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DO YOU CUT OFF YOUR ARM OR EAT A BABY?
August 5, 2014 8:35 AM   Subscribe

"When I saw Snowpiercer, I thought, they’re working. I’ve never seen a movie be more like a video game and work. Everyone I knew called it "BioShock on a train", which is good shorthand, because it means you know you can expect an apocalyptic dystopia, with class struggles drawn grotesque, confined to a failing industrial space. Boom! Video games' language is useful!" posted by postcommunism (134 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
I know that babies tastes best.
posted by maxsparber at 8:49 AM on August 5 [10 favorites]


I'd really like to see an article on Edge of Tomorrow and video game learning. That movie seemed fundamentally shaped by video game logic.
posted by bullitt 5 at 8:53 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]


DO YOU CUT OFF YOUR ARM OR EAT A BABY?

Why not do both?
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:54 AM on August 5 [6 favorites]


I have to say, I do not at all understand the critical hype around Snowpiercer. Its concept didn't make any sense, and its allegories were so blatantly trite they sounded like something a stoned 14 year old would come up with. Can someone explain the appeal?
posted by fermezporte at 9:00 AM on August 5 [12 favorites]


So in other words, the reason Snowpiercer isn't a very good movie is because it has all the narrative nuance and acting chops of a videogame? Not to mention the narrative flow; each train car is like a video game level, the same trite "we have to change everything because we can only fit so many texturess in memory". I didn't think of it as "BioShock on a train" so much as "Chronicles of Riddick on a train". And I don't mean that comparison kindly. Also Riddick made a better game than movie.

She's right though that Snowpiercer did borrow a lot of stuff from video game aesthetics. The best parts of the film, really, the parts I liked. I just wish I liked the whole thing as a single movie, rather than a sequence of some interesting video game levels.
posted by Nelson at 9:01 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Can someone explain the appeal?

It sounded like something a stoned 14 year old would come up with. As do all my favorite movies.
posted by maxsparber at 9:05 AM on August 5 [14 favorites]


I'd say it's the other way around actually. To the extent that video games offer anything resembling a narrative, it's been to pull heavily from cinema and literature. The protagonist's voyage through a series of increasingly surreal landscapes is a feature of Beasts of the Southern Wild for example.

One of the reasons I don't think this analogy works is that Snowpiercer as a Science Fiction film trusts its Big Idea enough to devote the climax to a set of three monologues rather than a boss fight. (And for literalist "Hard" science fiction knuckleheads, note that the infallibility of the train is a political and religious statement, not a technological one.)
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:05 AM on August 5 [8 favorites]


I thought the concept made perfect sense. Obviously it was stylized, but I don't think it was any more unbelievable than most high concept action movies.

And it's very refreshing to see a summer action blockbuster with the message "smash the state!"
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:07 AM on August 5 [16 favorites]


You can explain Beowulf in terms of game levels, but I don't think it's all that useful as a method of narrative criticism.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:08 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


fermezporte: I think the article answers your question, actually: the way the film borrows the visual and narrative structure of a video game makes it interesting, fun, and exciting. It's the first film I can think of that so closely emulates the feel of watching someone play a good game.

And to answer the obvious follow-up questions: yes, watching other people play games is very much A Thing. The most subscribed channel on YouTube is PewDiePie, who does mostly Let's Play video games. Indeed, the "let's play" space is big enough that Google paid a rumored $1 billion to acquire video game livestreaming site twitch.tv.

Or, the tl;dr version: Snowpiercer's fun.
posted by jacobian at 9:10 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


I'd really like to see an article on Edge of Tomorrow and video game learning. That movie seemed fundamentally shaped by video game logic.

I could swear I read somewhere that the original book (All You Need is Kill) was in fact inspired by the death/learning cycle in video games. Not finding the article right now though.
posted by kmz at 9:11 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


The younger the child,
the better the meat.
The fewer the years,
the better to eat.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:12 AM on August 5 [5 favorites]


The believability of the train as a functioning world for these people bothered me. If this diagram is to be believed, the school is right next to the abattoir, and the first class passengers have to get through both to get to the sushi bar in the aquarium.

I can accept a lot of far fledged stuff in my sci-fi, but for some reason that really bugged me.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 9:13 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


I don't think that Snowpiercer was really aiming for believability.
posted by octothorpe at 9:18 AM on August 5 [16 favorites]


For comparison, the equally political Elysium did dual duty as a critique of both American and South African class systems but ended up with the working class hero engaged in a boss fight with the mercenary, shortly followed by a cybermagic resolution to the Earth's socioeconomic roles.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:19 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]


METAFILTER: really aiming for believability.

posted by Fizz at 9:20 AM on August 5


So is the Snowpiercer on iTunes the real cut of the movie or the butchered one I heard Americans were supposed to get? Did they screw it up or is it good? As soon as I hear a movie is reedited for an American audience I lose interest.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:22 AM on August 5


The movie felt like a Soviet, anti-capitalist children's story. Which is not to say a bad thing -- just very, very, very earnestly, straightforwardly allegorical.

I mean, literally straightforward -- the plot moves straight forward along the train to the very end/front.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:23 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]


I suppose the weird architecture goes hand-in-hand with the whole video game thing. I remember being addicted to the "Star Wars: Dark Forces" video games back in the day while also thinking that most of the buildings were laid out in the most inconvenient way possible.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 9:25 AM on August 5


My big takeaway is that this movie is going to be the thing THAT KIND OF 14 YEAR OLD says they like better than Hunger Games cause it's more adult or whatever words kids use now .
posted by The Whelk at 9:25 AM on August 5


Both versions are the unedited version, save for the addition of subtitles when Korean is spoken. The director sacrificed nationwide release in exchange to keep the unedited version, which was kind of like his own video game dilemma: DO YOU CUT THE ENDING OR GET A LIMITED RELEASE?
posted by FJT at 9:26 AM on August 5 [10 favorites]


The Bioshock comparison worries me. I actually stopped playing Bioshock when the whole conversion process into one of the Big Daddys began. It was just too obvious how the game was going to end at that point, and I lost all interest in seeing it through. If Snowpiercer is similarly predictable, though, chances are I'll watch the entire thing anyway, because I've only walked away from a film before the credits on like two occasions in my entire life. Like books, I just can't not finish a movie once I've started it. Video games, not so much.

I might give Bioshock another run, though. Andrew Ryan's turbo-Randian screed in the beginning as you witness the ruins of a libertarian dystopia is absolutely one of my favorite moments in video gaming ever.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 9:29 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


I suppose the weird architecture goes hand-in-hand with the whole video game thing.

I know! Have you ever thought about the temples that Lara Croft goes through? Think of the poor priests who lived there! If you had to use the bathroom during the middle of the night, imagine trying to throw all the switches before you had an accident. Or an accident....
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:31 AM on August 5 [5 favorites]


The believability of the train as a functioning world for these people bothered me. If this diagram is to be believed, the school is right next to the abattoir, and the first class passengers have to get through both to get to the sushi bar in the aquarium.

That diagram assumes that the train has 60 cars, which seems unlikely. I think in the book it had 1001.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:33 AM on August 5


"Snowpiercer" doesn't really give you a sense of what you're in for. I have re-titled the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Helltrain Under the Direction of Wilford de Sade.
posted by tzikeh at 9:53 AM on August 5 [17 favorites]


The Bioshock comparison worries me. I actually stopped playing Bioshock when the whole conversion process into one of the Big Daddys began. It was just too obvious how the game was going to end at that point, and I lost all interest in seeing it through.

