will just say "anything/nothing is better than this continued travesty". Curtis's actions seem quite clearly driven by emotional reaction, in the moment fast thinking, rather than rational slow thinking (with Wilford and Gilliam both pointing out that Curtis is smart but too intense, i.e. emotional rather than cooly rational).

      Of course, purely my own interpretation and I lay it out here not to try to convert others but just to suggest another way in which this movie might be read. The fact that it can generate such discussion is certainly a rarity in movies aimed at a relatively wide audience.

    2. All of the totalitarian regimes of the past 100 years have been socialist or communist in nature. Fascism is communism just with indirect state control. All of the non-totalitarian, moderately free first world countries on the planet are capitalist, or in China's case state-crony-capitalist. This movie is not an indictment of capitalism - there isn't even capitalism on the train. It's a clone of NK's class system, where rationing and privilege is based on your bloodline(in this case, ticket.)

      Also, there is no need to be a troll. We can have an enlightened convo without insults.

    3. Bran, I agree with your comment about Objectivism. I do not see how it applies in this movie.

    4. Bran: your problem has to do with the fact that you have no understanding of objectivism and only base your assumptions on logical fallacies.

  32. Also all of the people who are just 'exasperated' by the lack of scientific plausibility would be better off reading a technical manual than any work of fiction, even science fiction. You do realise that real science fiction is meant to illustrate a social concept, not to provide a manual on how to build a robot/train/interstellar spaceship? You do realise that those are ideas that are not meant to be fully fleshed out, right? If you can't see the overall philosophical point of a story because they didn't sufficiently chronicle how poultry is cultivated then I can't help but feel sorry for you.

  33. I am very impressed with this essay, and it has definitely expanded my thoughts on the film after seeing it and reviewing it myself. Thank you for your wonderful efforts.

  34. Great Movie, it definitely got my brain turning. However... to bring the story of Noah and the Ark into play here is ridiculous. Can't people just believe that we have an all mighty Creator that can do anything He wants. He did create us and if he saw fit to destroy us, like He did in the flood, then so be it. Also it is not absurd to think that carnivores and herbivores lived together in the ark without killing each other, GOD is GOD and He CAN do anything. It is such a pity this day and age when people just don't believe in an awesome and almighty Creator and have to push it off as a "story" and then say we just all evolved by chance by a Big Bang... what a sad sad world we do live in. One day people will know the truth, and sadly by then it will be to late. But that is just my opinion and people can believe whatever they see fit.

  35. Hi there, I found your thoughts to be absolutely fascinating. I was wondering if you had deduced any sort of meaning surrounding the animals and the train traveling around the world. Those thoughts may sound a bit muddled, but I had read a YouTube comment on the trailer a while back that was explaining some sort of philosophical mode that had to do with the animals (fish, polar bears, etc) and the train traveling around the world making a full circle. I've been searching for a good hour now and still cannot find that comment or anything relating to what the writer was referring to. Any help here, because I would love to find out/remember what the writer was referring to. Cheers!

  36. Hey there. I just watched this on Vudu - apparently you can rent it on your Xbox, or see it in theaters here in America right now. I'm very glad we got the full cut.

    You see, I have a bit of a fascination with communist history, and in particular, North Korea, because for some reason totalitarian systems have always been of great interest to me. I am currently the majority of the way through Brad Martin's anthem "Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader," and have read many previous works on the country as well as a tome on Mao to get some contextual history on China. I can readily say I am probably more of an expert on North Korea than most South Koreans.

    I was struck watching this film how much it was like an anglicized North Korea microcosm, and afterwards, reading reviews off rotten tomatoes I was struck how many people painted this in the same lines as "Elysium" and other liberal nonsense movies that cry out against capitalism. It has nothing to do with capitalism - there isn't even any money on the damn train. Like you said, it's all ration based - something the Occupiers here would welcome based on how you ask about their healthcare preferences.

    I googled "Snowpiercer North Korea" and thank God your review showed up. I very much enjoyed finding out I was not insane, that I was not the only one who saw the clear parallels here. This is the best movie to come out this summer, and I doubt anybody will see it here - instead they'll see Transformers: Extinction, a movie that is sure to be garbage and teach nobody anything.

    Thanks again!

    1. I'm surprised that the producer of this movie didn't get in trouble for making he is Korean...

  37. Nice review, but you did miss the point I think: it's about totalitarian regimes including and especially capitalist "brave new totalitarian" regimes like the US. as Neibur said, belief in the american dream represents a gross underestimate of the odds, and the film's depiction of a dog eat dog world where the havenots claw their way to first class is classic capitalism.

