Envisioning a post-apocalyptic world on a train, Bong Joon-ho‘s ‘Snowpiercer’ is a lot more than a generic sci-fi thriller. The film brims with social commentary on the world’s socio-economic structure and involves visceral visuals that further heighten its gory drama. There is a lot one can take from the movie’s storyline, especially from its ambiguous ending. So further down in this article, we’ll be explaining everything that goes down in the film and its dramatic conclusion.
The impact of human activities leads to drastic changes in the climate. In order to control the rising temperature of the planet, a new form of climate engineering technology is introduced. Unfortunately, this backfires on mankind and covers the entire planet with a thick layer of snow. The subliminal temperatures make it impossible for any form of life to survive and that’s what leads to the inception of a whole new era. The world, as humans know it, comes to an end but the last few remnants of humanity survive themselves on a circumnavigating train, the Snowpiercer.
Run by the tycoon Wilford, the train has extreme class segregations where the back end accommodates the impoverished, heavily clustered in their narrow bunk beds and claustrophobic corridors. Everything from their food supply to water to even their opinion is controlled by the one and only, Wilford. But after seeing enough atrocities by surviving in the subpar conditions of the tail of the train, Curtis and his second-in-command Edgar start a revolution after being inspired by their father-figure, Gilliam.
Totalitarianism and Class Warfare
Throughout its runtime, ‘Snowpiercer’ takes you through the segregated classes of the train and reflects on how Wilford creates his own totalitarian regime in its enclosed environment. As revealed in the early scenes of the movie, Wilford, serves as a dictator and controls everything that goes on in the train. For those who live in the train’s tail and defy its class disparity, he uses fear as a tool to keep them in control. Moreover, as shown in the initial moments of the movie, anyone who tries to go against him faces dire punishments involving practices such as mutilation.
After Curtis and Edgar free Namgoong, a security specialist, and his clairvoyant daughter Yona, they get closer to their dream of reaching the front of the train. But their progress is hindered when they run into a group of masked men, equipped with axes. This is another aspect of the movie that reflects on how Wilford’s totalitarian regime maintains control by keeping secretive police forces and lack of transparency, because of which, the people seem to have no clue what lies ahead of them.
After this, the group reaches a classroom where little kids are literally being manipulated to hate those who live in the tail compartments of the train. Through propaganda and education, a fear of the outside world is also instilled in these kids to ensure that they conform to the twisted power hierarchy of the train. And as you might have noticed, as the group makes its way through the different levels of the train, almost no-one from the seemingly middle-class groups joins their revolution. One reason behind this is that all of them have been manipulated to believe that the poor are just worthless scum who deserve what they’re getting. Moreover, from the way the people from middle compartments people look at Curtis and his group, one can tell how they fear to defy their supreme leader and his rule.
Another aspect of the movie’s storyline which reflects upon Wilford’s totalitarian rule is how he literally controls the reproduction of the population. When the population exceeds a certain limit, he ruthlessly gets people killed and even abducts poor children for his own ulterior motives. To put all of this simply, the whole setup of the train translates to a dystopian world run by a totalitarian regime that uses several strategies to gain control of what’s left of the world.
The Ending: Will Yona and Timmy Survive?
Benjamin Franklin once said: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” This saying pretty much sums up the ending of the movie for you. In the final moments of the film, Curtis discovers that the kids abducted from the tail section are being used as child labor to replace “extinct” parts of machinery. This also comes in tandem with the initial scenes of the movie where Minister Mason labels the lives of the poor as mere “pre-ordained positions.” Moreover, the scene in which Curtis ends up losing his arm while saving Timmy alludes to a previous scene where Curtis claims that he cannot be a leader just because he has both of his arms.
Curtis’ arrival at the front end of the train becomes more of a Catch 22 situation. In order to fight against the train’s unjust segregation, he reaches its front end to take over it. However, if he takes control of the train, how will he be any different from the powerful who have been running it all this while? This inescapable paradox of contradictory notions makes him realize that Namgoong was right all along. That’s when he asks Yona to use her father’s Kronole to blow up the walls of the train. This causes an avalanche and everyone on the train dies, except for Yona and Timmy. The two then step out into the snow-laden world outside and spot a polar bear staring right back at them from a distance.
The ending of the movie can be seen with two perspectives. An optimistic view of it would suggest that although almost all humans are dead now, Yona and Timmy are humanity’s last hope. Moreover, since an apex predator like a polar bear has been able to survive in the subliminal conditions of the planet, it’s possible that they, too, will be able to sustain themselves. On the other hand, considering how they’re both kids and have never stepped out in the real world before, it will be close to impossible for them to survive, especially when polar bears and other vicious animals are roaming free, looking for prey.
Regardless of what happens to Yona and Timmy now, the ending of the movie shows how almost everyone on the train was driven by this false sense of temporary safety and that’s why they conformed to Wilford’s rules. Meanwhile, Curtis, Namgoong, Yona, and everyone from the rebellion believed that they would rather die than blindly follow what Wilford expects to do. In better words: “They preferred dying on their feet than living on their knees” The ending shows how Yona and Timmy may never survive the world outside but at least they’ll die knowing that they were free.
Read More: Best Bong Joon-ho Movies