Perfect. Now read Tom Francis's proposal for how he would fix the end of the game, and imagine that's the way Bioshock actually ended and you'll look back on it as having the greatest video game ending ever. [Spoilers for the "actual" terrible ending of Bioshock, but you shouldn't care if you've gotten as far as the golf club scene.]
posted by straight at 9:56 AM on August 5 [7 favorites]


Can someone explain the appeal?

Hollywood is creatively bankrupt so an intended-for-Western-audiences action film made by a South Korean director is the best thing ever.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:57 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


kmz: "I could swear I read somewhere that the original book (All You Need is Kill) was in fact inspired by the death/learning cycle in video games. Not finding the article right now though."

For what it's worth, author Hiroshi Sakurazaka's afterword (at least in the U.S. edition) for All You Need Is Kill very specifically calls out video games, and the slow, iterative process by which a panicky noob gamer can eventually become a coolly efficient destroyer of worlds, as one of his primary inspirations for the story.
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:59 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]


That diagram assumes that the train has 60 cars, which seems unlikely. I think in the book it had 1001.

There's an easy-to-miss ≈ symbol that means "there's a bunch of cars here that are not shown."
posted by straight at 10:00 AM on August 5


(Oh, never mind, I see you got that number from the diagram's key.)
posted by straight at 10:02 AM on August 5


My big takeaway is that this movie is going to be the thing THAT KIND OF 14 YEAR OLD says they like better than Hunger Games cause it's more adult or whatever words kids use now.

Dude, NOBODY I know IRL is talking about this. The 14-year old try-hard is going to talk about Dawn 'of Apes or maybe LUCY, while everyone else is talking about Guardians. Snowpiercer'a domestic take up to now is 4 mil TOTAL, while Lucy made 42 mil in one weekend (not to say that Lucy wasn't entertaining).
posted by FJT at 10:02 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Spoilers throughout. I hated Snowpiercer on so many levels. Starting with, as mentioned above, the 'smash the state' angle: The audience is shown a corrupt state failing and... everyone dying. Yes, even the two at the end as they are trapped in the mountains and instead of ransacking the train full of food and supplies they just sort of amble off. What kind of message is that if you want to convince people that you can change the system? Change the system and everyone dies in a train accident. That really bothered me.

It isn't internally consistent. The school song went something along the lines of 'from the blazing desert of Africa to the snowy mountains'. Okay, so there are some different climates. Did the creators seriously make a worse fictional planet than the Star Wars movies? Two climates, no intermediate temperate zones for human life, and more importantly the idiots who jumped off the train however many years ago did so on a mountain plateau instead of in this supposed desert area or on the boundary of this absurdist rendition of climate catastrophe. Even if it were a direct change from snow to sand the absconders could have at least meandered across the dividing line to keep from alternately freezing and burning to death.

Continuing on the internally consistent part: how big is this train. This doesn't make any goddamn sense. That's dozens and dozens of gallons of bugs! Where do they come from? Where's the bug car? The rotting meat and sewage car these things grow in? Does the front of the train collect bugs much like it collects water? Where are all those sociopath guards living? What are they all eating? Where were eggs being stored for 17 years? Are there actually people enjoying life on this shitpile train, it would seem like they're surrounded by creepy sycophant murderers at every turn. How is the steak fresh? Why use the children for the creepy impossibility drive if you're willing to cut people's arms and legs off (which would allow them to fit in that creepy nonsense box)? If they intended for this to be a generation ship, why aren't they using something 10x as large that won't run into a genetic bottleneck? What the ever loving fuck is the purpose of the people in the back of the train?

Most of those questions I'm sure can be answered with, "its a absurdist movie with a story to tell" or something that tries to make the movie out to be some surrealist film. I don't feel like it is. Absurdity after absurdity isn't surreal, I can't imagine that this would be an actual thing ever, there's no real for it to sur. Well, that's not quite true. The New Year's scene is very, very surreal. There's a fight, a reality that suddenly suffers from an outbreak of good cheer as the train completes a rotation, then the fight begins again. Perhaps the very end as well when the trope of 'climatic battle' is happening and the drug addled teenagers begin pouring forward to get their drugs back apropos of nothing. My point being, it doesn't maintain surreal state it just dabbles in it while being absurd and divorced from any kind of coherency or sense in terms of how this world operates. I don't think of a nonsense world working as being surreal, I think of it as absurd. A sensical world with an absurd twist that everyone treats as normal would be surreal.

Why bludgeon the audience with the detailed explanations to describe the apocalypse and then abandon any attempt at explanation when the audience begins its zoo tour of this would-be generation ship or rich man's folly? We're touring your fucking train and we're offered less explanation of why anything is happening or why anything is the way it is (the locking doors, the people in the back, the prison, the port-hole-torture-and-dismembering-thing being built in, etc etc) than at the rather meaningless beginning. They could have just told us, "Its really cold because catastrophe, lets begin the movie now" without two minutes of "chemical X did this in these ways". Madness.

It felt to me like this script changed hands many, many, many times. Too many times. With some forgotten edits and added scenes that the director, puzzled, shot and some editor, equally puzzled, spliced into place without questioning the grand scheme of things.

It felt messy, busy, internally confused, externally confusing, and without purpose... but only after the fist half. There were so many opportunities to show that there was more to this train that what we were shown (and we were shown all 60-odd cars). We could have been shown a double wide train, a train that was 200 cars long, a train that was a double decker, a train that had any real use for the 1000 people stuck in the back of however many cars. But we weren't shown that. And after the surprisingly good uprising segment of the movie... nothing. No big reveal of why or what, just who. Some rich guy with a penchant for live action role play and staged entertainment.

Fuck, I hated this.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:04 AM on August 5 [21 favorites]


Aaaand I didn't even tie it back in to the fucking article.

Video games have a reality, something that makes some kind of nominal sense that the character operates within. This didn't. You have to fight through Castle Wolfenstein to kill mecha Hitler. Castle Wolfenstein isn't just there, begotten from nothing for no reason. It was the Nazi's trying to use occult bullshit to win the war and there you were trying to stop them from succeeding.

The film isn't grounded in anything. Maybe the author thought the same of Bioshock. I'd question if he really got past the killing of Supposed Big Boss as it all falls into place after that. Even the plasmid nonsense becomes sensical over time as bits of story are shown to the audience. Which the film doesn't do. Which.... arrrrrrghhhhhHHHHHH!

Quick edit: not Castle Wolfenstein, I've forgotten the name of the game now but it definitely isn't Castle Wolfenstein.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:12 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


One of the reasons I don't think this analogy works is that Snowpiercer as a Science Fiction film trusts its Big Idea enough to devote the climax to a set of three monologues rather than a boss fight.

The places the analogy with Bioshock does work are really places Snowpiercer was a little disappointing because it left certain tropes entirely unexamined. I'm thinking first about the ravers in Snowpiercer, who are clearly (I think!) analogous to the violent partygoers in Bioshock, who themselves are in a lineage with the debauched patrons of the Overlook in The Shining (and dare we push it back to 120 Days of Sodom?). There is so much to be said about that image--the wealthy, giving themselves up to a frantic and deadly pleasure--and it's obvious that the party's placement towards the front of the train should make it thematically important, but it seems to serve as nothing but a warm body supply to make sure there is physical conflict to match the psychological conflict at the end, much the same as in Bioshock.