    1. The US is far from capitalistic. Tell me again how i without problem can run a hospital or lets say establish a bank without involving the government and without paying taxes.

      Capitalism is a marked based on freedom and vaulentary action protected by the law. Nothing more. When the government and politicians start meddling, and your property rights are being violated it is the opposite of capitalism.

  38. This movie does not in any way respect your intelligence. There are so many problems with the settings are so numerous that any intelligence person would just have to shake their head and suspend their disbelief at it.

    This isn't something allegorical like Animal Farm. The movie is presented as is and expects you to take it as is, not like a fable. The symbolism is heavy and tiredly obvious, the social commentary is heavy handed, and the philosophy is tacked on but hard to pay attention to because of how nonsensical the plot is.

    I also highly disagree with a lot of your points, such as your analysis in Wilford, whom you say is easy to breakdown. Wilford is a dreamer, not a power hungry ruler. You missed that very basic fact about his personality. The price of running the train isn't what you said it was; it's loneliness.

    And a lot of other things. You are defending this movie way too much, there's just so much wrong with it.

    Aside from obvious issues like where did the cattle and chicken and coxkroaches come from, there's the bigger fundamental issue of why there is even a tail end to begin with. Unlike your medieval feudal society analogy (which is incorrect ) this train doesn't need a peasant class. The food harvesting is done by some middle class workers who are doing a good job at it. Your peasant class, the tail end, is actually nothing but deadweight -- they literally do nothing on the train. There is no reason for them to exist in this train. Wilford apparently didn't even know how to feed them at first when they first boarded the train.

    This very core problem with the way the train is setup just tells you why the film fails as a narrative: it doesn't make sense internally. The answer to why there is a tailed is this : it's needed to create the setting for my philosophical bantering. But not because it makes sense. And that is what you call pretentious nonsense. For anyone of intelligence, an allegory or symbolism is sloppy when the real world sense of it collapses. And that is why this film has major problems.

    1. Good point. They could farm kids from any class as everyone was indoctrinated into the concept of being there for a purpose, for the greater good.
      I do think it took Wilford time to figure out how to feed the lower class and may have taken time to grow the cockroaches. He may have gotten rid of the lower class if he didn't think taking the kids from the upper class was too painful for them.
      I wonder if Wilford was the true objectivist: coming up with this train was ingenious and he had to keep it working. As per Roark, he made it the way he wanted.
      I think the train is a great place to be until the world is inhabitable.

  39. I loved this movie. So intelligent and important and so glad that the director stuck to his guns and took limited release with his Whole Movie Intact - over bowing to greedy demands. Many will watch this movie and dismiss it; dislike it. Pick it apart based on small inconsistencies -- miss the forest for the trees. But that's because North American cinema goers have been fed a dumbed down diet of popcorn fare (not unlike roach made protein bars?) for far too long. Many will flock to the see the movie due to Chris Evans/Captain America and probably be disappointed because he doesn't take his shirt off once. They won't make the connection that in seeing LESS of Mr. Evans, we are actually seeing MORE of him. So impressed with his performance -- but I hold little hope that he will see an Oscar nomination for this little film unless word of mouth spreads far and wide. I really enjoyed your review -- fantastic and informative! Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. Admittedly, I picked it up to see Evans. He was actually Sexier in this movie than all his others...

  40. I am trivialized by your empathetic attempt to demonize feudalism as the antagonistic theme instead of truthfully agreeing with the author/director's contempt towards capitalism. Considering the technological and scientific advances of this movie's setting, it is provided that remaining individuals of this society has already undergone essential stages of Marxist capitalism. That is to say few individuals have achieved capitalist monopoly and as a result formed the institutionalized authority (i.e the train) which acquires dictatorial power (i.e the enforcers) to overrule the lower class. Conclusively, snow piercer should instead be viewed as a film that, in light of core Marxist revolutionary ideals, evaluates the inevitability and the spontaneity of capitalism's self-destruction and it's natural evolution into Utopia

    1. I was about to write a thoughtful reply but as soon as I saw that you associated capitalism with dictatorial power and the word "Utopia," I gave up. I might as well talk to a brick wall. Good day.

    2. You seem to be unable to understand that 2 wrong dont give 1 right. For the supressed it matters not if the dictator is the collective or the single "fuhrer".

      Capitalism is nothing more than a free market in a republic. A state based on laws protecting the individual freedom and property rights. Corporativism, fascism, communism etc has nothing to do with capitalism. How can a market be free if its controlled by the state.

