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Film / Snowpiercer

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"Know your place. Keep your place!"
"Revolutions are the locomotives of history."

Snowpiercer is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi action film directed and co-written by Bong Joon-ho, co-produced by Park Chan-wook, and loosely based on the French comic Le Transperceneige. The film stars Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Go Ah-Sung, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Ed Harris, Octavia Spencer, Luke Pasqualino, and Jamie Bell among others. It is Bong's first film in the English language (which comprises almost 85% of the dialogue), and his first to be made with American actors.

In 2014, an acceleration of global warming prompts a desperate attempt to counteract it, the method of choice being dispensing the chemical CW-7 into the skies to cool the atmosphere. Working all too well, the attempt sends global temperatures crashing, enveloping the planet in ice and killing nearly everyone on Earth. 17 years later, in 2031, the only pocket of surviving humans lives aboard the Snowpiercer, a massive train which circles around the globe, running on perpetual motion. Social class is determined by the ticket bought almost two decades ago, with the front of the train being for the rich and the back housing the poor. Rebellions have been attempted time and time and again in the past, but none have ever succeeded.

Now, the starved and overcrowded tail of the train begins to talk of trying another rebellion, tired of living on nutrient gel and recycled water while the rich purportedly live in luxury and comfort. Ignoring commands to stay in their place, the poor take control the end cars with their leader Curtis Everett (Evans), heading on to rescue former security specialist Namgoong Minsoo (Song) in order to take the train for themselves.

Snowpiercer was scheduled to be released in Korea on August 1, 2013, but was released a day earlier thanks to the great amount of interest in the film. About $40 million was invested into the production of the film, making it the most expensive Korean film to date. An animated prequel narrated by Go Ah-sung, set during the CW-7's dispensing, was aired online before the movie's release.

In 2017, TNT announced that they were working on a TV adaptation of the film, also called Snowpiercer, starring Daveed Diggs and Jennifer Connelly, but it got stuck in Development Hell until it was announced that the series would premiere in May 2020.

Snowpiercer contains examples of:

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  • After the End: The story picks up seventeen years after releasing the CW-7 chemical compound into the atmosphere turned Earth into an ice globe.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Whether or not anyone besides Yona and Timmy survives the train crash is up to interpretation, although it's possible that some of the people in the front of the train survive.
  • And Starring: The cast roll here ends "with John Hurt and Ed Harris".
  • Anyone Can Die: Characters are "spent" continuously throughout the film. By the end, the only named characters still alive are Yona and Timmy, and they could possibly be the last humans on Earth, since we don't know if anyone else survived the train crash.
  • Apocalypse How: Planetary/Species Extinction — humanity's attempt to reverse global warming backfired and caused global temperatures to plummet to the point where practically nothing can survive. Ultimately subverted, when we see that some life still exists outside the train in the form of a single polar bear.
  • Arc Words: "Everyone has their preordained position," accompanied by a strange hand motion eventually revealed to be a mimicry of the motion made and repeated by the child sealed in the engine.
  • The Ark: The Snowpiercer itself, referred to in the opening narration as "the rattling ark," which carries the last surviving humans in endless circuits around the frozen earth.
  • An Arm and a Leg: The most respected people in the tail section are missing limbs.
    • In an example of an obviously well-rehearsed punishment, Andrew's arm is frozen and then smashed off after he throws a shoe at Wilford's assistant, Claude.
    • The maimed elders come forward to take charge of Andrew after his punishment. The elders are not necessarily victims of brutal front-end justice—many of them cut off their own arms and legs to feed the starving people during the early desperate days of the train.
    • Curtis himself loses an arm by jamming it into the engine machinery to save Timmy.
  • Artistic License – Biology:
    • There seems to be only a single car dedicated to growing food, unless there were a lot more that were there but not shown. Even using high-efficiency methods, the space needed to grow crops should be vastly larger than that occupied by the people.
    • The train is called a closed ecological system several times, but it technically isn't, because water is being taken in from the outside.
    • At one point, the heroes are shown passing through a fridge car with big slabs of beef hanging from hooks. It's unclear exactly where these big slabs of meat came from, but it's more than improbable to just have a pasture inside a train. A sty is more likely, but the meat shown was certainly not pork.
    • European cockroaches, the primary ingredient in the protein bars, have a scent gland that makes them taste like rotten skunk, which is why humans don't use them as a source of insect protein. It's possible that the protein bars actually do taste like that, which would add a whole new layer to the exploitation of the poor on the Snowpiercer, but it's never explicitly commented on if so.
  • Assimilation Academy: The school section brainwashes the young children of the first-class passengers to worship Wilford and never question the order of things.
    Teacher: [singing] What happens if the engine stops?
    Children: We all freeze and die!
  • Avenging the Villain: Franco the Elder goes berserk in taking down the insurrectionists, even killing fellow front section soldiers, in an effort to avenge his little brother, Franco the Younger, who is Impaled with Extreme Prejudice.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Cleverly done with the pacing and entire structure of the film to make the viewer think this is the case. After Wilford's security effortlessly guns down the rest of the entire tail section, Curtis and his group are cornered in the sauna by Franco the Elder. He effortlessly kills most of them, and for a very brief moment it appears this is how the film will end, as this happens around 92 minutes, the standard runtime of an action flick. Instead, Curtis, Yona, and Namgoong make it out alive, and this is the start of the final act.
  • Bald of Evil: The man handing out the eggs, played by Tómas Lemarquis (who's even credited as Egg-head).
  • The Baroness: Mason is fervently devoted to the totalitarian ideals of Wilford and enforces them with an iron fist, although she is decidedly of the un-sexy variety.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: Namgoong Minsoo speaks exclusively in Korean throughout the movie. Other characters communicate with him using a translation device, with his daughter Yona occasionally providing assistance.