More important, I think, is the vision of child labor. In both the game and the movie, we know something nasty is going on with the kids, and finding out that something is one of the primary revelations in both stories. And while it's entirely appropriate that Snowpiercer should leave us with questions about that--there isn't any room for another monologue that talks about their precise roles--I think three scenes are telling in this regard. Hm...can I get through this paragraph without spoilers? I'll see. First, the view under the floor. I've watched this part multiple times, and still am not entirely sure what I am seeing; the action flashes by, suggestive but not allowing the eye to linger. Second, the opening of the engine itself; this is a much longer sequence, and I think is meant to be more harrowing, but in the end, all it can do is obliquely suggest (what else is in that cabinet?!). But compare that to Yona's waking, there at the very end. The shot lingers: Darkness, fire, the machinery far more clear than the people. It is really beautiful (but in such a videogame fashion that I wanted to reach for a controller). But coming after the big revelatory scenes, I found the pause here almost shocking. There is so much more time to take in information here...now that there is very little you want to know. When you did want to know something, the scenes moved too fast to let you. Which I suppose is a valid tactic, but it also reminded me too much of the Little Sisters in Bioshock, where you are allowed to know just enough to establish that Bad Things Have Happened, but you're not allowed to inquire into the details. But that makes the Bad Things fairly shallow--they're more a stand-in, a symbol of evil rather than detailed proof of it.

And worse, in Snowpiercer there was no need for more symbols of evil, because the evil was already so clear. You knew what you were going to see, because that is how this aesthetic works when children are involved, but the lack of inquiry, the lack of interest the story has in its own revelation, was troubling.

Part of what makes it troubling, too, is that the film was willing to be subtle in other interesting ways: Wilford's momentary surprise at Curtis' ignorance was, I thought, the most perfect illustration of the train's evil, because it was so brief.
posted by mittens at 10:15 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


[SPOILERS]


What kind of message is that if you want to convince people that you can change the system? Change the system and everyone dies in a train accident. That really bothered me.

The movie's point with that the whole system is fucked, and that there is no fixing things. You gotta destroy the old world in order to make a new. It ain't a coincidence that the two people who are shown as survivors are both train babies.
posted by joyceanmachine at 10:18 AM on August 5 [11 favorites]


What was the deal with killer in the suit who was hunting the protagonists through the train? He just starts murdering his own men and going nuts for seemingly no reason. But if he's going nuts, why does he seem so fixated on killing the Korean girl?

It seemed like something was going on between that girl and the killer but it was never explained, or at least I missed it.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:20 AM on August 5


What kind of message is that if you want to convince people that you can change the system?

Because the message is you can't. The system is too big to fail without catastrophic consequences.

Or to explain the ending. Curtis lost. All of his values and conceits about justice were appropriated, reframed, and turned back toward the survival of the train. It's only the shock of child labor, a step too far for him that sets him back in motion.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:23 AM on August 5 [11 favorites]


What was the deal with killer in the suit who was hunting the protagonists through the train?

The bearded man in the suit was his partner. Yona killed him earlier.
posted by FJT at 10:29 AM on August 5


I have to say, I do not at all understand the critical hype around Snowpiercer. Its concept didn't make any sense, and its allegories were so blatantly trite they sounded like something a stoned 14 year old would come up with. Can someone explain the appeal?

I'm not sure either; I read and liked the original bande dessinee when I read it from the library back in 198mumble, but it was a typically French science fiction dystopia: great on setting, not hindered by any great thought paid to the logistics of it.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:30 AM on August 5


Snowpiercer is more like Bioshock 2. There's some nice moments, but most of the time it felt like flogging a dead horse.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:31 AM on August 5


The bearded man in the suit was his partner. Yona killed him earlier.

Then why was he murdering his own men later on?
posted by Sangermaine at 10:36 AM on August 5


Everything said about the world except by Nangoong and the brief exposition at the start is explicitly political and/or religious. Of course those statements don't make sense.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:38 AM on August 5


I haven't read the comic Le Transperceneige - I understand the film takes the concept of the train but not too much else.

However, I trace the film's general architecture not to video game logic, but to the format of European comics like Métal Hurlant. This anthology format necessitates stories structured as memorable short episodes. Logic is less important since it's more about pacing the mind-blowing reveals and maintaining a general sense that there is a deep meaning behind the whole thing.

Taking that as it is, I was able to put aside logistic considerations and enjoy the film for what it was.
posted by shemko at 10:51 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Most of those questions I'm sure can be answered with, "its an absurdist movie with a story to tell" or something that tries to make the movie out to be some surrealist film.

Another way to read it would be that these absurdities aren't meant to be surreal at all, but are supposed to portray how unstable and unsustainable totalitarian illusions are. The aquarium is full of fish...but enough for 17 years of sushi-eating? The meat-locker is full of cows, but again, 17 years of steak? Not possible. But every other alternative to that vision of unending plenty is horrifying: Maybe the front of the train is actually starving, and doesn't realize it--isn't allowed to realize it, like the chocolate rations in 1984. Or maybe the kitchens have found another use for the people from the back of the train (what did they do with all the bodies from the other failed revolutions?).

The train's vision is one of a closed, self-sustaining system, but that is not more surreal than our own state's vision of eternal economic growth.
posted by mittens at 10:52 AM on August 5 [5 favorites]


So on the one hand, I think anyone who's talking about how the train is implausible on a literal level is missing the point, and moreover missing the point so thoroughly that I wouldn't think it was actually possible for an actual person to miss said point, except for how I've seen and heard otherwise reasonably smart people do so.

BUT

I don't think the metaphor it's going for makes sense either. Like, my beef with Snowpiercer is that I don't think "smash the state" is ultimately what it's saying on the metaphorical level. Honestly, I think the ultimate message of the movie is extraordinarily conservative, something like "Tilda Swinton's character is a loon, and the train/late capitalism is insane and evil, but doing what the loon says, actively participating in the evil — and debasing yourself for the privilege of continuing to participate in the evil — is probably the best thing to do. If you step out of line, you'll just wreck the train and kill everyone. Enjoy your roach bar!"

Which like puke. I went into the movie with high hopes, but especially through the last half, I found myself wishing that I was watching something more politically canny, or potentially empowering, or at least something with something to say. Something more like Hunger Games.1

1: Which in my opinion is a pretty good book series and, so far, a pitch perfect film trilogy.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:53 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Every previous revolution failed because they didn't take the engine.
posted by mobunited at 10:58 AM on August 5


I thought the concept made perfect sense. Obviously it was stylized, but I don't think it was any more unbelievable than most high concept action movies.

On the off chance this was not intended as damning with faint praise, when you say you thought the concept made sense, does that mean you (or anyone) figured out who maintains the tracks?
posted by The World Famous at 11:04 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Well, and so this one only "succeeded" because the leader of the revolution was the creep in charge's picked successor, and the only thing that failed to go according to the old creep's plan was the presence of someone who was willing to destroy the train/late capitalism in order to see what was outside it, and what's outside it is going to kill the survivors of the wreck of the train/late capitalism almost immediately.

I mean the movie literalizes the old chestnut about how it's easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism, but without presenting much space for critical awareness; like, ultimately it affirms the idea/ideology that the bosses know what they're doing even though it all looks as insane as putting the school and the sushi bar next to the abbatoir, and it's right that they're in charge, and that we should keep our heads down and do what they say (and say what they say) even when it's awful. Or else things will get worse for everyone. Super, super conservative message.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:05 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


On the off chance this was not intended as damning with faint praise, when you say you thought the concept made sense, does that mean you (or anyone) figured out who maintains the tracks?
posted by The World Famous at 11:04 AM on August 5 [+] [!]


psst it's not a movie about a train.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:05 AM on August 5 [6 favorites]


It felt messy, busy, internally confused, externally confusing, and without purpose... but only after the fist half.