  41. Explain this.

    In this movie, at a certain altitude, one of our prisoners is punished by having his hand stuck out a porthole for 7 minutes. It is apparently so deathly cold that the area around his arm has to be SEALED so no cold air can get it. When the arm is released, we discover that it shatters like glass, suggesting that it is liquid-nitrogen-cold out there.

    Fine. Fair. Immediately makes an argument for the train. Sets up the biggest antagonist (the climate) Satisfactory.

    However, after the mutiny, which is,I can only imagine, within 24 hours to 3 days after this incident, two people (at comparable altitude because they're still in the mountains) are able to not only walk outside in minimal dressing (faces weren't even covered..) but their breath doesn't even condense?

    Then,to add insult to injury, a goddamned POLAR BEAR has somehow managed to make a life in these frigid mountains, despite the fact that polar bears survive on diets of marine fish and require ice floes and OCEAN to survive.

    The presence of this apex predator means there has to be sufficient prey items. Which, for a polar bear on a mountain, there are not.

    This movie took place 18 years from the present. Meaning evolution has not had time to create a mountain-dwelling polar bear. This could imply that human beings are wandering around outside and have been caring for animals and setting up artificial environments for them. An acceptable solution to the bear problem. But NOT to the nagging conundrum that JUST 24 HOURS AGO, IT WAS COLD ENOUGH TO CRYSTALIZE A MAN'S ARM IN 7 MINUTES.

    Even if they had managed to chug on down almost to sea level in that time, liquid-nitrogen temperatures at high altitudes would still mean uninhabitable temperatures at sea level.

    This movie had the power to be something quite amazing but instead, we get fed this rubbish? Come on. I'm furious at that ending.

    This doesn't negate the interesting little social questions. But it certainly makes a circus of science. Which makes it hard to take any of it seriously.

    1. I already said that the movie was based on very bad science fiction and also made the point about the polar bear. And then also said the movie was about allegory than realistic science.

    2. Having just watched Snowpiercer last night, I do remember they mentioned "At this attitude, it will only take 7 minutes", implying they were at high altitude - plus the train was moving at a high rate of speed. I don't know the details of what is takes to crystalize a man's arm in 7 minutes so I'll just accept the movie premise.

      Okay, fine. Like you, I still don't see how it could be survivable whatever altitude they found themselves at the end , and they still seemed to be in the mountains and not near sea-level. There was no evidence of them being able to eat or find shelter anywhere outside the train.

      I can perhaps imagine some animals surviving such as marine life and those adapted to the cold, but the Polar bear in the mountains was still a stretch.

  42. Doesn't the ending illustrate the precarious path we are currently treading Ella .... ?

    Perhaps our survival potential as a human species, after all is said and done, the wars are manufactured and fought, the population culled, the environment tinkered with and the consequences faced.
    We might find ourselves with as much chance of survival as the hapless pair at the end.

    For me the issues with the polar bear, and missing explanations in the portrayal
    of things in the movie did not detract from the message

  43. Objectivism plays well in the corporate boardroom but nobody wants to see it in the multi-plex.
    As human beings we are moved by self sacrifice, empathy, and the vulnerability of children. The three things Ayn Rand most despised!
    The pivotal backstory that drives the film is Gilliam cutting off his arm and offering it to Curtiss and the other cannibals so they won’t eat a baby. Rand would consider this a nightmarishly obscene example of ‘altruistic self-sacrifice’ . She considered even giving money to strangers ‘immoral’ much less giving away your arm to save a baby of someone you don’t know. Rand made a huge distinction between sacrifice for your family, which she considered acceptable and sacrifice for strangers which she considered the ultimate in immorality.
    Note that the filmmakers make a specific point of Curtiss saying ‘the old man didn’t even know the mother’ .
    Gilliams self-mutilation inspires the other tail enders to cut off their own flesh an offer it as food.
    Collectivism run amok! From this event forms a society and a resistance movement. Curtiss is transformed from a monster to a man and ultimately a leader.
    I’m sure it was not the intent of the filmmakers to tear apart the ethical bankruptcy of Objectivism, it’s just implicit in any narrative work that has even a shred of humanity in it’s premise.

    1. You have made some sweeping pronouncements about Rand. Provide citations to back up your claims or admit that you are a peddler of nonsensical and malicious second-hand knowledge.

    2. You sir have not understood a single word of Rands teachings. There is a big difference being forced to do something and choosing to do something. -

      If i as a objecitivst choose to give some money to the salvation army one day instead of buying a hot dog and soda at the bus-stop - this is a choice. I choose to help someone else because it gives me something i value more there and then than a quick meal.

