26 July 2014


The gnostic interpretation of Snowpiercer is too obvious.

We Live In The Dark offers an analysis of Snowpiercer which is, to my mind, exactly correct.

A lot of discussions of Snowpiercer I’ve seen have been very literal, which I think is a terrible way to read this film when so much of it is densely allegorical. The train at its centre is a clear allegory for capitalism [I’ve seen this rejected so here’s the director saying it himself this is a film about capitalism]. It’s capitalism: what was promised as an ark of salvation but became a barbaric prison for all but the very privileged.

It's not a review, it's an analysis, so see the film first.

And having said that, some spoiler-ish comments from my FB feed. Elena Rose says:

It's more like the ending of Le Guin's "Omelas": we don't know what life is like outside this train any more, we've never seen it with our own eyes, and the price of getting out is, idealists' romantic hopes aside, very high. But the price of staying in is, unfortunately, even higher, and that won't last forever either, so there we are. If you wreck the train, maybe everyone dies. If you stay in the train, everyone still dies, and maybe on the way they become something less and less worth saving by the day.

The other point of that apex predator was, of course: there's an apex predator out here. There's an ecosystem to be the apex of out here! There's enough out here for a population of polar bears to live on! The world isn't dead! And maybe humanity doesn't make it, sure, but life does. That's something.

Fiat Justitia Ruat Caelum : Let justice be done though the heavens fall.

Ihe other Big Point of the film: that final seductive chance to be the new person who runs the train, who might run it better, might take the power and redistribute some of the food, change the conditions some, use...fewer...children...as...engine parts...

We can say a lot, allegory aside, about, "Maybe if he'd taken over just for a little while, slowed the train down, gotten to somewhere near the equator and hit the brakes and given people a chance to walk off, if that's even a possible thing," but I think one of the film's arguments, take it or leave it, is that the system would warp that attempt hopelessly for the worse, and that the chance to be the better, kinder runner of that system is a false temptation, not a genuine solution. We can agree or disagree, but it seems like the filmmaker was pretty clear on where he stood on that. It still comes down to the math on which children we stick in the cogs of the engine to make it run, and how many, you know?

Which helps to inspire me to say that the longer I sit with it, the more I like the ending. This is informed by the commentary I linked.

The ending is neither happy nor unhappy. We do not need to approve of the decision to destroy the train, only to understand it.

We see Curtis' hazy Marxist dream prove to be doomed: if as a denizen of the tail section he seizes the engine, he is still trapped by the material logic of the train and simply makes himself the captain of its horrors. His compassion prevents him from doing that, but he has no positive vision to offer as an alternative. He cannot leave Wilford's order in place nor can he take command of that order himself nor can he transform the train's order into an alternative which is either superior or viable, much less both. Unable to think outside the train, he is stuck.

As Elena says, Namgoong and Yona aren't really sure that a better life awaits them outside the train. They simply cannot permit the train's cruelties to continue, and if the alternative is death for everyone they are prepared to have murdered everyone. They hope that life in the snow is possible and better — and as Yona's uncanny insight allows her to perceive what lies beyond every door, she has cause to think it may be — but they are less pro-snow than they are anti-train.

We in the audience don't have to want to destroy the train. We just have to understand why they would.

Update: Very incisive video essay:

And more about the formal structure from the amazing Tony “Every Frame A Painting” Zhou:

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