I'm impressed that anyone actually managed to get past the first half. They've obviously got more patience than I have.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:11 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


I'd question if he really got past the killing of Supposed Big Boss

She. Leigh Alexander, the primary author of the article we are discussing, is a woman. I don't think her gender is particularly relevant to this Snowpiercer article and I'm sure it was just an innocent language slip. But she's awesome and some of her writing is informed by gender and there's so few women in games journalism I don't want to forget any one.
posted by Nelson at 11:12 AM on August 5 [6 favorites]


apropos of nothing, my theory to explain the weirdness of the front-of-the-train people in a way that makes sense to my painfully literal world-building mind:


The drugs. They're all on the drugs. All of them. All the time. Stoned out of their minds. Driven mad. Because even the hedonistic front of the train is a shitty enough place to live that there'd be nothing else to do, really.
posted by thug unicorn at 11:21 AM on August 5


You Can't Tip a Buick: "I don't think the metaphor it's going for makes sense either. Like, my beef with Snowpiercer is that I don't think "smash the state" is ultimately what it's saying on the metaphorical level. Honestly, I think the ultimate message of the movie is extraordinarily conservative, something like "Tilda Swinton's character is a loon, and the train/late capitalism is insane and evil, but doing what the loon says, actively participating in the evil — and debasing yourself for the privilege of continuing to participate in the evil — is probably the best thing to do. If you step out of line, you'll just wreck the train and kill everyone. Enjoy your roach bar!" "

Curtis attempts to move up through the oppressive society/train to wrest control of it and make things better for the people. Once he reaches that position of power he discovers that by doing so he has only became part of the oppressive system -- has always been part of the oppressive system -- and will always perpetuate it. He is a "leader" at the urging of everyone around him and this is what leaders do.

The alternative? Blow the fuck out of the train and start over. That's not conservative, that's revolutionary.

The World Famous: "On the off chance this was not intended as damning with faint praise, when you say you thought the concept made sense, does that mean you (or anyone) figured out who maintains the tracks?"

In the propaganda film that is shown to the school children it's mentioned that Wilford was ridiculed for "over-engineering" his projects. That's basically a lampshade over the track thing, but who cares? I think even that was unnecessary. I don't often find realism to be an interesting way to approach art. Maybe if a film is aiming for a certain level of verisimilitude I will criticize it for falling short, but Snowpiercer wasn't aiming for that at all.
posted by brundlefly at 11:32 AM on August 5 [12 favorites]


The alternative? Blow the fuck out of the train and start over. That's not conservative, that's revolutionary.

Except of course, they'd die. Die, die, die.

Doesn't matter that polar bears survived. Or that the snow is slowly melting. They wouldn't make it two weeks. Especially not with polar bears hunting them.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:36 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


That's a literalist, pessimistic read on a very allegorical film. If you really want to hammer out the "realistic" result, it can certainly be argued that there's still cause for optimism- there are likely other survivors of the crash, the husk of the train still contains supplies and provides shelter, maybe the polar bears are the mounts of a survivor race of polar bear-riders, etc.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:40 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


it's right that they're in charge, and that we should keep our heads down and do what they say (and say what they say) even when it's awful. Or else things will get worse for everyone. Super, super conservative message.

Wait, what? Did we see different versions of the movie?

I mean, yeah, yeah, the train is wrecked, and every single adult dead. But the movie is really, really clear that Curtis sacrificing himself is correct, because death is better than participation in this horrific, grotesque system that views children as nothing but replacement parts. And then follows that up by ending an explicitly hopeful note of Yona and Timmy seeing the bear that proves life outside the train is, in fact, not only possible but actually happening.

A message of "white people are deeply complicit in the system that oppresses people of color, and the best way they can help the revolution is to sacrifice themselves so that non-white children can live/have hope of escaping to build a better world" is pretty not-conservative to me.
posted by joyceanmachine at 11:40 AM on August 5 [11 favorites]


Doesn't matter that polar bears survived.

The hell you say. Winsome pixie girl and gearboy were the first fresh meat that polar bear had eaten in, like, months.
posted by Nelson at 11:41 AM on August 5 [5 favorites]


lumpenprole: "Doesn't matter that polar bears survived. Or that the snow is slowly melting. They wouldn't make it two weeks. Especially not with polar bears hunting them."

I think my response to The World Famous could serve as a response to this as well. I simply feel like this sort of logical nitpicking is not an interesting way of approaching the movie.
posted by brundlefly at 11:41 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Nelson: "Winsome pixie girl and gearboy were the first fresh meat that polar bear had eaten in, like, months."

Perhaps a case can be made that in the end this film is an extremely optimistic film made by and for polar bears.
posted by brundlefly at 11:44 AM on August 5 [25 favorites]


She. Leigh Alexander, the primary author of the article we are discussing, is a woman. I don't think her gender is particularly relevant to this Snowpiercer article and I'm sure it was just an innocent language slip. But she's awesome and some of her writing is informed by gender and there's so few women in games journalism I don't want to forget any one.

Hurk! My bad.

Thinking about it some more, I think I can distill my philosophical complaints down to: This is a fantasy right wing piece for the Dark Enlightment/Gnon/Neofeudalist types as much as Atlas Shrugged was one for the libertarian crowd. Accept your place in life under your assigned despot. Attempt to overthrow the power-enforced order and everyone will perish, the species made extinct.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:46 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


I feel like trying to pick apart the details of how the train works or "who maintains the tracks" is kind of like criticizing Orwell's Animal Farm because the animals talk.
posted by dnash at 11:48 AM on August 5 [14 favorites]


I feel like trying to pick apart the details of how the train works or "who maintains the tracks" is kind of like criticizing Orwell's Animal Farm because the animals talk.

Eh, it would be more akin, I think, to criticizing Animal Farm for not having any visible farming land and a tractor with no wheels or gas and then also having both those things be the reason why the animals are trapped on the farm and slowly rebelling.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:53 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Or like picking apart Verhoeven's Starship Troopers (I may have just opened up a can of worms here...) because the military is sending down easily ripped apart guys with assault rifles instead of just nuking the bugs from orbit, just to be sure. That would run counter to what the film is trying to accomplish, what with its expendable human beings and its WWII/old west/colonialist imagery.
posted by brundlefly at 11:53 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


I mean, it kinda stuns me that we're this far into a thread about Snowpiercer without anybody really talking about the heavy, heavy racism/colonialism/cultural appropriation stuff that the director does. Just off the top of my head, we've got the poorer nations in the documentary being REALLY REALLY against the experiment but get overruled by richer, more powerful nations, the Korean man that gets taken out of the prison/stasis because of his technical expertise, the Korean girl who gets taken out of the prison/stasis car only because her father-figure insists on it, the sushi car without Japanese people, the white women whose career success and personal comfort is the result of them being willing to do a white man's dirty work in oppressing the poor/taking their children.

Trying to look at this movie without acknowledging the over SCREW YOU RICH COUNTRIES SCREW YOU RICH PEOPLE WHITE PEOPLE YOU ARE COMPLICIT IN THIS REALLY GROSS SYSTEM overtones is really, really weird to me.
posted by joyceanmachine at 11:57 AM on August 5 [12 favorites]


You Can't tip a Buick: So on the one hand, I think anyone who's talking about how the train is implausible on a literal level is missing the point, and moreover missing the point so thoroughly that I wouldn't think it was actually possible for an actual person to miss said point, except for how I've seen and heard otherwise reasonably smart people do so.