  44. I enjoyed you're analysis, especially the later part of the article that focused on utilitarianism and the price of survival - at what point does "the greater good" become irrelevant compared to the infringement and abuse of an individual's rights. While I agree that it is highly likely the train acts as a metaphor for North Korea it seemed like a predictable conclusion considering the movie is from a South Korean director and involves totalitarianism and human rights abuse maybe forgot your own advice of ignoring current events when considering the movies greater context. Personally I would argue that the train is a metaphor for the brutal possibilities when utilitarianism and capitalism combine in a post apocalyptic setting - a not so subtle warning about the future but that's just my opinion. Thanks for a good and thought-provoking read!

  45. I know they who had not freedom are who love it more, but freedom when is took as a good by herself, when our identity as humans is defined only by it, destroys his own sense and his value. There is nothing more trivial than to choose when even the lifes of the humans arround us means nothing to us. What can we expect of someone who says that all kinds human cooperation is slavery? Charles Taylor has already spoken about how individualism and narcisism forget about the importance of others in our development of humans. We can pretend we have nothing to do with our rrsemblants.

    1. Cooperation =/= collectivism. To oppose collectivism is not the same as to oppose vaulentary actions of cooperation.

      Your text is a logical fallacy.

  46. I went to be entertained and it was great. Enjoyed your comments John Lee. However, the movie for me was just plain fun to watch & enjoy.

  47. John,

    Exceptional analysis and conclusions. I am an objectivist and was concerned as I watched the film. Tilda Swinton's performance was too great a misconception of Ayn Rand and her philosophy to ignore. From the exceptionally sarcastic physical representation, to the twisted view of her ideas, there were simply too many contradictions. However, I was pleasantly surprised by your review. I agree that one of the dominant themes was the battle between extreme self-sacrifice and tyranny. However, I was unable to determine if filmmaker unintentionally condoned objectivism by an inability to distinguish it from tyranny, or was it more of a feint in an attempt to stimulate critical thought from the viewer. I sincerely hope it’s the latter. Regardless, I enjoyed your explanation. Thank you for taking the time to put your thoughts on paper.

  48. Your post is thought-provoking, thank you very much. I did not see an explanation as to why sacrifice for the benefit of a dictator is morally superior to sacrifice for the benefit of a group. Also, within the fiction of the film, presumably, those who were confined together in the rear of the train: they are not merely an anonymous collective, but the movie showed them as a family might be, intimate and caring for one another, as this is our natural state, even in the very worst of circumstances. This is a hopeful message. This is where Moral Objectivism appeals to those without compassion for others, and lust for their own gain. We, as a neighborhood, a city, a country, a world, are not merely abstract entities. We are a family on that level. Finally, I would argue that the devotion to the train and its engine, are parallel to capitalism's devotion to "the market," that magical, mechanical thing that keeps us all at one another's throats and objectifies all. May today argue that "the market" solves all problems, when it is actually just the law of the jungle; and they fail to observe that "the market" only exists within the confines of the regulations put upon it to keep it humane and not savage. --Bob

    1. You have not understood the analysis and objectivism at all. The whole idea that something does not exist outside of a collective is a logical fallacy.

      You sir are just potty-trained to see no world outside your own political religion.

      You are among the many that just "dont get it".

  49. What happens to the kids when they grow up and cant fit anymore? They become part of the upper caste?

    1. No, I Think that the fate of the kids that cannot fit anymore in the small engine compartments is death. Remember that they are ot heard from again after they are kidnapped. They are the expendable caste taken from the end of the train. The kids from the front of the train remain in the priviledged caste.

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  50. Mr Lee,
    Great review. I might suggest that you look at Wilford's situation a little differently. Remember that all those folks in the back of the train forced their way on board. As the train master, he could have just as easily cut those cars loose. He didn't. It took him awhile to figure out how to feed those newly acquired masses hence the required cannibalization and eventual cockroach/black bar solution. I can't remember the exact words, but he even said that resources are finite. He had planned out feeding and care of the initial population of the train. Those plans didn't account for the influx of unplanned humans that he obviously couldn't just kill. So while we get the story told from the view of the less fortunate, there were cards dealt to the "master" that were not part of the plan. I would suggest that the need for small children to keep the engine running was a necessity that presented itself only after years and years of continuous use... there was no other solution. I would also suggest that a conversation took place between Willard and Gilliam where they both realized the necessity of cannibalization until the food solution could be found. This is the reason the Gilliam was the first to sacrifice.

