Snowpiercer: Bong Joon-Ho’s Jab at the God of the Machine

(The cats are away at Netroots Nation, leaving the meese to play. — Rayne)

A number of film critics have written that Snowpiercer — director Bong Joon-Ho’s adaptation of the French dystopic graphic novel, Le Transperceneige — is a cinematic allegory of climate change (the new “cli-fi“). Others will call it an allegory of class warfare. The film released in the U.S. on 27 June, reaching only 374 theaters across the country. Thankfully it went to video-on-demand last Friday as it entered its third week in theaters.

The highly limited and unusual method of release belies the film’s stunning appearance, its stellar cast, its punchy delivery. It’s all of these things and more: gritty, raw, gruesome, action-filled and emotion-tugging. Chris Evans was a surprise, offering restrained yet emotionally exposed work as flawed and resistant Curtis — a far cry from his recent stints as Captain America. Tilda Swinton is her funky finest, and Octavia Spencer is a powerful mother tigress. Korean actors Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko fit perfectly, as do John Hurt and Jamie Bell. Effects are purposeful and not excessive, camera work highly effective, the score clings to the action like a skin.

Snowpiercer is believed to have been dissed on distribution because Bong Joon-Ho insisted on his own cut, resisting Harvey Weinstein’s demands that 20 minutes be excised. Given how closely the story reflects Dante’s Inferno, it’s difficult to see how any cuts affecting up to and through any of its gates would allow the movie to work as it does. (Really, Harvey, which of the circles of hell could we do without? Did you consult with Satan?)

But another reason for the short shrift on distribution may be the film’s unacknowledged allegory: the engine of production continues at all costs.

This is not the message of class warfare which Le Transperceneige’s two books more closely spell out. This is the ugly truth of our current global economy and the descent it makes into a catastrophic climate hell ahead.

The creators of the train ensuring your existence insist you stay where you are, even if you perceive yourself to be at the head of the train. You will be punished if you step out of your assigned place in the works. Resistance is terrorism, and must be eliminated to retain the careful balance necessary to assure production’s continuity. You have no privacy, no rights, no value save for your usefulness to the god of the machine.

This film jabs at the global economy’s bloated belly, wherein gross domestic product is worshipped, and energy’s demands obeyed at the expense of free will and a survivable planet. Bong Joon-Ho’s message is far more subtle and important than that of conflict between labor and capital. It’s certainly more unsettling to the domestic distribution system which desires a sure, non-threatening blockbuster to continue their offering of profit to the god of productivity.

Spoiler (look away now, I’ll put this after the jump):

The end of the movie focuses on only two known survivors of the Snowpiercer’s crash: a girl, a boy, and neither are white.

Perhaps this ending, too, demanded by Bong Joon-Ho as part of his director’s cut, ensured this film was not offered wide distribution befitting an action/sci-fi film. How unsettling it might be to the masters of the universe to see the heirs of the planet they’re bent on destroying might not be white.

By the way, if you’re in Michigan at the end of the month into the first week of August, you can catch Snowpiercer at the annual Traverse City Film Festival. Do see it on the big screen if you can.

13 replies
  1. J M Ward says:

    Dear Rayne,

    Thank you so much for the heads-up about Snowpiercer, it looks fantastic. There are complaints everywhere on UK websites that we still have no idea when or where it’s going to be distributed – typical, and a form of censorship, I think. I am still trying to find out how I can see Tonje Hessen Schei’s “Drone” – see Democracy Now! here: . No release schedule for the UK, as far as I can determine.

    And as for Snowpiercer: well, I have two choices, both thanks to the magic of the internet. One is to connect to my excellent VPN (CyberGhost), pretend to be in the USA, and stream it from your video-on-demand link. The other – and I plead extreme penury here – is to go to the notorious website T**P*****B**.se and find out whether some generous soul has made it available there. However, this is impossible in the free and democratic UK, where the Government has strong-armed many of the big ISPs into blocking TPB and many other websites that may or may not have a hand in enabling the download of copyright material. It was for this reason that God invented the VPN and encryption.

    Duly thanking the Almighty, I have visited TPB and am downloading the 1080p version of the film from one of a quality supplier, YIFY Torrents, as I write. I think an apposite quotation here is from John Gilmore, one of the founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation: “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it”. If the oh-so-efficient market can’t get up off its bum and make stuff available in a timely manner, conveniently, and at a reasonable price, then resourceful people are going to have to do the obvious.

    If this is what happens when the cats are away, perhaps we should locate a catnip bush somewhere sufficiently remote for the mice to be able to reach the keyboard more often.


    • cwolf says:

      If it was any good, I’d upload it to you from google drive or equiv.
      But since it sux, I’ll spare you the agony of a long downloading and the subsequent feeling that you must endure this stinker.

    • bmaz1 says:

      You are doing fine, and thank you for the comment. There is an issue with paragraph breaks in some browsers and modes. We are working on several different issues on the blog formatting, but it may be awhile before all the fixes are implemented. In the meantime, don’t worry about it, people here understand and will read it anyway, or alternatively, use a single period
      like this, which will create a natural looking paragraph break. Enjoy Snowpiercer!

  2. gmoke says:

    It’s interesting to me that the two climate change fiction films I know about, The Day After Tomorrow and now Snowpiercer, are both about freezing rather than broiling.

    Saw Snowpiercer on July 4 and was not too impressed with it. Tilda Swinton was the best thing about it. The riches against the poors plot line was shallow at best and the climate change aspect was simply a given. The deepest thing about the movie was the scenic design.

    • Rayne says:

      With regard to freezing due to climate change, you may want to read theories related to thermohaline circulation.


      Scenarios of rapid changes to below normal temps have been developed from models of ocean-based haline pump shutdown based on loss of arctic ice pack.


      Evidence of previous rapid temperature drop post-deglaciation has been recorded in Antarctic ice cores. See

  3. cwolf says:

    The only thing that ruined this movie for me was watching it.
    It was terrible. The cast sucked. The plot sucked. The premise was ridiculous and it too sucked. The whole thing sucked.

    • Rayne says:

      Sorry you wasted your time both watching the film and commenting on it. Transformers 4 is still showing — knock yourself out.

    • Rayne says:

      Thanks for that, PJ, hadn’t seen that review. The movie’s distribution model this time is making waves, too, as the sold-out but limited number of theaters and record download sales attest.


      Hollywood still hasn’t figured out we can handle darker, thinking movies, and might prefer them over warmed-up sequels aimed at the dwindling U.S. 18-25 white male audience.

  4. The Tim Channel says:

    It was a pretty decent movie compared to most of the dreck that’s out there, specially if you are a fan of post apocalyptic sci-fi. Is it a climate change movie or a diatribe against the 1%? Both, but that totally misses the point, which to me is that we live on fixed resources no matter how big the ‘train’ is. Enjoy.

    • Rayne says:

      Yeah, the point was not so much about class warfare between 1% or the occupiers who want to resist. The point was they were both effed, and the outcome for Tilda’s character makes the case.

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