This article we’re breaking down Snowpiercer.
The tv adaptation is just about to drop so there’s never been a better time to revisit the movie and discuss all of the ins and outs of it.
Throughout this, we’ll be breaking down the movie’s overall plot, it’s many messages and the overall meaning to it’s ending.
There will be Heavy Spoilers here so if you haven’t had a chance to check out the film yet and don’t want anything ruined then I highly recommend that you turn off now.
With that out the way thank you for clicking this, now let’s get into our breakdown of Snowpiercer.
Snowpiercer is a high concept post-apocalyptic film that not only talks about our society as a whole but how human nature and greed often get in the way of doing the right thing.
In the early 2000s, Global Warming was slowly starting to devastate the planet and in an attempt to cool down the Earth, scientists launched rockets into the stratosphere. This backfired and created a frozen wasteland in 2014 that wiped out the majority of the species.
Those that were able to, bought, or snuck their way onto a train built by a genius engineer known as Wilford. The train was built by the mechanical magnate to circulate the world until the ice melted and humanity could venture back outside and try to rebuild civilisation.
In some ways, it’s similar to Noah’s Arc and there are a lot of biblical metaphors laced throughout. Wilford in some ways is a God, he’s referred to as malevolent, the children study him in school and there’s almost a cult-like worship of him. Wilford is also omnipresent throughout the train, almost able to see all and he has created the ecosystem on board it, providing all those with food, water, and life.
Revolution too is a keyword as it not only highlights the movement that we follow on the train but also the train itself. As it sails around the world, each time it comes full circle it is known as a revolution and this is a nice tie back to the overall plot itself.
Snowpiercer Plot Recap
We pick up with the train in 2031 and see the class structure that exists within it first hand through the eyes of Curtis. Those in the tail of the train have had to resort to cannibalism, are punished for speaking up, and live day to day, obsessed with surviving.
Their arms are frozen and broken off as punishment, they’re split apart from their families and their children are abducted for a purpose I’ll get into later.
They’re also fed protein blocks which we discover through the film are actually made out of insects and if you are what you eat, then this definitely highlights how the people that exist in the tail are viewed.
They’re classed as freeloaders because they snuck onto the train, berated by political figures and undervalued, however, we discover at the end of the film that they provide an essential service.
The film carries the message that in the face of inequality, the only option that the lower class has is to revolt.
It’s something that definitely feels more relevant today, especially in the wake of lockdown and we are often asked whether the economy is worth more than human life. It’s something that this movie tackles with too and it becomes clear throughout the film that those in the tail are merely kept alive in order to allow the rich to survive and keep the train moving.
I’ll get more into this as we go further into the video but you quickly realize that the 5 and top 1% have basically imprisoned the lower class in a system that they aren’t really able to rise up escape from. There’s a moment at the beginning in which is Violin player is requested to go to the front and I think this symbolizes how those born poor often only manage to escape it through either theatrical talents or through sport. It’s very much a case of if you are unable to entertain then you will be stuck in a prison in which you are solely used as a commodity.
After another devastating child abduction, Curtis’ decides that it’s time to start a revolution. He goes to his father figure Gilliam and they decide that in order to get control of the train they have to get control of the engine. Initially, there is a lot of fear surrounding this and most just want to mind their own business, preferring to live day to day rather than sacrificing themselves for the greater good.
I told you it was laced with social commentary.
However, after they realise the guards have no ammunition due to having to stop so many revolutions in the past, they decide to move forward.
They free a prisoner known as Namgoong, a Kronole addict that worked as a security specialist on the train before being jailed. Kronole is actually a drug used to subdue prisoners on the train and put them in suspension but it was modified for street use and passed down into the tail. Namgoong becomes a great ally and along with his clairvoyant daughter Yona, the rebels make their way up the train.
Here they notice an iced-over plane that is slightly visible whereas the year prior it wasn’t and this shows that the ice is beginning to unthaw.
You really get the feeling that Curtis is willing to do anything for his revolution and he even sacrifices his friend Edgar in order to capture a high ranking official known as Minister Mason. Curtis makes his way up the train with Mason, Namgoong, Yona, Grey, Tanya and Andrew. The latter of the two had their children taken from them in the beginning and their fate ties into the end.
The movie is laced with incredible action scenes as the rebels make their way up the train we see the lavish carriages, a garden of eden like greenhouse, aquarium, classroom and more.
The classroom is indoctrinating the children and their teacher attacks the rebels. In the tail, a member of Wilford’s forces takes Gilliam hostages and he executes him
In the tail a staff member of Wilford known as Franco executes Gilliam and angered by this Curtis returns to the favor by shooting Mason. The group go forward but Franco catches up and shoots at them from a classroom. He stalks them and kills Tanya and Grey.