Hard science fiction fans (writers know better) use an approach to reading the genre that ironically has more in common with young-earth biblical literalism than anything else we've seen since the birth of science fiction. Einstein's Special Relativity was built on an impossible gedankenexperiment involving a train and a flashlight, so you end up with readings that are less imaginative that the science worshipfully used to justify that priggishness.

Slackermagee: Thinking about it some more, I think I can distill my philosophical complaints down to: This is a fantasy right wing piece for the Dark Enlightment/Gnon/Neofeudalist types as much as Atlas Shrugged was one for the libertarian crowd. Accept your place in life under your assigned despot. Attempt to overthrow the power-enforced order and everyone will perish, the species made extinct.

Everyone involved in the Cult of Wilford appears to be horrifying and/or insane. The conclusion is a tragedy, and we're not supposed to take Curtis's moral defeat as endorsement of Willford's perspective. Snowpiercer isn't the only SF work that concludes with apocalypse as perhaps the only moral solution.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:02 PM on August 5 [10 favorites]


psst it's not a movie about a train.

Die Hard is not a movie about a building, but at least the building where it takes place is plausibly an actual building with all four walls and a foundation.
posted by The World Famous at 12:06 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Die Hard is also not a straightforwardly allegorical tale about late capitalism. (correct me if I'm wrong, it's been ages and ages since I've seen it).

In any case, the potential conversations about whether the train works as a literal thing are really boring, because the answer is pretty clear, because like literally no one involved in the production, distribution, or consumption of the film wants anyone to think that the train works as a literal thing. On the other hand, though, the conversations about whether or not the movie is a dark enlightenment manifesto masquerading as oppositional leftism are quite interesting indeed.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:09 PM on August 5 [8 favorites]


Die Hard is plausible in a universe where a massive explosion atop a building can be survived by leaping off it with a rubber hose tied around your waist.
posted by maxsparber at 12:10 PM on August 5 [8 favorites]


What kind of message is that if you want to convince people that you can change the system? Change the system and everyone dies in a train accident.

The message is a pessimistic one; specifically: you can't change the system, unless you're prepared to run the system off the metaphorical rails and deal with whatever Pyrrhic consequences come your way.

The school song went something along the lines of 'from the blazing desert of Africa to the snowy mountains'.

The school song is a fairy tale that instills fear of death. Much like a sampling of the Grimms' tales, it isn't a literal description of reality but an allegory told in a setting that conditions obedience at an early age to parents/teachers/authorities, to keep the system going.

Why use the children for the creepy impossibility drive if you're willing to cut people's arms and legs off (which would allow them to fit in that creepy nonsense box)?

Because the audience is meant to be told a story where child labor is a critical part of what makes our the film's system run.

There's a fight, a reality that suddenly suffers from an outbreak of good cheer as the train completes a rotation, then the fight begins again.

On the contrary, the absurdity of the ritual is obvious on its face. You have a train making a circle of the earth once a year, when there are no obvious distinctions between seasons to meaningfully denote the passing of a new year. In the absurdity of their situation, it makes a warped sense that passengers note an arbitrary marker by temporarily ceasing their slaughter and celebrating.

It felt messy, busy, internally confused, externally confusing, and without purpose...

I'd agree with everything, except the last part. This was a movie with the purpose of exploring — in an occasionally morbidly funny way — our willingness to be amoral to keep our collective "train" on the rails, with the alternative being an almost certain death at the hand of Nature. If you keep the train running — even if you try to take the train over — there are no clean hands.

If the movie offered any easy answers, then it would be a good copy of a simple-minded political allegory or morality tale. It is arguably smart enough not to assume there are any such answers. It isn't a complex work on the level of Kubrick, true, but it is definitely smarter and much more respectful of its audience than most video games, even if it may share superficial, stylistic similarities that meet click-bait deadlines.

psst it's not a movie about a train.

Yep.
posted by Mr. Six at 12:12 PM on August 5 [14 favorites]


Die Hard is also not an allegory (at least how I see it). It relies on a consistent sense of physical space, physics (-ish), &c. for the sake of thrills. Die Hard would be a lesser, less exciting film without that barebones logic, but Snowpiercer is aiming for something different and I wouldn't judge it and Die Hard by the same standards.
posted by brundlefly at 12:12 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Y'all are just not intellectually sophisticated enough to understand Die Hard. Philistines.
posted by The World Famous at 12:15 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


What's to understand? It's a sequel to a Frank Sinatra movie.
posted by maxsparber at 12:18 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Seriously
posted by maxsparber at 12:20 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Non sequitur: I recently rewatched Die Hard (because it's one of the greatest movies ever) and was struck by the fact that it manages to not be paranoid and xenophobic while also being an 80s film that involves a Japanese corporation operating in the US.
posted by brundlefly at 12:22 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


It's a dystopian ark-story. That it takes place on a train involving improbable mechanics as opposed to a spaceship involving impossible physics is just trivia. Again, "eternal engine" is a religious statement of faith, one that's revealed to be false.

Mr. Six: The school song is a fairy tale that instills fear of death. Much like a sampling of the Grimms' tales, it isn't a literal description of reality but an allegory told in a setting that conditions obedience at an early age to parents/teachers/authorities, to keep the system going.

It baffles me as to why anyone would read that bit of bugfuck crazy propaganda as backstory to be taken at face value.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:23 PM on August 5 [7 favorites]


Snowpiercer is allegorical with a capital A. So much so that I was willing to overlook the logical inconsistencies for a while (what do the bugs eat, ffs?). But after a while, the ham-handedness of the constant metaphorical drubbing combined with the increasing pile of leaps of insanity just really got to me.

I liked the movie okay, but it made going to see Guardians Of The Galaxy a real relief. I swear if Tilda Swinton hadn't been in it I would have walked halfway.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:24 PM on August 5


what do the bugs eat, ffs?

Smaller bugs.
posted by maxsparber at 12:25 PM on August 5


all the way down
posted by The World Famous at 12:28 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


This is a fantasy right wing piece for the Dark Enlightment/Gnon/Neofeudalist types as much as Atlas Shrugged was one for the libertarian crowd.

On the contrary, it was a fantasy revolutionary leftist piece for anarchists, accelerationists, propaganda of the deed types, and primitivists.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:30 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


(what do the bugs eat, ffs?)

Waste from the front section, assuming that there's a grain of truth behind Mason's devotional blathering.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:31 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Die Hard is a terrifying prophesy of modern urban combat.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:35 PM on August 5 [6 favorites]


the man of twists and turns: "Die Hard is a terrifying prophesy of modern urban combat."

Oooh! I forgot about this post. I remember really enjoying it.
posted by brundlefly at 12:37 PM on August 5


I mean the movie literalizes the old chestnut about how it's easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism, but without presenting much space for critical awareness; like, ultimately it affirms the idea/ideology that the bosses know what they're doing even though it all looks as insane as putting the school and the sushi bar next to the abbatoir, and it's right that they're in charge, and that we should keep our heads down and do what they say (and say what they say) even when it's awful. Or else things will get worse for everyone. Super, super conservative message.

I'm really, really confused by people who didn't get a hopeful vibe from the end of the movie.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:00 PM on August 5 [6 favorites]


Die Hard is a Christmas movie the whole family can enjoy.

I'm really, really confused by people who didn't get a hopeful vibe from the end of the movie.