  • Bittersweet Ending: At the end of the film, the train has crashed, and Yona and Timmy—a seventeen-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy—may well be the only survivors, left alone with no supplies and no survival skills. On the plus side, the world is not as dead as we had been led to believe, leaving the possibility, however slim, that humanity and the world will survive.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Let's just say that neither the train's autocratic overlords or the violently rioting underclass are particularly nice people. It's justified, given what a Crapsack World they live in.
  • Born After the End: This film features an entire generation of children born aboard the train following the global freezing, known as "Train Babies." The oldest of them seen in the film, the seventeen-year-old Yona, is openly confused at the sight of dirt in the train's greenhouse and later reduced to giggling like a child at the sight of the aquarium car. Less-pleasantly, Train Babies of all classes are subject to exploitation by the authorities: upper-class kids are taught to worship Wilford like a god, while tail-end kids are routinely abducted by the guards for unknown purposes. At the end of the film, it's revealed that they're being used as replacements for parts of the engine that no longer function.
  • Brick Joke: Before the insurrection, Edgar frequently mentions steak and questions Curtis about what it tastes like. When Curtis finally reaches Wilford, the latter is cooking himself a steak for dinner.
  • Brainwashed: This seems to be the fate of anyone who was taken from the tail section to be employed in the front sections. Wilford nearly succeeds in winning Curtis over to his side and persuading him to keep the system intact. To a lesser extent, all the first-class passengers have been effectively brainwashed by luxury, propaganda, and a whole lot of drugs.
  • Break Them by Talking:
    • Wilford devastates Curtis by revealing that he and Gilliam had been working together for years, and comes very close to convincing Curtis to become his protégé and successor. Only Yona’s revelation that Timmy is trapped under the floor operating the train prevents it from working.
    • Gilliam actually warns Curtis not to let Wilford talk, going so far as telling him he should immediately cut out Wilford’s tongue when he gets to the engine room. It’s not clear if this is because Gilliam knows the power of Wilford’s persuasion, or because he doesn’t want Wilford to reveal their long-running partnership.
  • Broken Pedestal: Gilliam becomes this to Curtis when the latter learns the truth about his years-long cooperation with Wilford.
  • The Brute: Franco the Elder kills off about half the named cast, and a bunch of soldiers on his own side to boot.
  • Captain Obvious: Played for Drama. Curtis's only words to his protégé Edgar before charging into combat with the masked axe-wielders are:
    Curtis: Be careful.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: The axe-men are confident (or brainwashed) enough that they can chant "Happy New Year" right before the big battle, eye to eye with their enemies. This is later hinted to have been an intimidation tactic.
  • Catchphrase:
    Mason: So it is.Translation 
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: The matchbook the little boy Chan snatches from Namgoong:
    • One of the matches is used to light a torch when the train enters a tunnel and the good guys are left without light (the bad guys have night-vision goggles).
    • In the film's final moments, Yona uses the last match to ignite the Kronole bomb that derails the train.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The drug Kronole, which, we are repeatedly reminded, is "highly flammable." It's eventually used by Namgoong to blow open the door to the outside world.
    • Gilliam, like many of the oldest passengers, is missing many limbs, seemingly as punishment for defying the front-enders. Likewise, Curtis has a large scar around his forearm. They're not just from punishment: some tail-enders cut their own limbs off to provide others with food during the early days.
    • The fur coats Namgoong steals from the stoned front-end passengers aren't an arbitrary drug-fueled penchant. He's preparing to leave the train.
  • Chekhov's Hobby: Namgoong tells Yona about how the Inuit leader of the Revolt of the Seven taught him all about different types of snow. It turns out that he's deduced the snow outside is slowly melting, possibly allowing for life outside the train. This is why the long shot of him watching the snowflake that's drifted in through a bullet hole in the window isn't just filler.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Tilda Swinton, as Mason, is positively masticating every minute of her screen time. Alison Pill as the Teacher is also extremely hammy, although it's justified given that she's teaching schoolchildren.
  • Children Are Innocent: Other than one bratty schoolgirl, every child in the film falls into this trope. This is particularly disturbing when applied to the schoolchildren, who are so innocent that they're easily brainwashed into believing Wilford and the Engine are practically gods.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: In the lull before the climax, before Curtis enters the engine room, Minsoo gives him what is likely the last cigarette on Earth. Curtis smokes it as he tells his heart-wrenching backstory and breaks down sobbingnote .
  • City in a Bottle: All that's left of humanity lives on a mile-long train that never stops.
  • City People Eat Sushi: Well, it's the wealthy, more urban-like parts of the train rather than an actual city, but the spirit is there — a sushi bar is one of the luxuries present that the poorer people in the tail end can never access, let alone know exists.
  • Closed Circle: Due to the outside world being completely frozen over, the entire premise is that everyone is confined within the eponymous train. This is actually what Namgoong wants to break free from.
  • Co-Dragons: Franco the Elder and Franco the Younger are Wilford's chief enforcers.
  • Cold Equation: This comes up twice towards the end of the film. Curtis reveals that the starving people in the tail section resorted to cannibalism in their desperation before being provided with protein bars months later, and Wilford reveals that Curtis's uprising was a ploy by him and Gilliam to reduce the population of the train enough for the rest to survive with the limited resources available.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The revolution gets to the car with the axe wielders right in time for the new year, marked by a bridge and a tunnel.note  However, this is justified later when it's revealed that the entire revolution was a plot between Wilford and Gilliam to reduce the train's population. It was contrived, but in-universe.
  • Cool Train: The eponymous mile-long train definitely qualifies, if only for the feat of running for 18 years literally nonstop through a frozen wasteland, swallowing the snow on the track and processing it into fresh water for its passengers as it goes, without anything worse than a few breakdowns in the engine equipment during this whole time. Among its sixty cars are (all in the front section) a greenhouse car, an aquarium car (complete with a sushi bar), a zoo car (not shown in the film), an abattoir car, a classroom car, a lounge/beauty salon car, a swimming pool car, a sauna car, a disco club car, and a Kronole den car, all drawn by a perpetual motion engine (or so we think). Say what you want about the amorality of Wilford's utopia, you can't deny that he was one hell of an engineer. Given the global temperatures, it truly is a Cool Train (or, perhaps, from a more cynical point of view, a Cool, but Inefficient Train).
