It’s Time to Talk About ‘Snowpiercer,’ the Best Action Movie of the Summer
At last we are ready to discuss Snowpiercer! Joining us is ‘Folder, academic, and Buzzfeed writer extraordinaire Anne Helen Petersen. Caution: Serious, major, we-warned-you spoilers ahead.
Ester: Hi friends! Are we ready to talk about SNOWPIERCER, the train that becomes the world?
Mike: And what a world!
Meaghan: Okay first of all, did you guys find this movie slightly … terrifying at first? While being introduced to the premise? Maybe it was because I brought a newborn to a movie theater and was worried his hearing was about to be blown out. But OMG.
Mike: Meaghan, I have a question about that: This was a showing specifically for babies?
Meaghan: Yes! It was a screening at Nitehawk, a Brooklyn movie theater, designed specifically for parents and babies, so if the baby cries no one cares. But then we got there and we were the only people with a baby.
Ester: I think your baby was the youngest person to ever be exposed to a post-apocalyptic action movie about class warfare.
AHP: I tried to read as little as possible beforehand so I could have my mind boggled. And one of the things I really loved was its willingness not to give us a crazy amount of exposition
Ester: Yes, the world-building was very efficient: Here is a train, and here is the steeple; open it up, see all the people! Also see: outside, snow.
Meaghan: I had no idea what this movie was about, only that it wasn’t “my type” of movie and it seemed like some kind of action/masculine type of thing, except class issues! Which is why, Mike, I think you kept telling me I would loooove it.
AHP: I have developed a generalized antipathy towards action movies, which is a shame, because I love old school action movies. And by “old school” I mean “from the ’80s.” But the summer crop of blockbusters has been so dismal for at least a decade.
Mike: Oh totally, and how many action movies have Tilda Swinton in them?
Meaghan: They should have kept her ’til the end. Til ‘da end. Ha.
Mike: Meaghan: Amazing.
AHP: She should’ve been the secret master.
Meaghan: Do you think the dentures thing was improv? I want to believe it was.
AHP: There should’ve been Two Tildas.
AHP: One she cloned out of her thigh or something.
Ester: There actually is an insane movie we watched in Film Theory in college where there are five Tildas. One scientist and four clones. But anyway, in this case, Tilda was not running the show; Ed Harris was, just like in The Truman Show.
Meaghan: He’s so hot. (See, maybe college is your soulmate.) Also re: exposition, I did love the way they rationed it out, and I HATED the “I wish I didn’t know what babies tasted like” speech near the end. I wish they would have just hinted at that.
Mike: Yeah, Meaghan, that part was … I could have done without that part, though it did explain some of the earlier parts of the movie.
Ester: Wait, really? Because I loved that people were missing limbs, and it was easy to assume that they too had been punished with amputation via freezing & hammer. And then the big reveal shows us what had actually / maybe happened. (They made THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE.)
AHP: I loved the soliloquy.
Meaghan: I hated the soliloquy.
AHP: I know that my connection to Jaws (which I do in that piece I wrote earlier this week) is somewhat tenuous, but there’s also the long speech right before the climax of Jaws from Quint that also reveals this horrible trauma and psychological motivation for the protagonist—and betrays something about humanity, too.
Ester: I think the soliloquy was pretty chilling and great. It set up a) why Chris Evans was scared / reluctant to be the rebel leader, and also b) why it was a huge deal for him to finally sacrifice his own arm by reaching into the gears to free little Timmy.
Mike: Hah, okay, so I enjoyed the movie because I didn’t think about it too much.
Meaghan: Well I loled during it. I just couldn’t abide “I wish I didn’t know what babies taste like.”
AHP: MIKE TAKE A FILM STUDIES CLASS. Yes, that line has been the joke in the office. Everyone’s like “I love this movie, BUT I KNOW WHAT BABIES TASTE LIKE.”