The hopeful ending was as cliché as the dark despair parts of the film before. That's why I prefer brundlefly's reading that this is a hopeful film for polar bears. The noble polar bear, whose habitat is being destroyed by thoughtless global warming. The train is a metaphor for carbon pollution, and the polar bear reigns triumphant over the stupid humans who demolish their one last hope for survival.

Unrelated, Bioshock Infinite strikes me as another relevant game to compare to Snowpiercer. In large part because of the Vox Populi and the problematic treatment of Daisy Fitzroy, our heroic rebel fighting The Man. I know a lot of folks were offended by what they did with her but I thought it was interesting and subtle.
posted by Nelson at 1:18 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


I'm really, really confused by people who didn't get a hopeful vibe from the end of the movie.

Only one of Bong's previous films has a happy ending, and it's a bittersweet one. It's totally valid to read the end of Snowpiercer as at least ambiguous/ambivalent. Something can indeed survive in this world, but that something is incredibly dangerous to humans and doesn't need them for anything.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:18 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


I'm really, really confused by people who didn't get a hopeful vibe from the end of the movie.

Me, too. If everyone had died on the train, or quickly frozen to death in a still inhospitably cold world, that really would have sent the message that you really should just keep the train going even if it means sacrificing children to maintain a fascist cult, because that's the only way you'll survive.

But at least two people made it out, and it looks like Namgoong was right--the Earth is warming again. Polar bears are a source of food--fierce and difficult to acquire, yes, but animal life is still present. We can begin again.

Beginning again will be a tremendous challenge. Nothing about it will be easy. But the old, oppressive, immoral system of the train is ended for good; and with it the lie that the train is both necessary and eternal. We didn't need it anymore, and it wasn't going to last forever anyway. So, yeah, we're going to live in caves and hunt polar bears for a generations to come, but no one is going to have to know what babies taste like anymore, or cut off their own arms to avoid finding out.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 1:23 PM on August 5 [6 favorites]


But at least two people made it out, and it looks like Namgoong was right--the Earth is warming again. Polar bears are a source of food--fierce and difficult to acquire, yes, but animal life is still present. We can begin again.

Beginning again will be a tremendous challenge. Nothing about it will be easy. But the old, oppressive, immoral system of the train is ended for good; and with it the lie that the train is both necessary and eternal. We didn't need it anymore, and it wasn't going to last forever anyway. So, yeah, we're going to live in caves and hunt polar bears for a generations to come, but no one is going to have to know what babies taste like anymore, or cut off their own arms to avoid finding out.


I think the fundamental disagreement here is about who hunts whom.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:25 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Hm, there was another article I read recently that talked about the Snowpiercer/Bioshock parallels, and in particular pointed out a number of Bioshocky aspects of the flick that weren't in the comic that it was based on, like how the aquarium car was a tunnel through water instead of a train car full of fish tanks as in the comic. Can't find it now, though. So instead, here's some quibbles:

GenjiandProust: I know! Have you ever thought about the temples that Lara Croft goes through? Think of the poor priests who lived there! If you had to use the bathroom during the middle of the night, imagine trying to throw all the switches before you had an accident. Or an accident....

Lara at least gets the excuse that most of the environments she explores are ruins. So there may have been more convenient routes at one point that simply aren't passable any more.

Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane: I actually stopped playing Bioshock when the whole conversion process into one of the Big Daddys began. It was just too obvious how the game was going to end at that point, and I lost all interest in seeing it through.

So did the writers. The game kind of forgets about the whole conversion thing immediately after that level, and concludes with a conventional boss fight and happy ending. Does that make you more or less interested in seeing it through?

mittens: The aquarium is full of fish...but enough for 17 years of sushi-eating?

Explicitly not. The sushi chef points out that they only have sushi once a year, when they harvest the fish to bring the population down to sustainable levels.

Speaking of which, given all this discussion about the political implications of the film, I'm surprised to see no mention of its apparent anti-environmentalist stance. Sustainability is Wilford's justification for all his tyranny, down to and including encouraging periodic revolutions to reduce the population. And of course the disaster that froze the world was the result of an attempt at mitigating global warming.
posted by baf at 1:29 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


I think the fundamental disagreement here is about who hunts whom.

Well, everyone is free to read that ending in their own way, but my interpretation has the virtue of being in line with the director's intention.

How much did you have to change or revise about the ending until you go it right? Or was it always the same concept from the beginning? Spoilers below!

Bong: From the very first draft that he wrote adapting the graphic novels, he always envisioned this ending where they finally escaped to the outside world and it's the start of a new generation. That's not changed. As far as the Polar Bear, that idea came up during the writing process. And he has a slight regret. Maybe he should have shot a deer because people think the bear is going to eat the kids. But, the idea of going outside.

Bong (himself): Some people actually think like that. [laughs]

posted by Pater Aletheias at 1:30 PM on August 5


But yes it's a vision of a world where history is no longer a purportedly-endless eternal closed loop where even revolution is a tool for implementing total control through statistical analysis but is instead acknowledged as the site of actually new events. It's just, I guess at this point I get really literal-minded and think "hey, if the rest of the movie was showing what late capitalism would look like in train form, then this is showing me what life after capitalism is going to consist of, and — oops, it consists of getting eaten by that giant fucking bear. Great."
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:31 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


You Can't Tip a Buick: "hey, if the rest of the movie was showing what late capitalism would look like in train form, then this is showing me what life after capitalism is going to consist of"

I don't think it's attempting to show the later at all. The future is unknown. It's a few brief shots and (literally) a world of possibilities.

Also, I didn't get even a hint of threat from the bear in that scene. Perhaps polar bears have become so fixed in my head as "innocent victims of our environmental clusterfucks" that the predation thing didn't occur to me.
posted by brundlefly at 1:35 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


I mean, it kinda stuns me that we're this far into a thread about Snowpiercer without anybody really talking about the heavy, heavy racism/colonialism/cultural appropriation stuff that the director does.

Yes, this! I really really liked this analysis of the film which makes similar points: "[The] last scene suggests that white Westerners are too compromised and complicit with the capitalist system to bring about its downfall—inevitably, they will shore it up as “the lesser evil”."
posted by jess at 1:47 PM on August 5 [8 favorites]


I really really liked this analysis of the film

That's a smart read. I'm still more on the side of those who think the ending's optimism is misplaced — to my mind, the polar bear is a symbol that the planet survived humanity/society, and given what the director shows on-screen, the film seems ambiguous about whether or not humanity's remnants survive. But either way, it does show the audience the possible cost of true anarchy, without any sugar-coating.
posted by Mr. Six at 2:03 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


I think the fundamental disagreement here is about who hunts whom.

If polar bears exist, then other prey animals also must exist.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:07 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


I mean, literally straightforward -- the plot moves straight forward along the train to the very end/front.

So you are saying it's an on-rails shooter?
posted by Sebmojo at 2:14 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Yeah polar bears imply a pretty thick ecosystem for them to sit at the top of the calorie chain of.
posted by PMdixon at 2:14 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


well yes there's something keeping that polar bear alive and in an abstract sense they could go find what it was and eat it, but in immediately concrete terms that bear is totes going to eat them.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:15 PM on August 5


(I think maybe my "aw crap bear gonna eat me" reaction outs me as a comparatively privileged westerner, so compromised by the system that I'm afraid of getting eaten by a bear).
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:16 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


That is known as the Colbert Effect.
posted by brundlefly at 2:23 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


baf: I don't agree on either point, since both strike me as a relatively shallow environmentalism. The chemical use at the start of the film strikes me as another kudzu or DDT, an apparently easy fix with unintended consequences. Likewise, Wilford's arguments about sustainability are largely self-serving. To make the allegory painfully clear, while America and Europe face eating sushi less frequently due to overfishing, many developing nations are looking at potentially being decimated or worse by climate change.