  • The Corrupter: Wilford, and he almost had Curtis with his smooth talk.
  • Crapsack World: The train is all that's left of humanity, crammed into 60 cars.
    • The train's tail section was never intended to house passengers, so a lot of improvisation took place when literal freeloaders boarded the train. How bad is it? There aren't even windows in there, not to mention any other accommodations.
    • The front cars are much better, but only at first glance. While they provide passengers with many luxuries, it's only to keep them constantly high and drunk, so they won't question authority or try anything stupid. What makes it actually worse than the tail section is that this was all fully calculated and anticipated by Wilford the moment he decided to build the train.
  • Creator Cameo: Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, the authors of the original comics, appear briefly as two tail-enders. Rochette's hands are also shown drawing the group shot of Curtis's party.
  • Crowd Song: The Wilford song is such a tonic. The whole classroom sings it together, and Mason joins in.
  • Cutting the Knot: A villainous example. When the tail-enders are asked for a violinist, an elderly couple steps forward. The guard only needs one of them, but they insist on going together. So, he beats the wife and breaks her hand, making it impossible for her to qualify.
  • Death by Disfigurement: Curtis sacrifices his arm to get Timmy out of the engine. He dies less than a minute after doing so.
  • Didn't See That Coming:
    • Gilliam and Wilford planned for the revolt to end when the train went into the tunnel. They didn't count on the matchbook providing a light source so the tail-enders could fight back.
    • Despite all that the heroes went through to make it to him, Wilford's plan would have worked perfectly, if not for Namgoong's Kronole bomb derailing it both figuratively and literally.
  • Diesel Punk: There are shades of this. Beyond the thematic elements (a conflict against the unbeatable, protagonists with low social status, etc.), the front end of the train is very 1920s-esque, in both the fashion of the inhabitants and the architectural style. The tail-enders fill in the grimy side of the genre.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The tail-enders are punished severely for any minor infraction against authority. One passenger, Andrew, gets his arm frozen to ice and then smashed off for throwing his shoe at (and hitting) a high-ranking member.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Mason's speech about everything being in its place, pushing the shoe forward to illustrate, is Foreshadowing for the end of the film, but it also looks like she's mimicking an Ass Shove — what Wilford's rule is doing to the tail enders.
  • Doomed Predecessor: Curtis and his rebels are told about a group of seven people who previously rebelled against Wilford and tried to stop the train. When that failed, they leaped overboard, convinced that they didn't need the train to survive. Their frozen corpses are pointed out to front-end children whenever the train passes by where they died.
  • Dwindling Party: The hero's fellowship is killed off one by one.
  • Dystopia: The tail-enders live in cramped squalor with no independent resources, relying on the front-enders to provide everything while they viciously harass them and appropriate whichever of the tail-enders they have use for.
  • Dystopia Justifies the Means: The conditions for the tail-enders aren't just a consequence of the front-end hoarding resources, they are deliberately crappy. Wilford wants the tail to rebel periodically, both to justify killing enough of them to maintain a stable population and so the rest of the train will live under what he views as a necessary degree of fear and anxiety.
  • Eats Babies: They taste best, doncha know.
  • Elite Mooks: The initial soldiers the tail-enders face pose little to no threat (their guns having no bullets), and the ones who fight with batons are easily overpowered. The only major difficulty is a Giant Mook with a blunt object that Grey deals with. Then they get to the car with the axe-wielding masked soldiers—men who are better trained, better armored, with deadlier weapons, and the knowledge of the exact route the train takes and what landscape it'll be passing through at any given moment at their disposal. That's when the rebels start taking heavy casualties, and Curtis' group is whittled down from an army of tail-enders to just a few main protagonists.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: Wilford Industries doesn't seem to discriminate when it comes to gender or sexual orientation. Even Wilford himself is bisexual, as according to an interview with Bong Joon-ho, he slept with Mason, the pregnant teacher, Claude, and Egghead.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Curtis refusing to sit down during the head count at the beginning of the movie introduces us to his rebellious but practical attitude.note  Edgar's refusal to sit down later in the scene establishes his more chaotic rebellious side, as well as his tendency to mimic Curtis.
  • Establishing Series Moment: Film moment, anyway. The elderly tail section passenger being wrenched away from his wife (who is beaten for no reason) to play violin for the pleasure of the front section passengers introduces the audience to the iron fist of the caste system.
  • Eternal Engine: Name-dropped by Wilford to describe the Snowpiercer. The claim has some merit from a contemporary engineering point, seeing how the train has run full-throttle for 18 years without ever stopping or breaking down, but it's ultimately subverted by the revelation that parts of its engine are starting to wear out and need to be maintained by children no older than 5 trapped in miniscule hollowed-out spaces inside the engine's machinery.
  • Eternal Recurrence: Gilliam and Wilford planned a tail-section rebellion every once in a while in an effort to keep the train's population under control.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • Franco the Elder and his brother Franco the Younger.
    • Wilford mentions that he misses Gilliam and that it was a shame that he had to be killed.
      Wilford: He was more than a partner, really.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: The only two survivors we see in the end, after the Snowpiercer's derailment, are Yona and Timmy. The rest of humanity's fate after the massive crash is left unclear.
  • Evil All Along: Gilliam has been working with Wilford since the train first began to run 17 years ago.
  • Evil Teacher: One of these is introduced as an instrument of the society's Propaganda Machine. She violently mows down several people a few minutes later.
  • Exact Words: Curtis deduces that bullets are extinct by taking Mason's command that a guard "Put that useless gun down!" literally. As her specific wording implies, however, those guns are useless, but there are other guns that aren't.
  • Face Death with Dignity: When the bomb is about to explode, Wilford sits drinking his wine, sees Namgoong and Curtis's prepared sacrifice, and simply says "Nice."