Mike: Which I think is a Vietnam War thing? The Dead Baby Joke.
Meaghan: Downer, Mike.
Mike: Hah, sorry.
AHP: Wait, Mike, are you saying that you just watched this the way you’d watch Bourne Identity on cable on a Saturday afternoon?
Mike: Yeah, I thought a lot about it a lot after I watched it, but tried not to think too hard about plot holes during.
Ester: So, okay, in terms of class struggle: Is it acceptable to give lots of people bugs so that they can live on a train and not resort to delicious, delicious cannibalism, while richer people enjoy occasional sushi and club drugs?
AHP: Well one of the critiques of the movie = the gaping plot holes.
Meaghan: OH! Yeah why did they freak out about the bugs so much? He was like, DON’T DRAW THIS. I mean of all the horrors?
Mike: Yeah, ‘oh my god we are eating bugs!!! Oh, I forgot I ate some babies.’
AHP: I’m confused as to why they need the tailenders at all. In a capitalist society, they’d at least be doing labor.
Ester: Gaping plot holes. Like, we could do an entire chat just about the holes. And that’s one of the glaring ones: how are the poor people useful?
Meaghan: And more importantly, do people have to walk through saunas to go to school?
Ester: And does Allison Pill always shoot them at the end of class? Like, is there a machine gun in lieu of a bell?
Meaghan: She was AMAZING.
Mike: So my big question is, why does class even need to exist in a world where there are so few people left.
AHP: I think people want to believe that during the apocalypse we all become one, like one united working class like in Survivor or something, when in reality people cling to their privilege in all sorts of ways.
Ester: Right. I watched this movie while in the midst of Edan Lepucki’s new book California, which is post- or mid-apocalyptic and makes a similar point.
Mike: But the privilege is sort of randomly assigned by Ed Harris? Like, there was that one guy who wanted to stay in the poor car instead of going up front to play the violin because he didn’t want to leave his wife, and they were like, nope, you are going to play the violin and wear a tux. Also: We can’t feed you anything but bugs, but we can make you a tux.
Meaghan: And he was some kind of symphony orchestra guy, so he must have been semi-fancy on Earth?
Mike: Right! So his privilege was taken away from him in The New Train World and then randomly reassigned to him again.
AHP: So let’s be clear: Who’s the middle-class?
Meaghan: I think that means we would be in the caboose, y’all.
AHP: Like are soldiers the middle-class?
Ester: It seemed like they were assigned to cars based on the kind of tickets they had going in, so violinist dude and his wife must have run out of money before the endtimes.
Meaghan: I assume the tailenders are middle class because we are supposed to relate to them, heh.
Ester: I thought the Korean guy and his daughter were middle class, the ones hiding out in what seemed like a morgue.
AHP: Middle class BEFORE they got on, because they were eating steak like bosses. Unless they were eating Denny’s steak; who knows.
Mike: After I thought about it more, the tailend car was less about the poor and middle class, and said a lot more to me about our prison system. Because they were all essentially prisoners and treated as such with guards and everything.
Ester: That’s a fair assessment. More like prisoners than slaves because as we’ve discussed they don’t seem to contribute materially to the train.
Meaghan: Oh yeah and what does the Guillame plot twist mean?
Ester: That’s also why they’re so expendable and Ed Harris can just shrug and say “reduce their population by 74%.” LOWER CLASSES: MAKE YOURSELVES INDISPENSABLE.
AHP: Yes, that makes sense. I wonder if the movie NEEDS that Guillame plot test? Save to suggest that we are all capable of class-betrayal? (Which no one is talking about.) (Or at least talking about enough.)
Ester: I thought it was “Gilliam,” like Terry Gilliam, to remind us that this movie pays so much homage to Brazil?
Meaghan: Yeah and if Gilliam wasn’t materially benefiting from class divide, why was he complicit in it?
AHP: It also reminded me a lot of Children of Men, and not just because it proved that all leading men are hotter when dirty.