Never mind that Wilford's statements are more political and religious than technical. The impending failure of the engine is possibly the biggest reveal of the film.

A seriously considered and sobering thought that some science fiction is starting to wrestle with is that perhaps human extinction is an inevitable and/or possibly a preferable outcome of the holocene extinction event. I give Snowpiercer a bit of credit for putting that on the table.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:27 PM on August 5 [10 favorites]


Perhaps polar bears have become so fixed in my head as "innocent victims of our environmental clusterfucks" that the predation thing didn't occur to me.

Considering they're one of the few animals that will actively hunt humans, that's a bad mistake to make.
posted by lumpenprole at 2:33 PM on August 5


In any case, the potential conversations about whether the train works as a literal thing are really boring, because the answer is pretty clear, because like literally no one involved in the production, distribution, or consumption of the film wants anyone to think that the train works as a literal thing. On the other hand, though, the conversations about whether or not the movie is a dark enlightenment manifesto masquerading as oppositional leftism are quite interesting indeed.

But I guess they and you don't see that the realism stuff is actually key to deciding what to make of the theme of the movie.

The whole argument of hard-nosed "realist" capitalists is that, sure, it would be nice to have egalitarianism and eliminate poverty, but the real world doesn't work that way.

So if you make a movie where it seems obvious that overthrowing the system will just kill everyone, or, worse, where you obviously don't care whether or not it would work, whether humans would eat the polar bears or vice versa, then your theme is that the hard-nosed conservative "realists" are probably right.
posted by straight at 2:57 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


The movie treats the destruction of the train/capitalism as acceptable even with the extreme cost of doing so, which is a radical stance to take. But the fact that there are consequences doesn't mean the film portrays destroying the train/capitalism as bad.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:04 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]


and I mean you're right? I do wish the movie had better adhered to the (loose) realism standards of the big-budget action movie genre rather than going much more surreal after Yekaterina Bridge, and likely the fact that it didn't adhere to said genre standards is one of the reasons why I see the ending as fundamentally nihilistic (in the bad way)1 and suspect it of being unnervingly amenable to pro-dark-enlightenment-esque readings.

1: and I mean, sure, I'm basically a nihilist, but in the ontological-nihilism way rather than the fight-clubby yeah whee knock it down boom bang yay way.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:07 PM on August 5


Yeah polar bears imply a pretty thick ecosystem for them to sit at the top of the calorie chain of.

That's where you're wrong. These are domesticated polar bears, raised and fed from above by the people who live in the giant dystopian airship that can never land. Sequel!
posted by The World Famous at 3:08 PM on August 5 [8 favorites]


lumpenprole: "Considering they're one of the few animals that will actively hunt humans, that's a bad mistake to make."

I suspect that the next time I'm in polar bear country I won't be thinking that way.
posted by brundlefly at 3:08 PM on August 5


where you obviously don't care whether or not it would work, whether humans would eat the polar bears or vice versa, then your theme is that the hard-nosed conservative "realists" are probably right.

I don't see it as not caring whether or not it would work, but more as an admission that they're in uncharted territory. There's the freedom to develop a new society, but with it there's a chance to fail. It's similar to the end of Terminator 2. The dark freeway scene shows that the future is unknown.
posted by FJT at 3:18 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Twist: it's the polar bear from Lost, and actually they are on The Island. They've always been on The Island. They always will be on The Island, time is a flat circle. The Smoke Monster is actually train exhaust. The Numbers represent the train switching schedule.

(OK probably the point of the ending is that it's Hope for Humanity. Just like how having the wretched urchin in the engineworks is like totally a strong indictment of Kapitalism and man's inhumanity to man. Boy, this metaphor stuff is hard to follow when you keep getting hit in the head by it over and over again.)
posted by Nelson at 3:20 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


having the wretched urchin in the engineworks is like totally a strong indictment of Kapitalism

Wait, what does it mean that the white kid got a cushy seat in the high-tech part of the engine to do his soul-crushing drone work?
posted by mittens at 3:30 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Boy, this metaphor stuff is hard to follow when you keep getting hit in the head by it over and over again.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. The earlier criticism was the movie isn't realistic enough, so it's explained some of it is symbolism and metaphors. Then the complaint is that they're shallow and pointless, so it's explained that there's actually a few different things going on at the same time so that's not the case. And now there are TOO MANY symbols and metaphors. I can see where the goal posts are shifting.
posted by FJT at 3:38 PM on August 5 [8 favorites]


as a movie, i don't think it was that great -- but then on first viewing i didn't really like the usual suspects or the fisher king that much either -- like as good as brazil or anything (or even the host! i've never seen resident evil: retribution ;) but as social commentary i thought it did a nice job of distilling wool :P before ridley scott does?

anyway, in conclusion, snowpiercer is the new napoleon dynamite!
posted by kliuless at 3:56 PM on August 5


But the fact that there are consequences doesn't mean the film portrays destroying the train/capitalism as bad.

But the fact that they film doesn't seem to have thought very much about those consequences doesn't make its judgment on that score very convincing.

I don't see it as not caring whether or not it would work, but more as an admission that they're in uncharted territory. There's the freedom to develop a new society, but with it there's a chance to fail.

I'm sure that's what the movie makers intend, but I also think it's a valid criticism to say, "Um, it looks like you've put as little thought into how this would really work out as the capitalists always accuse revolutionaries of doing."
posted by straight at 3:59 PM on August 5


...the giant dystopian airship that can never land. Sequel!

Needs a good title. Airfloater? Cloudsurfer? Windbagger? Maybe get Pauly Shore attached to this as the final boss.
posted by Mr. Six at 4:02 PM on August 5


Ultimately, all of this spirited discussion is both desirable and pointless. To the former, it's good that viewers are really engaging with the work. To the latter, it's all about unanswerable questions. Lady or the Tiger, is Deckard a Replicant, did Mal wake up to the real world? All very apropos given that the ending was literally The Truman Show meets The Matrix Reloaded.
posted by Apocryphon at 4:08 PM on August 5


Well, I didn't think much of Bioshock, either, other than the occasional memorable moment, so.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:08 PM on August 5


Needs a good title

SKYFUCKER
posted by The Whelk at 4:11 PM on August 5 [9 favorites]


It doesn't have much to do with the linked article, but man the whole OMG PLOTHOLES thing that people are doing above is the worst sort of internet nerdery. It's like, do people even watch science fiction films? Because 'presenting a provably plausible vision of the future' isn't something that science fiction has ever actually done, because predicting the future isn't something that people can do, at all.

I can be as annoyed- as taken out of a movie- by things, as much as anyone else I'm sure. But the kind of things that seem to bother people ("Polar bears will eat them! There wasn't enough fish in the fish car!") aren't any of them, because I liked it as a science fiction movie, much like I like and/or love the following:

2001 (full of mystical mumbo-jumbo). Silent Running (plot-holes big enough to drive a space-forest biodome through). Total Recall (Dickian gibberish.) Blade Runner (Dickian mindfuckery at its finest, but with some rather nonsensical premises). Minority report (ditto) Save the Green Planet (huh?) Idiocracy (yeah yeah, a documentary, but seriously all those people would already be dead from the stupidity) The Matrix (incredibly-entropic biological systems are actually power sources? That seems like it would have been easy to fix- say you're doing processing with their brains, instead of using them as batteries. But really who cares.)

