Snowpiercer

In Snowpiercer, human society and culture has existed in this contained system: the train.  The front car passengers live in luxury while the tail-enders live in the back forced to survive under what amounts to tyrannical rule. In this scene, Mason (Tilda Swinton) gives a speech in response to an “assault” by Andrew (Ewen Bremmer) who is punished in the horrifying fashion of having his arm frozen off. The speech is limited by the 7 minute time constraint their calculations determine it will take to freeze his arm solid.

When the speech begins, two translators begin interpreting her words before being told that they don’t have time for the “nonsense.” This shows the multi-cultural heterogeneous makeup of the citizens aboard the train, but also the persisting dominance of English. Later in the film, we learn of universal translators , but the tail-enders are barely given food, so a luxury such as that would not be used.

The tone of the speech is delivered with such a condescending attitude and juxtaposed against the horrific screams of poor Andrew. Mason, and the entire crew behind them, completely lacks empathy for the torture they are subjecting this man to, because by their code of morals, disrespect of the poor to the privileged is more important.

“Order is the barrier that holds back the thrall’s of death.” The purpose of the speech is that order must be kept in this society, and as such there will be a population that struggles and suffers for the comfort of an elite few. While all of human civilization has crumbled, this aspect is what has been retained by their new leaders. There isn’t even a cause for currency anymore, with the front section passengers basically inheriting their spots, and the tail-enders only being “promoted” on a whim for the need of a trained violinist or a cleaning servant.  “So it is.”

The class inequality in the film is highlighted by the restricted nature of their society. The marginalized poor exist only yards away, not in another country or the deep inner city. And yet, from what we see in the rest of the film, they are easily ignored and forgotten by the rest of society until the revolution happens.

In this scene, we get a glimpse into how the “Front-enders” live. The song that they sing has become so ingrained, potentially played daily from how well rehearsed the children, and Mason, are.Immediately before this , we are shown a propaganda film about Wilfred’s train that is used to indoctrinate the new generation on the train about how wonderful their leader is. This is analogous to North Korean propaganda films, with Wilfred being called “Divine” and “Merciful” throughout the film. The song, and it’s rehearsed nature, can also be seen as an analog to the American Pledge of Allegiance,  which is taught to children long before they are aware of the definitions of the words contained within. Propaganda plays an important aspect in how people are controlled to maintain order. While it may not be the vicarious punishment the tail-enders are subjected to, it is still useful in keeping the population in order. And in the world of Snowpiercer, many in power believe order is all that is keeping humanity alive.

 

 

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12 thoughts on “Snowpiercer

  1. I find your analysis intriguing. What struck me most about this movie was that Wilford described it as a “perfect” system that must be kept in balance. It makes the regard for life scientific especially in the aspect that they said that approximately seventy-three percent of the tail-enders were to die, in order to keep the population number exact and sustainable. This scientific aspect makes everyone very emotionless towards the tail-enders. It is even shown when the children say that the tail-enders are lazy, no good people that should be grateful to be alive. Overall I feel that the film does a good job of showing how sympathy dissipates when wealthy of passengers increase.

    -Serina Thomas

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  2. In Snowpiercer their use of the train and how certain people sit in the front and certain people sit in the back is a lot like the 1950’s. Black people had to sit in the back and white people had to sit in the front of the bus. In this case however, the front car people were able to live in luxury as opposed to the tail-enders whom had to live in the back. In regards to the scene where Andrew’s arm is frozen off, I was shocked. This is extremely inhumane, especially since all he did was give a speech. The way society took on the class system was completely unfair and unjust. Tail-enders have a bad reputation and are portrayed as people with certain characteristics that are not even accurate. I like how you chose to focus a lot on inequality because when I watched the film I took note on a lot of the religious aspects of the film.

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  3. I also felt that the main theme of this movie is inequality which is portrayed by the front and tail enders of the train. It was so horrifying to see how the tail enders lived and how they were treated by the front end of the train. The tail enders of the train are inferior to those in the front end of the train showing how the class system worked. This class system in unjust and very cruel. I also found it very ironic how the people in power thought the only way for the train to be successful is for there to be order, but towards the end of the movie we see that there is no more order since there are only two survivors.

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  4. I thought the movie was interesting if not mostly entertaining. The premise of this post apocalyptic was very creative. Early on in the movie the train is paralleled with Noah’s arc, a refuge from the increasing cold temperatures. Inequality is definitely a theme throughout this film, as the train’s luxury increased from tail to front. I found it interesting at the end how Wilford explained that the tail end passengers were needed for balance in the trains “ecosystem”, comparing the train to the balance of the world.