Ester: Yes! And because the hero dies at the end to save the sole surviving child.
Mike: Oh that’s a great movie.
AHP: He is pure hotness in this movie, which might also have something to say about the fetishization of class.
Ester: If you like your hotness covered in coal-dust, sadness, and guilt. This movie would definitely choose Gale over Peeta.
Meaghan: I thought his backstory would be he had some lost love that Ed Harris was banging, so I was glad to see it was more complicated / baby-eating than that.
Mike: So Ed Harris explains at the end that he allowed the uprising and killing to occur because it was a way to control the population. That was the most insane thing to me. I mean, couldn’t they just have a one-child-only policy like in China or something? Instead of killing a bunch of people whenever there’s too much people on the train.
AHP: That’s one of the plot holes I’ve seen widened: Why don’t they just not let people have babies?
Ester: AGAIN CF. CALIFORNIA.
AHP: Like you can have eternal engine but NO POPULATION CONTROL? It’s very panopticon, too. Like, it links your own rebellion to your demise.
Meaghan: Ha but it’s like, if you don’t step in, humans will ruin each other anyway.
Mike: Also, Ed Harris was the super genius who made an engine that could run FOREVER.
Ester: Eternal engine? Come on, the G train can’t go 5 minutes without breaking down.
Mike: But only if it was maintained by children?
AHP: And if you just had people not having babies, they wouldn’t be scared of rebelling.
Meaghan: Also I thought when he decided to yes, blow open the door, I thought it was because humanity had proven itself to be so awful so let’s all die.
Mike: Yes. We don’t deserve to exist. The polar bears do.
Ester: The polar bear serves the same purpose as the little plant in WALL-E, but a little plant is more hopeful. The bear will just kill them, guys. Anyway, how did the two children survive without a scratch in the same explosion that killed everyone else? (This is also a question I have of The Goldfinch.)
Meaghan: I found the desire to continue existing the most unbelievable part.
AHP: I did think it was interesting how when you’ve only lived without food, you can learn to cherish that green cockroach block. There’s an important scene in the beginning when one of the train babies is almost licking it like a popsicle.
Meaghan: God yeah. Do you poop when you only eat cockroach blocks? Maybe it just meets all of your needs perfectly. Like Soylent! These people needed Soylent. Next time.
Ester: Do the Soylent bros not poop?
Mike: Lol. So I daydreamed of an alternative version of this train in which everyone has access to the same things and when we are all five, we all take turns maintaining the engine.
Meaghan: Aw, you would. Is there enough sushi for everyone?
Mike: Hah, probably not.
AHP: I do feel, however, that this is a world that’s better left un-over-contemplated. Meaning that of course it falls apart when you think about it too hard. The elegance is in the overall sketch.
Mike: Yes! Which is why I tried not to think about it while watching it.
Ester: Have you read the book? I’m curious to.
Mike: Hah, I read the Wikipedia page about the book. And it’s a different story basically?
Meaghan: Count it!
Ester: And the metaphor is lovely in its simplicity: moving forward through the train = upwards through class structures until you reach the top and the 1% is just one dude in a dressing gown, like God.
Mike: I like that before you get to God, it’s everyone in saunas doing drugs and wearing fur coats.
AHP: And being vacant and skinny. What’s the deal with Ed Harris’s #2? I’m so confused by her/her function?
Mike: Yeah, because Tilda would have been a better #2?
Meaghan: Did he have sex with her?
AHP: And what does it say that both of the handmaidens of despair are women doing this man’s dirty work?
Mike: And #1. Tilda should have just played all the characters.
AHP: (sorry lol these are all the questions i’d ask my intro to film class)
Mike: Anne Helen Petersen. I was a Film Studies major! Among other majors. I should send you my 100-page thesis on feminist film theory.
AHP: Well then you are so ready to answer these questions.