  51. John, very interesting interpretation. I read your synopsis but I have not read through the comments, so I hope I am not redundant. I just watched the film last night on Netflix. I do agree that it was never about capitalism--if one's main focus is anti-capitalist politics, all depictions of class conflict will appear to be about capitalism--when you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Or something. However, I did not think of it as an allegory of North Korea. Indeed, after reading your interpretation, it is not surprising that someone who saw the film in Korea, which was made by a Korean director, saw clear parallels to the Kim Regime in North Korea, and that I, a New York City transplant to rural Pennsylvania, never once considered that interpretation. I am with you all the way, though, until your analysis of Gilliam. I think I get what you are saying, I just wonder about his purported ideology of "slaves to each other" and the emptiness of it all. I thought that the train was an allegory of the world, society in general, or a society in general, which is based on a system of limited resource. The haves and have-nots are a product of this limited system--everyone can't have everything, so much of our social or political energy is allocated towards divvying it up "fairly," deciding what "fairly" looks like and why. Whether or not resources are truly limited doesn't matter, because it is what we believe, because we are on this weird train going around the world amid an ice age. Why are we on a train in the first place and how little sense that makes doesn't really matter either because that is where we are--continually moving "forward," but really just traveling in a perpetual circle. Therefore the only revolution to change the train-world order embodies just the train. I do think it is a metaphor for the futility of current revolutions, and indeed that "and then what" question, because all these revolutions are still accepting the perceived finality of the train as our social condition, and that all that matters is getting to the front of the train, or the top, or whatever. Instead, I thought the movie was saying, get off the friggin' train--of course it is scary, and seems impossible to do, but everything seems impossible right before you do it. I thought Willford was authoritarian rule, but I thought Gilliam wasn't quite socialism-as-the-mirror-of-authoritarianism, but rather a mechanism to illustrate that perpetual conflict enables the stagnation of progress, and Gilliam, first as a genuine agent of conflict for the good of his people but later revealed to be a clear accomplice, holding up this conflict which really is cooperation maintaining the status quo. In the end we all equally fear the unknown, including an unknown social order. Gilliam has the same lack of imagination as Wilford, and even Curtis, because none of them consider getting off the train.
    Or something.
    -Erin S.

    1. Hello. As I wrote this in August 2013, this is a rather old blog post for me now. So, although I get notifications whenever someone leaves a comment, I don't tend to reply, because most of the other comments are somewhat redundant. However, I really liked this one. I am sticking to my guns, of course, but I think cannot help but find your views just as respectable. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.

  52. Snowpiercer is a very good Korean, scifi film that takes Place on a train in an environmentally ruined world. It is an original film that shocks and intrigues. It´s the prison archetype in storytelling and dystopian. I highly recommend Snowpiercer. It´s a fantastic film that could very well have a sequel.

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  53. My first experience of this film was in November, 2015, when it was broadcast on Showtime.

    I just want someone to interpret the word, "snowpiercer," and what that means. I do believe that it has something to do with crashing/slashing the idea that superiority, whether moral, intellectual or socioeconomic, must rule. (Is a snowflake perfect in form?) Then my thoughts take me to the idea that there is/has been (in numerous places, throughout history) a superior idea of social classes, as in one group is more intellectually and emotionally capable of ruling over another. Then these thoughts take me back, way back, in anthropology and I think of the development of man's bicameral mind.

    Numbers and language rule. Linear thought and logic rule, as in left-brain over right-brain, linear vs. global thinking. I do keep coming back (note how the train and thought are close in metaphorical symbolism) to the idea that a train is the very essence of anything linear (whether thermodymamic or thought): it bolts us forward in space, as technology has us presently doing and that, "in the end" we must allow for a more elaborate form or idea of reality (something more dimensional than linear thinking) to develop. (I love the scene where the woman and child take off in the snow to determine if they CAN survive, as they look up and see the polar bear, walking in the snow: perhaps, the wreck and avalanche has "pierced" the linear way.) Children may run the train, but "obviously," they cannot conduct it.

    Another idea on "snowpiercing:" If we look at the roots of the word's etymological meaning...let's say, Christ on the cross (Christ being symbolically a prism of thought, a "crystal" of sorts, in fact, like a snowflake), must stop the crucifixion of any who are deemed "unworthy," with His mercy, so that all men and women can thrive, at last, and so that God, as it may be, can survive.

    But can the human race, without stratification and cull, "knowing their place," survive? [This is where about three of months of pondering the movie's central message has brought me.] Powerful questions here.