Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer is a painful cinematic experience filled with hyper-violence and disgustingly eerie characters (both on the outside and inside). However, what makes the film so painful to watch is not credited to these two things but to its depiction of the hierarchical system that we call society.
The film takes place in the not so far future of 2031 where the remainder of humanity lives inside a train after our world faces another ice age. Wilfred, the almighty creator of the engine in which the train runs on, has constructed a world where a selected few live superfluous lifestyles (high-class), where some have the right to education (the middle-class) and where an unfortunate many barely have basic human rights (the lower-class). At the very last cars of the train we find Curtis and our noble heroes of the lower-class who begin their metaphorical ascension up the societal pyramid with the hopes to destroy Wilfred’s caste-system.
The Mid Train & Middle Class
I belong on the head, you belong on the foot.
The first quarter of the film thoroughly establishes the lower-train life style which consists of over population, poor sanitation and excessive over-seeing by the train’s upper-class men. Developing the poor life styles of our heroes proves to be effective as we are as bewildered as they are when they see the affluent life styles of the mid-trains men in comparison to that of the poor. Their reaction is repulsively reciprocated by the mid-trains men who stare at the poor members of the train in utter disgust. The poor evidently see the mid-trains men as beasts, figuratively, who take advantage of their abundance and the mid-trains men also see the poor as beast, literally, due to how unclean and unsanitary they are. Here Joon-ho draws a controversial yet realistically parallel between the mid-trains men and those of our middle class who take their life styles for granted and are blinded by the power they have to evenly distribute their wealth to those who are the most need of it, the poor.
The Upper Train & Upper Class
The story continues, and many of our heroes are lost to evil hands of the trains upper-class men. Curtis and the very lucky few are eligible to progress to the further most sections of the train where they grow more and more astonished with Wilfred’s poorly constructed hierarchical system. The pivotal part of the film, however, takes place near the very end when Curtis reaches the very front of the train where the twisted Wilfred resides. Viewers have progressed from the rear end of the train to the very first car and are as dumbfounded as Curtis to see how Wilfred is eerily satisfied with the social system he has constructed. We comprehend Curtis’s exasperation at the inequity of life in the train. And we essentially feel Curtis’s disdain for Wilfred after he proposes that Curtis preserve the train’s system after the event of Wilfred’s death.
I belong to the front, you belong to the tail.
Personally, watching Snowpiercer was inexplicably heart breaking when I realized that Curtis is the figurative representation of the poor and the train is the most truthful representation of our world seen in modern cinema. Agian, Joon-Ho’s presents a thought-provoking message. If Wilfred, like the top 1% of the top 1% of our world, has the power to shape the train into a place where all are equal, why doesn’t he? Why don’t the wealthy share? Why don’t the wealthy care? Inequity in the train is not only credited to Wilfred but the other members of the train. Myself, readers of this post, and those privileged enough to have food and shelter are the mid-train members. Why do we take what we have for granted and why don’t we share? How can we live happily knowing that or fellow brothers and sisters of planet Earth live in complete poverty?
The pyramid will crumble if the bottom rises up
Snowpiercer is a beautiful (right choice of word?) representation of our triangular societal structure. The film proves to have a strong narrative, moving characters, beautiful directing, an ominous soundtrack hinting at the corruption of the train and a great performance by Chris Evans (Curtis). To those who love thought-provoking films, I recommend Snowpiercer and to those who may be turned off by its hyper-violence, I still recommend this film that will tug at the piece of heart and that cell of your brain an make you question does happiness exist if it isn’t guaranteed for everyone.