  • Faceless Goons: The gang of thugs with their ski masks and axes, emphasized by the fact that their masks don't have eyeholes. The cloth is thinner around the eyes, explaining how they can see at all, but the effect is still the same.
  • Fantastic Caste System: Groups at different levels of society are separated by train cars, with the decadent elites very close to the front and a downtrodden underclass at the very back. Classes were initially determined by ticket.
  • Fantastic Drug: Kronole, the hallucinogenic industrial waste that two of the protagonists as well as some of the upper-class rave about in a world where even cigarettes are virtually extinct. It's also highly flammable, which is why Minsoo collects it. He's making a makeshift bomb.
  • Fantastic Underclass: "Freeloaders" who stowed away to escape the End of the World as We Know It now form the lowest possible ranking. Segregated to the tail-end of the train, they live in cramped bunks, are surrounded by filth on a constant basis, are regularly abused by guards, and kept alive only by rations of protein bars grudgingly supplied by the crew — and before they deigned to provide food, cannibalism was very common among the tail-enders. They're mainly used to provide Wilford with child slaves that can replace failing engine parts — or a means of starting a rebellion if the train's population needs to be culled.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Mason speaks to the tail-enders like a disappointed schoolmarm while dispassionately having their limbs frozen and shattered for disobedient behavior and reveling in them being slaughtered by the dozens.
    • Wilford himself seems affable enough at first, despite his role in oppressing the tail-enders, until he casually turns the phone to Curtis so he can hear the remaining tail-enders being executed, and later brushes off using children to keep the train running.
  • Fingore: Grey is figuratively Taking the Bullet when he gets his hand pierced by a knife that was meant for Curtis. He then proceeds to fight Franco the Elder, who stabs Grey with the knife lodged in Grey's palm..
  • First World Problems: After the squalor, hunger, and violence of the tail-section ghettos, Wilford's complaint that his engine cabin is "noisy, and lonely" (spoken while wearing clean silk pajamas and sitting down to a steak dinner) comes off as an ignorant slap in the face to Curtis and any tail-ender.
    • Made doubly egregious by how he says it minutes after we hear Curtis relive the actual cannibalism and infanticide of the first month in the rearmost cars, before they'd started manufacturing the protein blocks.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Claude, the woman in yellow, sizes up the children with a tape measure before deciding which one to take forward. She was seeing who would fit in the engine compartment.
    • One bit of dialogue at the very beginning foreshadows Gilliam's true role on the train:
    Curtis: [Edgar] shouldn't worship me the way he does. I'm not who he thinks I am.
    Gilliam: [looking away] Few of us ever are.
    • Curtis says he tries not to remember too far into the past and asks Edgar about how much he remembers. Edgar replies that he remembers his mother, but just barely. What Curtis doesn't want to remember is that he killed Edgar's mom while trying to eat both of them.
    • The first time Kronole appears, Curtis mentions that it's what the front-enders get high on. It turns out that they're all so high on it they're basically brainwashed zombies.
    • Paul in the kitchen mentions that he has to manually operate certain machine parts that have died. The children taken to the front end have been used to replace broken engine parts.
    • Just before the axe gang sets upon the tail-sectioners in the darkened train car, Mason announces that "Precisely 74% of you will die." They have a precise number because the revolt was deliberately incited as an excuse to kill exactly that many people.
    • While explaining how the aquarium works, Mason provides a bit of dialogue which is later echoed in the scene in Wilford's compartment when speaking about the whole train:
      Mason: This aquarium is a complete ecological system. And the number of individual units must be very closely, precisely controlled in order to maintain the proper sustainable balance.
    • Just to hammer home the implications of the above, there's a woman holding a child visible in the doorway to the greenhouse-car when she says that. Add a new "unit" like that woman did, and another "unit" has to die.
    • Minsoo observing a single snowflake slowly floating in the air while it melts away into nothing. It's not just an Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene. It indicates that the ice age is declining, with the cooling effect of CW-7 beginning to wear off.
      • Most of his observations and things he looks at throughout the movie function as this. He even (almost) mentions the polar bear, but stops, realizing Curtis would just take it for junkie rambling.
      • This is foreshadowed even earlier by the massive ice floes that have grown over the Snowpiercer's rails. The train travels this route once a year, and ice wouldn't grow that thick in that time unless temperatures have risen significantly, to the point that the snow is starting to thaw.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • The propaganda film shown in the classroom contains many of these, including a map of the entire railway.
    • One of the books in Wilford's collection is Alex Haley's Roots.
  • Friend-or-Idol Decision: In the battle between the rebels and the soldiers, Curtis is presented with a Sadistic Choice: either save his teenaged second-in-command Edgar (who utterly idolizes him) from the mook holding a knife to his throat, or get his hands on Mason, thereby stopping the fight and giving him leverage against Wilford. He chooses to capture Mason at the expense of Edgar.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: Wilford intends to engineer one of these.
  • Functional Addict: Namgoong's addiction to Kronole doesn't hamper his skills. It's later revealed that he hasn't been stocking up on it to get high; he needs it to make a bomb.
  • Future Slang: Things that have run out are labeled as "extinct". This makes the Wham Line usage of it more dramatic, especially Wilford's casual mention of how parts of the engine are running out and cannot be replaced to justify the horrors he brings to children that are taken to the engine.

  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: Curtis suffers a momentary Heroic BSoD when Gilliam is executed. Tanya slaps him to wake him up.
    Tanya: You have to lead us.
  • Glacial Apocalypse: In an attempt to reverse a warming climate, the governments of the world released the cooling agent CW-7 into the skies to lower global temperatures. This worked all too well, and sent global temperatures crashing, enveloping the planet in ice and killing nearly everyone on Earth. By the time of the movie, the cold is so intense that survival outside the titular armored train is literally impossible, forcing all of humanity within to accept the despotic rule of the train's engineers.
  • God Guise: Played with. Wilford never refers to himself as a god, but the front section passengers treat him as if he's the divine savior of humanity. Although, technically, he is...