WTF else. Soylent Green? Logan's Run? The first five Planet of the Apes movies? Are all about as 'plausible' as Sleeper, or Godzilla, or A Scanner Darkly (a great movie which is pretty much Dickian nonsense from start to finish).

Anything that has easy-ish interstellar travel or human-seeming robots begs all kinds questions (respectively, How? and Why?) Anything that involves aliens showing up on the Earth with predatory intentions has to handwave both of the above.

Star Wars?(of course, not really SF but futuristic fantasy.) Star Trek? (once you go ahead and assume FTL travel, a post-scarcity civilization, and green-skinned, bikini-clad, alien gals, you might as well be in Middle Earth.) But really, I don't think that making that kind of sense is the point of either one.

I liked Snowpiercer, but then again I thought that the absurdity of the premise was part of its charm. I also really liked the latest Gilliam, Zero Theorem, which probably makes even less sense, but what the hell, I guess our mileage is always varying...

(and, if anyone's inclined to correct me, re: the plausibility of the movies I mentioned, please do note that my point is that I don't really care about that- you might be right, but it's probably not going to change how much I like those movies.)
posted by hap_hazard at 4:12 PM on August 5 [10 favorites]


The World Famous: "These are domesticated polar bears, raised and fed from above by the people who live in the giant dystopian airship that can never land. Sequel!"

Somebody beat you to it.
posted by brundlefly at 4:18 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


the whole OMG PLOTHOLES thing that people are doing above is the worst sort of internet nerdery

Really? The worst?

I personally don't think so. I have great love for a lot of films -- science fiction and otherwise -- that are just riddled with plot holes and implausible stuff and bad science and bad story decisions (Sunshine or Pandorum, both from a few years back, being examples), but there's a point at which I think it's reasonable to expect the positive to overwhelm the negative. In the case of Snowpiercer, that never happened for me, as it seems was the case with some others.

One of the important aspects of good science fiction (when it encourages you to think a bit and isn't just the explodey-wow effects wank that it too often is these days) is suspension of disbelief, and once the film makes you lose that as an audience member, it's pretty hard to get it back. But even that can be ameliorated if the characters are well-drawn and well-acted and the ideas are exciting enough, which I don't think was the case here.

I don't think Snowpiercer was entirely terrible -- I just find it offputting and surprising that it came in for as much praise as it did. It was at best merely OK, mostly, I thought. But: shrug.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:22 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


The worst?

Well, pointless hyperbole is pretty bad too, now that you mention it.
posted by hap_hazard at 4:28 PM on August 5


Somebody beat you to it.

Dude. That's a hot air balloon. I'm talking about a rigid airship. Totally different thing. Do you have any idea how much more dystopian life would be on a rigid airship than in the comfy basket of a hot air balloon? Do you know who lives in a basket? Kittens. And do they ever incite rebellion? Well, sometimes, but not that often. Not nearly as often as they would if they were placed in the hold of a rigid airship, I can tell you.
posted by The World Famous at 4:42 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


I'm talking about a rigid airship.

Such an obvious metaphor for the mismanagement of the US's national helium reserve!
posted by mittens at 5:01 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


So if you make a movie where it seems obvious that overthrowing the system will just kill everyone, or, worse, where you obviously don't care whether or not it would work, whether humans would eat the polar bears or vice versa, then your theme is that the hard-nosed conservative "realists" are probably right.

Which only works if you limit your reading to the last 30 seconds of the movie. Strangely enough, there's a whole 126 additional minutes in which the capitalists are both brutal and bugfuck crazy to wrestle with.

If you take the pessimistic reading of the ending as the last death throes of the apocalypse, the only reasonable reading of that relationship is "because of them, we're fucked." Which is something that's been done before in cinema. Dr. Strangelove and Beneath the Planet of the Apes comes to mind. It's also a theme of a certain radical strain of environmentalism which is resigned to the probability that we won't survive the permian-scale event we're creating.

Now of course, if you take the obvious bugfuck crazy on screen as obvious bugfuck crazy and realize that Wilford, Mason, and The Teacher are unreliable sources about the world outside, then it's quite possible that there's more than polar bears outside and the Snowpiercer isn't the only Ark.

But there's absolutely nothing in the film to suggest that Wilford, Mason, and The Teacher are anything other than bugfuck crazy and hopped up on an ideology turned into a religion. Seriously, very little can make the shoe speech right.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:42 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Not to mention the "escape from dystopia, hey things are not quite that bad" is a stock ending for that genre.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:50 PM on August 5


Clothes on Film: Snowpiercer: Q&A with Costume Designer Catherine George

We had a lot of fun with Mason and at one point during Tilda’s fitting we also gave her a bit of a hump like one of our reference pictures, but with the false teeth, the glasses, wig and sagging breasts, the hump had to go.
posted by Mr. Six at 12:35 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Kronol is a metaphor for entertainment. It's essentially garbage. It hooks people. It pacifies and stupefies. But it can also be explosive. In the right hands, when lit by the flame of inspiration (something now all but extinct), it can blow apart the system. It can trigger an avalanche that topples the world. It's a drug that can either enslave or free mankind, depending on how it's used.
posted by dephlogisticated at 3:01 AM on August 6 [3 favorites]


Yeah. I got no hope from that ending at all. We see a hungry beast adapted to the cold juxtaposed with a mother and child who don't turn back to gather supplies.
posted by lumensimus at 3:23 AM on August 6


I never thought the ending meant everyone was better off on the train. The heroes decided it was worth ending the current situation even if it was impossible to see the clear alternative ahead of time.

*spoilers for The Host*
And Bong's leftist views seem pretty obvious in his other movies. His most famous film is The Host which is also an allegorical scifi/monster film, just a bit more subtle and more specific to S Korean politics. It's been a few years since I've seen it, but from what I remember: The monster is created because American army base stationed in Seoul illegally dumps chemicals in the river. The Korean government's solution to kill the monster is to use more polluting chemicals (can't remember, but possibly created by some chaebol). Activists oppose this, but the protesters made up of the current youth generation are shown to be ineffective and just get poisoned too. The monster is brought down when one of the heroes, dressed in the aesthetic of the more radical leftist/democratization protesters of earlier generations, uses Molotov cocktails against it.
posted by pugg at 4:18 AM on August 6 [3 favorites]


lumensimus: "Yeah. I got no hope from that ending at all. We see a hungry beast adapted to the cold juxtaposed with a mother and child who don't turn back to gather supplies."

Huh? They stand near the wrecked train and look at the bear. The fact that we don't see them root around for supplies doesn't mean they didn't. If we want to go that direction we don't see them actually found a new civilization either. And, for that matter, we don't see them get eaten.

Also, they're not mother and child.
posted by brundlefly at 9:56 AM on August 6


Presumably, in order for the human race to survive, they are going to have to be copartners in creating the next generation, which will consist entirely of incestuous brothers and sisters, and then there will be a couple of generations of incest before there are relatives distant enough not to be considered incest, and knowing that they're going to lose a lot of their population to polar bears, well, it's probably pretty much a few hundred years of alternating between getting eaten and committing incest.

I now agree that the ending is sort of ambiguous.
posted by maxsparber at 10:32 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


oh god, tricked by another cosmo sex tip.
posted by ennui.bz at 11:14 AM on August 6


well, it's probably pretty much a few hundred years of alternating between getting eaten and committing incest.

Snowpiercer 2 is Game of Thrones season 7.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:57 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


P F F T
posted by mysticreferee at 6:37 PM on August 6


Understanding Art House: Snowpiercer
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:07 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


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