Meaghan: Does the train not stand in for the birth canal? Or is it penetrative?
Ester: Tunnels are birth canals; trains are phallic.
AHP: Trains are civilization. Trains are the machine in the garden.
Ester: Is this movie pro- or against armed revolution?
Mike: Lol, I like that on a train with limited resources so many of the resources go to making guns and axes and knives. Okay, so if you were on the train, where do you think you’d be? I think I would be in the greenhouse. Or I would have been eaten at the beginning. I would have been frozen. My story would have ended before the movie started.
AHP: I would be the propagandist teacher. JK JK JK JK
Ester: Yeah, I’d be like, “No thanks, I’ll catch the next one!”
Meaghan: The futility of revolution? Inevitability of class? I think it depends how you read the ending re: whether they die or repopulate the earth? And yes I would have killed myself v. early on.
Mike: I think the polar bear eats them in the very end.
AHP: I think I would’ve jumped off.
Mike: Yes. I wouldn’t even have boarded the train. I would have LET IT GO.
Meaghan: My takeaway is to get one of those suicide pills they have in the Kirsten Dunst end of the world movie [ed note: Melancholia and also spoiler alert!]
AHP: So why do people really want to think about fighting the zombies? And who’d survive? But when it comes to getting on the train, we’re like NAH, I WOULDN’T EVEN GET ON.
Meaghan: Maybe we want to think we wouldn’t but we would. We wouldn’t have known what was to come.
AHP: I think it’s because humanity in that potent form (and how ugly it becomes) is more terrifying.
Mike: I mean, reimagine this movie but in the New York City subway system.
Mike: “No thanks, I’m gonna go freeze in Central Park.”
Meaghan: Yeah I barely want to get on the L now.
AHP: I mean are you the person who pushes their way onto the F train or are you the one who listens when they say another train in right behind. That’s how you know whether or not you’d be on this train.
Meaghan: Still horrifying. I wait. I’m a waiter. I’d freeze.
Mike: Me too.
Meaghan: The doors would open and I’d like, pace and wonder if I should get on, then sigh and step back. Then beat myself up about whether or not I should have gotten on.
Ester: But I might push [my baby daughter] Lara on.
Ester: She’s pretty fierce. She can take care of herself. And she has all that cuteness with which to seduce others into helping her.
Meaghan: While tending to the engine :(
Ester: She’d never do that engine shit. She’d be like, “Nummies! NUMMIES!” until Ed Harris got a headache and took her out.
Mike: She’d be the baby that Chris Evans saved.
AHP: I’ve noticed there’s always someone in that F Train scenario who says “THERE’S MORE ROOM, I KNOW IT!” That person is not me.
Ester: “IF YOU ALL JUST MOVED INTO THE CENTER …”
AHP: Precisely. Do you want your baby on that train is the question? Or should you just die together?
Meaghan: Die together!
Mike: Omg, let’s die together.
Ester: I couldn’t BELOVED my baby. If it’s train or death, I’d put her on the train.
Meaghan: I feel bad bringing my baby onto this Earth much less the train.
AHP: “Beloved my baby.”
Ester: Besides, Lara might grow up to be the Chosen One and lead humanity into a more enlightened way of living. The post-apocalyptic kibbutz!
Mike: Hah, okay I think this is the end. Last thoughts?
Meaghan: Gilliam is a Tea Partier voting against his own best interests.
Ester: Kind of enthralling movie: stylish, well-acted, well-directed, smart. Glad I watched it. But if you want to take my arm and freeze/hammer it off, you’d better make sure I’m either dead or unconscious first.
Mike: Don’t let men run trains; they ruin everything.
Ester: #BanMen (FromTrains)
AHP: I feel like this is a winter movie (maybe just because it’s so cold, duh) but I love that it’s here in mid-July making me think all the deep thoughts.
Mike: AHP THANK YOU FOR JOINING US.
Everyone else: What did you think?