  • Gone Horribly Right:
    • The CW-7 chemical was supposed to cool down the planet. Boy, did it. The entire Earth is covered in several feet of snow, and it's so cold that nothing and nobody can survive outside the Snowpiercer.
    • Gilliam and Wilford's staged rebellion ends up succeeding far more than they expected. Curtis and his crew were supposed to only make it about halfway down (which they planned to occur during the crossing of the tunnel), but Curtis manages to survive all the way to the Engine at the very front of the train.
    • The biggest example: Wilford's childhood dream of "living on a train forever."
  • Gory Discretion Shot: While there's a lot of violence in the film, most of the most gruesome injuries and deaths are kept just off screen or not shown in detail, including the Axe Gang's rampage, when Andrew and Curtis get their arms removed, and the deaths of Gilliam, Edgar, and Mason.
  • Grand Inquisitor Scene: The climax has Rebel Leader Curtis meet Mr. Wilford, the Sole Surviving Scientist perpetuator of the Fantastic Caste System onboard the train with the last remaining humans. Wilford calmly cooks dinner and greatly shakes Curtis by talking about the need to preserve resources and cull the lower-class population (which caused him to let the rebellion get off the ground when he could have easily stopped it) from his perspective while claiming that Curtis's beloved mentor secretly shared many of Wilford's beliefs and ideals and to make Curtis the next leader of the train. Curtis's resolve gradually weakens throughout the talk, but he ultimately chooses to give Wilford a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown rather than submit to his vision.
  • Great Offscreen War: A previous revolt against Wilford, the McGregor Riots from four years ago, is alluded to a few times. What happened to McGregor is unmentioned but likely horrific, as the front section passengers shot so many advancing rebels that the tail-end guards can only carry empty guns for intimidation. This convinces Curtis that bullets have gone completely "extinct", but in reality the front-end was just conserving them to lull the rebellion into a false sense of security.
  • Ground by Gears: This happens to a front-end passenger when he gets pushed over a railing during a fight scene and is then eaten by the train engine's gears, false angel wings jerking spasmodically, thanks to No OSHA Compliance.
  • Guns Are Worthless: Curtis deduces that the guards' guns are worthless because all the bullets were used up in the last uprising. Subverted dramatically when it turns out there's more ammo left than anyone thought, and those bullets are instrumental in slaughtering the remains of the tail-ender rebellion.
  • Hallway Fight: By nature of the setting (the entire film takes place on a train), all fight scenes are this.
  • Heroic BSoD: Curtis has one when Gilliam is executed, requiring Tanya to slap him out of it, and another, way worse one when he learns that his revolution was all for naught.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Most of the major characters die while trying to save one of the others, or the revolution as a whole. In the end, Curtis and Namgoong realize that the door isn't going to seal, and wrap their bodies around Yona and Timmy to shield them from the explosion.
  • Hook Hand: Gilliam has one made from an umbrella's handle.
  • Hope Sprouts Eternal: A variation. At the end, as the camera pans over a desolate icy wasteland, a polar bear is seen in the distance, implying that life still exists outside of the train.
  • Human Notepad: Grey communicates through the words tattooed all over his body. At one point, he gets a mook in a headlock, and he shows him a tattoo saying "Surrender" and then twists his arm to show "Die!"
  • I Ate WHAT?!: Curtis has one of these moments when he sees that they put European cockroaches into the protein bars. He withholds that information from everyone else.
  • The Idealist: Minsoo, surprisingly, as all along, he was planning on escaping from the train altogether rather than perpetuating the endless cycle of oppression.
  • I Hate Past Me: Curtis confesses to Minsoo how exactly he survived the first chaotic weeks of the tail section.
    Curtis: [sobbing] You know what I hate about myself? I know what people taste like... And I know that babies taste best .
  • I Let Gwen Stacy Die: Curtis abandons Edgar to capture Mason, leaving him to be killed by Franco the Younger.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Averted with the protein blocks' contents: they're actually made of ground-up cockroaches. Played very straight in Curtis's backstory about his first months on the train.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Several tail-enders suffer this fate at the hands of the spear-wielding thugs. During the traversal of the tunnel after the Yekaterina bridge, two of them are skewered on the same spear.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Both Curtis and Franco the Elder when shooting at each other through window glass from hundreds of feet apart on opposite ends of a moving train as it rounds a half-circle-shaped section of track. Franco has a rifle and a red dot, but even with that the shots he makes are improbable at that range. Meanwhile, Curtis is using an SMG, without even unfolding its stock.
  • Inertial Impalement: Franco the Younger is dramatically pierced by a spear that Yona plants in his way when he attempts to make a break for Curtis after the guards surrender.
  • Innocent Bystander: When Franco the Elder searches through the sauna, a woman lazily asks him in Czech to "close the door, asshole," before he nudges her aside with his knife, revealing Minsoo hiding behind her.
  • In Name Only: The only things the film has in common with the comic book are the name, the setting, and the loose idea of a tail-ender forcing his way to the front of the train (in the comic, it's a single escapee named Proloff rather than the entire ghetto population). This doesn't make the movie bad. As of 2016's Volume 3: Terminus, it has officially been promoted to Canon.
  • Irony: When Namgoong lights a cigarette after being released, he sarcastically asks Curtis if he wants one, but then says he won't waste it on a prick like him. When Curtis has a Heroic BSoD near the end, Namgoong gives him a cigarette to calm him down. It's probably the very last cigarette in existence, and Curtis doesn't even actually smoke — it burns down on its own after a single drag because he's so busy pouring his heart out. Granted, what he has to tell is truly horrific and understandably distracting.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Invoked. During a count, Curtis runs up to a guard, puts the barrel of the gun to his own head, and pulls the trigger, only for the gun to click empty. This is to reveal to the other passengers in the back that the guns are just for show, and the guards can't stop them.
  • The Juggernaut: The Snowpiercer itself. The train never stops no matter what, so even when massive hunks of ice are blocking the rails ahead, it simply barrels through them full throttle without suffering obvious damage.