In a Spa carriage, they fight with Franco and seemingly manage to kill him. Curtis promises to find Tanya’s son Timmy and they head upwards.
It’s here that we learn of Curtis’ past and all the things that he’s had to do to survive. It’s revealed that the tailies resorted to cannibalism in order to survive and that Curtis almost ate Edgar as a baby. Gilliam gave Curtis his arm instead and thus he was able to survive. I believe that this metaphorically shows that those in the 1% are willing to let those below them fight amongst themselves and literally eat each other in order to take their eyes off who is really in power. They can’t fight those at the top if they’re fighting amongst themselves.
It reminds me of how people often blame immigrants, those on benefits and the lower rungs of society for being the problem because that is what they are fed by the press. However, these groups often don’t have any real power and therefore we are pointing the blame in the wrong direction.
They were then given protein blocks in order to be thankful for the little crumbs that they had whilst those further up the chain still lived their lavish lifestyles.
The survivors reach the last care before the engine which is sealed but Namgoong and Yona reveal that Kronole is an explosive and just as they are about to blow open a hole to the outside, Wilford opens the door.
Claude, one of Wilford’s staff shoots Namgoong and the Curtis goes into the engine room to meet Wilford face to face.
It’s here that we get the big twist that really sends Curtis off the rails.
That is that Gilliam was actually working with Wilford to cause the rebellion. This was in order to reduce the population in the tail. He had allowed them to become cannibals to weed them out and then allowed them to thrive once more. The revolution was once more a sacrifice in order to keep the ecosystem alive.
Wilford enlisted Gilliam but really he viewed him as replaceable as the rest of those in the tail.
It’s a middle management scenario in which Gilliam was given a tiny bit of power but in the end, he was just a puppet that suffered from the rest of them, believing he was better because he had some authority.
Wilford argues that the people up top are in just as bad a position as those in the back and that every aspect of society has its cons. At the end of the day how good you have it all depends on luck and privilege. Though Wilford argues that it’s a necessary evil that must be carried out, it’s clear that he wouldn’t swap places with Curtis.
Wilford then offers Curtis his position allowing him to control the same system he fought against. He paints out the portrait that there is no other way than what the system established and that those must live in poverty in order to support the important people of the world. He almost accepts it until riots force Claude to check outside and Yona overpowers her. She rushes into the engine room and reveals a floor panel that has Timmy within it.
Children under five are small enough to fit into this area and they are used to keep the train going manually. Curtis rescues Timmy at the cost of his arm but it’s clear that the children in the area are very much brainwashed into believing Wilford’s’ ideals. One sacrifices themself in order to go into a reactor and it shows that if you teach children from a young age that the system is supposed to be a certain way they will forever follow it.
To me it reflects how child labour is still used across the world and we turn a blind eye to it because it’s part of industries that benefit us with material items. Apple, Samsung and more have all been exposed for using companies that thrive on child labor but we still support them because of what they have given us to make our life easier.
This is very much what Wilford represents.
Outside Namgoong kills Franco and they explode the Kronole on the door which sets off an avalanche that derails the train. Namgoong and Curtis shield Timmy and Yona from the explosion by wrapping themselves around them and thus they are able to survive because they sacrificed themselves for future ideals.
Yona and Timmy are the only survivors of the wreckage and they make their way outside. They don’t instantly freeze and die and they spot a polar bear which shows that life has started to return to the planet. This means it may be possible for them to survive but there’s actually a lot more going on.
To me this is an almost Adam and Eve like metaphor and they have gone forth into a new world in order to create it. To build a new way of doing things they had to bring the old systems crashing down. This required revolution, ousting those in power and sacrifice, however they were able to accomplish it.
The train itself in some ways can be seen as a prison. Those from the back move to the front but ultimately they’re still stuck inside a train. This is a metaphor for how people can progress in society but they are still stuck inside it.
The children onboard are told that if they go outside they will die but this clearly isn’t the case and we must question the things that we are taught and whether they are actually the truth or not.
Though the future for the two initially seems bleak, director Bong Joon Ho confirmed that they do survive and go on to repopulate the human race. This shows us that there is hope and though change initially seems scary, we can push through and make something out of it.
Now I don’t know whether we should start by tearing everything down but the last few months have really opened my eyes to how broken everything is. We are willing to sacrifice those that make up the majority in order to keep our systems in place and it really makes you question whether it’s all worth it. Economies bounce back as this film shows but human life if wiped out doesn’t.
We must truly find the value amongst ourselves rather than in the system and that’s why Snowpiercer still carries such a strong message.
It’s an incredible film that feels even more relevant today than it did with it’s release seven years ago and I really can’t get over how well made this film is.
I definitely recommend you rewatch it before the release of the show and hopefully this video has given you a new appreciation for it.
Now obviously I’d love to hear your thoughts on Snowpiercer and what you took from the ending. Comment below and let us know.