    -John Sieg

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  5. I like how you mentioned that maintaining order is a significant goal that Mason addresses in his speech. I find this objective rather ironic, because in his view, maintaining order will result in a population of people who will struggle for the comfort of the elite. If this is the case-and it is- why strive for order? Separating two groups of people to wholly benefit one over another will not create order, but rather cause strife. Order should mean equality, but as the audience knows and is aware of, no such equality can exist in that society. Even in the society readers inhabit themselves, full equality is not visible, as there are still discrimination prevalent, especially racial prejudice.

    Nicole Schmalz

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  6. I like how you used two videos in this pot, and you depicted both very cleverly. I think it is important to notice the hypocrisy in this novel, beginning with the idea of saving one group of people by separating the original group into two. Jeopardizing one group for the good of the other is not only hypocrisy but also flat out wrong.

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  7. I liked the clips you choose to analyze, this movie was very interesting to say the least. The contrast between the front and tail enders of the train, was something that really stuck with me, the inequality and post apocalyptic aspect definitely made me question this “perfect” world they tried to display.

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  8. I think you did a great job analyzing these two scenes. Despite the post apocalyptic scenario that the characters in the movie inhabit, rather than band together to survive, the train ends up becoming an even more extreme microcosm of inequality. The way that the scene with the speech plays out, with Mason defending the system while Andrew screams in agony in the background does a great job of highlighting just how ruthless this society has become for the sake of “order” and the comfort of a few.

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  9. I like the clips you brought up and I see entirely what you mean about the commentary on class inequality…but I think there is an extra element to it that can be seen in the ending speech with Wilford as he reveals that he and Gilliam were partnered in maintaining a status quo across society.

    I think there exists a sort of ambiguous theme here that is political, darwinist, and determinist in nature – that seems to work into a greater theme of hope or even faith.

    The powers at be on the great train have determined that placement is preordained and that ecological balance is equivalent to social harmony – and further maintain that balance through forced selection and violence.

    Humanity is contained by the sections of the train, and in their own ways individually blinded by the machine that harmonizes them. The tail-end ignorant and segregated. The front-end indoctrinated. The great architect in power sociopathic. Ming-soo clouded by destructive thinking.

    “The eternal engine…she is eternity herself…section after section adding up to what? A train.”

    Curtis falls on his knees before the engine. It is a simple and immense truth shown to him that the revolving machinations of the engine are the only true thing about humanity on the train. However, even the engine is dying, slowly going extinct as everything else seems to have.

    It’s the destruction of the train, the presence of life in the tundra, and a man and woman, that are deliver the message of hope. In the face of all hopelessness in the world, faith can remain in the strength within ourselves and the nature that we inhabit.

    wow this ended up way too long

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  10. This movie works very hard to draw parallels to the ways oppressive power structures have been justified historically. Mason’s speech justifying inequality through an appeal to natural order is something we hear frequently even today (right-wing rhetoric places a strong emphasis on what the poor have done to *deserve* their station in life–I have had people justify the perpetuation of inequality to me by quoting Jesus’ “the poor will always be with you”). The high-level authoritarianism and clear injustice of the speech draws attention to the injustice perpetuated in invoking such arguments in today’s society.

    Mason’s speech also closely resembles an argument feudal aristocrats tried to make as republican revolution swept Europe–wealthy landowners struggled to paint themselves of trustees of a society that could not be trusted to the masses. The parallels between Snowpiercer and history seems strongest here–as much as I would love to read the social stratification on the train as a metaphor for capital, it does seem a bit of a stretch to do so. To see the train’s aristocracy as equivalent to a feudal, authoritarian, or fascist one, however, draws strong parallels.

    –Patrick Gibson

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  11. I re4ally love the idea of the song being compared the Pledge of America or other forms of nationalism that we find in today’s modern world. I would go further in stating that it’s interesting how in Snowpiercer, the purpose of the singing in not as concrete as the Pledge of Allegiance. Song is of course, a medium that people use for universal connection, for music is a universal language. But here used to describe Wilford, it makes me think of how the children and the teacher are not really sure of who Wilford is as a person. Instead he is a God-like structure; whereas with our nationalistic songs, we at least have an idea and record of the Founding Fathers and what they have accomplished. So while it strikingly resembles the modern world, it’s fascinating how purpose and understanding the history of what is being presented is vital. Without the crucial knowledge the children and teacher lack of who Wilford is, the audience perceives the classroom scene as cult-like chants or brainwashing techniques. Great blog post!

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