  • Large Ham: Mason. She's brash and arrogant, and makes a show of all her interactions with the tail section inhabitants.
  • Last Request: Tanya, asking that Curtis find her Timmy. He succeeds.
  • Leitmotif: The axe gang have a sinister, clanging, off-kilter theme. The music, the fact that their masks don't have eyeholes, and what they do to a fish are meant to underscore that these guys aren't just dangerous; they're insane.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Wilford calls Curtis's revolution "a blockbuster production with a devilishly unpredictable plot". These same words could be used to describe the film itself.
  • Literally Shattered Lives: Humans are frozen solid when exposed to the outside environment at a certain altitude, and the resulting ice statues can be smashed to pieces if a strong enough force is applied. In fact, this trope is used as a punishment by Wilford's soldiers against the lower-section passengers by forcing one of the offender's limbs outside the train, waiting until it freezes, then shattering it with sledgehammers.
  • Made of Iron: Averted with Curtis and co., but played straight with the front-section passengers. None of them seem to register pain, nor are they particularly afraid of getting hurt. The first hint we see of this is with Claude, who reacts to being struck in the head by examining the spilt blood on her finger and then licking it up. Then we see others like Franco the Elder and Wilford barely even acknowledge the savage beatings they suffer. It isn't until we get to the party car that we find out that most people in the front-section are constantly high on Kronole, so they aren't Made of Iron so much as they are numbed to pain.
  • Mama Bear: Tanya insists on joining the rebellion's push to the engine because she wants to take her son Timmy back from the front-enders.
  • The Man Behind the Curtain: Averted. Wilford is as brilliant and charismatic as described.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Wilford, who has been masterminding the entire train for eighteen years and can normally Break Them by Talking.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • Yona’s apparent clairvoyance is never explained, though there is some suggestion that it is related to her or her father’s addiction to Kronole.
    • Nothing is ever made clear about how the engine works. It generates endless amounts of power without an apparent fuel source, looks pretty spiffy, is implied to play at least some role in the rampant brainwashing among the front-enders, and if interpreted as mind-controlling, it makes a little boy climb into its heart when it looks like it's stopping, making it arguably the most mysterious part of the film. The quasi-religious Cargo Cult the front-enders have built around it only muddles the matter further.
  • May–December Romance: Not onscreen, but according to director Bong Joon-ho, Gilliam and Grey. HD stills show Gilliam's name tattooed over Grey's heart.
  • Meaningful Echo: Curtis's rampant guilt stems from having been unable to cut off his arm and give it to the hungry. In the film's final moments, he makes that sacrifice to free Timmy.
  • Meaningful Name
    • Yona is the Hebrew word for "dove", the animal sent forth from Noah's Ark to reveal that the apocalyptic Flood is subsiding.
    • One of the officers working for Mason is known as "Fuyu", which is Japanese for "winter", reflecting the perpetual winter and cold outside the train.
    • The name of the train. It can easily bust through solid ice with barely even a dent.
  • Mega-Corp: Wilford Industries—the one corporation that rules over the film's post-apocalyptic icy wasteland.
    • Downplayed significantly. Before the world collapsed, Wilford Industries was just an average railway company, and apparently not that successful. The trope is only in effect after humanity is reduced to only the passengers of Wilford's train.
  • Mid-Battle Tea Break: The battle between the tail-enders and the hooded mooks is interrupted by the announcement of the crossing of the Yekaterina Bridge, which prompts a countdown complete with "Happy New Year" wishes. Then, while the Snowpiercer lives up to its name and breaks through several snowdrifts on the track, everybody, friends and foes side by side, get down and brace for impact (Curtis even gets a wry grin from the mook next to him). When the crossing is over, the fight resumes as if nothing had happened.
  • The Mole: Wilford paints Gilliam as this, as the inside man who incites periodic violent revolts in order to cull the train's population. Curtis finds it hard to believe, but evidence begins to pile up that Wilford may be telling the truth. In fact, Gilliam's conversation with Mason could've been an attempt to warn Wilford that Curtis's revolt may not have the desired effect.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • The film takes a turn to the light-hearted once the main characters begin to explore the front sections, and turns back to serious when the bald man and the pregnant teacher start shooting people.
    • A minor one with Curtis slipping on the fish in the middle of his dramatic slow-motion charge during the battle with the ax-wielding mooks.
  • Motifs: Food and eating comes up an awful lot — there's a reason the axe-wielding frontender Mooks have only their mouths visible.
  • Necessarily Evil: Wilford is aware of the suffering in the end section of the train, but he believes it is the only way for his society to function as a whole.
  • Neck Snap: Namgoong kills Franco the Elder this way.
  • The Needs of the Many: During the Yekaterina Bridge tunnel fight, Curtis has to choose whether to save Edgar or capture Mason. He goes for Mason and makes her end the fighting, thus saving the lives of many, but Edgar dies as a result.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The bomb used by Namgoong to open the exit door kills nearly everyone inside the engine, then the deflagration triggers an avalanche which sweeps the rest of the train off the track.
  • No Conservation of Energy: The film's two pieces of Applied Phlebotinum break the first law of thermodynamics in opposite manners: The Snowpiercer's engine produces endless energy for the train from nowhere. Meanwhile, the CW-7 seems to make most of the heat on the Earth's surface just disappear—the sun still shines on the planet unobstructed, but everything is still frozen.
    • The latter can be argued as simply being a result of the albedo effect, since the entire planet is covered by snow, thus explaining why Minsoo believes it is possible to live outside. If the rebellion had just waited a year or two...
  • No Endor Holocaust: When the train slams into several ice jams, the cars hop the tracks, making everyone in the car fly around. Being a series of linked compartments, you would assume every part of the train experiences this—yet the aquarium car, the hair salon car, and the disco car seem none the worse for wear.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: Wilford invites Curtis to have steak with him (while having him held at gunpoint by his assistant Claude to ensure he doesn't do anything stupid) and proceeds to explain to him how his rebellion was staged from the beginning out of necessity.
  • No Name Given: One of the rebellion's more prominent members is a large, imposing fighter in old military gear. Despite being one of the 'point men' along with Curtis and Edgar, he remains nameless.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Minsoo throws a raver off the catwalk, where he is eaten up by the irresponsibly uncovered cog machinery (which, oddly enough, has no ill effects on the train's operation.)
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: The early days of the tail section.
  • Not in This for Your Revolution: Namgoong couldn't care less about Curtis and the insurrection, but he goes along due to his own personal agenda. He just wants to get out of the train, rather than take it over, even if that means blowing it up and derailing it.
  • Not Quite Dead: Franco the Elder is a real die-hard baddie.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Everyone assumes Minsoo is acting weird due to a Kronole-induced high or outright brain damage caused by the stuff. In the end he recalls all the events of the film in a Flashback, explaining to Curtis what actually happened and what he was doing.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The Asian general has a moment when he realizes that Mason won't save his life by ordering the Faceless Goons to back off.
    • Curtis's realization that Wilford's forces do have ammo to spare.
    • Yona when she demonstrates her psychic powers to Curtis and realizes that the next car over is full of axe-wielding soldiers. The instant she feels them, she freaks out and screams at Minsoo not to open the gate. Then, Minsoo gets one, as she yells at him right at the exact moment he manages to do just that.
    • Curtis when he finds out that the lights are going out and the Axe Gang are putting on night-vision goggles because there's a tunnel approaching.
      Yona: [translating for her father] He said you guys are fucked. You stupid tail-sectioners. There's a tunnel right after the Yekaterina Bridge.
      Curtis: A tunnel?!
      Yona: [nods] Mm-hm. A fucking long one.
  • Opening Scroll: One that details the release of CW-7 and its consequences.
  • Passing the Torch: Wilford's offer to Curtis at the end of the film is to succeed him. At first, Curtis seems to accept .. until he sees Tanya's son Timmy being used as a living part of the engine, at which point he beats the crap out of Wilford.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Curtis killing Mason in retaliation for Gilliam's execution.
  • Perpetual Motion Machine: The engine (and a pretty cool looking one, too). While it seems to fit the bill energy-wise, it still wears down and has irreplaceable parts break.
  • Pet the Dog: Wilford's idea of this is to engineer the killing of eighteen less people in the tail section than what he thinks is the optimal amount, one for every year the train has been running.
  • Plot Hole: Wilford describes Curtis as "the first person to walk the whole of the train", but this excludes the children in the engine. Claude, the woman in yellow, might also qualify, having gone all the way to the back to get them in the first place.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: Quite literally: Wilfred is using children from the tail section to replace worn-out engine parts.
  • Precision F-Strike: Minsoo drops one in the trailer. Yona also gets one when she describes the oncoming tunnel.
  • Pregnant Badass: The teacher is full-term at the time she's introduced, and uses a submachine gun to mow down several of the tail-enders in the school car.
  • Propaganda Machine: The educational materials presented in the classroom about Wilford's life are this, very much so.
  • Psychic Powers: Yona's abilities of clairvoyance, which let her sense the presence of people beyond closed doors, culminating in her finding Timmy below the engine room.
  • The Psycho Rangers: The main staff of the Snowpiercer fit this trope VERY well.
    • Wilford is the Big Bad, being the tyrannical founder and leader of the aforementioned train.
    • Mason is The Dragon, being Wilford's Mouth of Sauron and Number Two.
    • Gilliam can be considered The Evil Genius, being Wilford's main liaison in the tail section (and the one who helped instigate the failed revolutions to keep the tail population in check).
    • The Franco siblings are The Brutes, particularly Franco the Elder (being the main physical threat of the movie and Wilford's most physically imposing servant).
    • Claude, the woman in yellow, is Wilford's personal bodyguard and the most feminine member of Wilford's main staff.
    • Egghead is a Sixth Ranger, as he is simply an lower-status assassin working for Wilford to keep the population in check.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Sure, Curtis managed to derail the Snowpiercer and end the cycle of tyranny...he just had to die and kill pretty much everyone else on the train to do it. Not exactly a sunshine-and-rainbows movie.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: Subverted. No matter how good an engineer Wilford is, parts break down. Since finding replacements is virtually impossible due to the complete collapse of civilisation outside the train, it requires some creative substitutions.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Curtis and Gilliam decide that only a few should keep pressing forward toward the engine: Curtis, The Leader with a Dark and Troubled Past; Namgoong and his daughter Yona; Tanya; Andrew; and Grey.
  • Red Herring: Early on, Andrew gets his arm frozen and shattered as a punishment. When the elders of the tail section come to collect him, many of them have missing limbs, and most viewers will probably assume they were also punished for insubordination. The truth is much worse. They cut off their limbs to feed the other passengers.
  • Reduced to Ratburgers: The protein bars are made of ground-up cockroaches. It's implied this isn't exactly done out of desperation, but as a way to further incite rage from the tail-end. The roaches need to be grown after all, which would be less efficient than just feeding the passengers scraps of leftover produce, and the revolt was supposed to go far enough to see the processing machine.. On the other hand, it might have been a stop-gap measure that quickly turned into a permanent solution to feed the tail-end of the train.
  • Refuge in Audacity: When the rebellion's doorstop pipe contraption is about to be exposed, Edgar incites a riot to distract the guards.
  • The Reveal: Several.
    • The protein blocks that the tail section passengers are fed are made of cockroaches.
    • Gilliam was actually cooperating with Wilford all along, and made sure that a rebellion would take place every once in a while so that the population within the train wouldn't get out of control. Curtis's revolution was actually a calculated population cull that would have freed up space in the tail section and allowed better distribution of food. Wilford wasn't happy that Gilliam couldn't keep Curtis under control.
    • The two kids who were taken in the beginning of the film were taken to be used as living parts of the engine. The engine is eternal,note  but some of its parts aren't.
    • What Minsoo saw outside from the greenhouse and didn't tell Curtis when he tells him that the ice and snow are starting to melt is revealed at the very end: the polar bear is the proof that it is possible for life to survive outside the train, and by extension must have been doing so for 18 years.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Oh God, no. A very extreme case of Black-and-Gray Morality.
  • Rewatch Bonus:
    • Watch the movie again with the knowledge that Curtis killed Edgar's mom. It really puts their interactions in a new light.
    • Or with the knowledge that Gilliam worked with Wilford to create revolts from time to time.
  • Rich Language, Poor Language: Minister Mason's heavy Yorkshire accent betrays her origins as a tail-dweller who managed to get promoted up-train. Nearly everyone else up-train seems to have American or RP accents.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: The Wilford documentary shown in the school car mentions that the Snowpiercer travels on a round trip more than 400,000 kilometers long, once a year. Not only is this distance alone somewhat absurdnote , it would also mean the train travels at a leisurely 45 KPH, which is slower than inner-city car traffic and a lot slower than the train is shown travelling in the film.
    • The length of the trip is justified at least, as we see a map of the train's path, which shows that the train takes a convoluted route throughout most of the continents, rather than simply a great circle that coincides with the equator.
  • Senseless Violins: In this case, it's not a violin case, but a trolley full of boiled eggs (and firearms). Coincidentally, a violinist appears in the same scene, and the shooting begins after one of his strings snaps.
  • Shark Tunnel: The aquaculture car is built like one of these, although without actual sharks among its fish.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: The children in the classroom lend an aspect of creepy, over-the-top black comedy to the film. They disappear completely when the shooting starts.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Wilford says "You did a man's work" to Curtis, which references the well-known Blade Runner line "You've done a man's job".
    • Gilliam shares a name with Terry Gilliam, whose dark, surreal, and absurdist films were very likely an influence on this movie, especially the Orwellian satire Brazil and French-cinema-inspired sci-fi thriller 12 Monkeys.
    • CW-7 is possibly a shout out to Ice-Nine, which has basically the same effect on Earth's biosphere.
    • The fish-cutting scene is a reference to this scene from The Godfather.
    • The fight against Franco the Elder in the sauna car features a double homage to The Shining: when Franco is being choked by Minsoo after Curtis stabs him, we get a close-up shot on his face sporting a demented grin similar to Jack Nicholson's in his iconic "Here's Johnny" scene, while Midnight, the Stars and You plays faintly in the background.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: When Curtis is asked by Wilford if he would switch places, Curtis's response is "Fuck you."
  • Sole Survivor: Yona and Timmy, ostensibly.
  • Spiritual Successor: According to this video, there are similarites between this movie and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
  • Staged Populist Uprising: This was Wilford's plan all along. For all of the revolts.
  • Surreal Horror: The confrontation with the masked warriors, from the fish sequence to their sudden New Year's celebration.
  • Take a Moment to Catch Your Death: After Curtis's Friend-or-Idol Decision, which leaves Edgar with Franco the Younger's knife at his throat, Edgar manages to break away and begins to run toward Curtis as though he's going to make it—but then Franco stabs him In the Back and he falls with a stricken look on his face.
  • Taking a Third Option: Minsoo's ultimate plan. Rather than continue the struggle between the front and the tail, he wants to get off the train altogether.
  • Terminally Dependent Society: A train full of people is all that's left of humanity, and they all depend on the train never stopping in its tracks.
  • Thriller on the Express: Nearly the entire film takes place in the titular train, resulting in tense situations as Curtis and company move through train car after train car.
  • Totalitarian Utilitarian: Wilford runs his train on the idea of an eternal order where people in the lowest ranks have to suffer for the society as a whole to function.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: In this case, the movie poster. Ed Harris is prominently displayed on the poster and in the credits, and he's completely absent for 95% of the film. Also, they keep mentioning "Wilford" throughout, who the hell is that guy?
  • Tranquil Fury: Franco the Elder goes on a killing spree after his brother dies, but he's stone-faced throughout.
  • Translator Microbes: Namgoong uses a translating device to communicate with the tail-enders, though for the audience the movie simply provides subtitles and cuts out most of the translations.
  • Tuck and Cover: When the Kronole bomb is about to detonate and the door of Wilford's lair refuses to close, Curtis and Namgoong do this together, sheltering Timmy and Yona between them, allowing them to survive the blast and the subsequent train wreck.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Curtis is the latest one, as it appears that there have been several revolts, engineered by Gilliam and Wilford. That is, until things get out of hand.
    • Minsoo makes a great subversion of this trope. He's apparently dragged into the revolt and only helps them for payment in Kronole cubes...only to reveal in the end he used the ongoing revolution just so he could get to the doors, use the Kronole to blast them open, and get out of the train, making Curtis a pawn in two separate schemes simultaneously.
  • Vehicle Title: "Snowpiercer" is the name of the train that sustains humanity.
  • Villain Has a Point: Wilford's argument that the status quo of the train is the only thing that allows humanity to function holds some weight when you consider how fragile the train's ecosystem is and how much strain the demands of the tail-end would place on it. It also makes most Green Aesops kind of horrifying, since they often boil down to, "A place is more important than the happiness, well-being, or lives of the people who live there."
  • Visionary Villain: Wilford is definitely one of these.
  • The Voiceless:
    • Grey. While it's never specifically explained what keeps him from communicating beyond being a Human Notepad, he doesn't seem to be The Speechless, because he does have a couple moments where he cries out in pain, meaning he's theoretically able to speak. Perhaps he's missing his tongue, for similar reasons to why the other passengers are missing limbs...
    • Franco the Younger is never heard speaking (although we see him screaming something inaudible at Curtis when he holds Edgar hostage), and Franco the Elder's only line (delivered in his native tongue) is: "No more bullets?"
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The protagonists, who have had enough of being the victims of the structural injustice established by the Visionary Villain.
  • Wham Line:
    • "There are actually many things on board which were rumored to be extinct..." [pulls out fully-loaded guns]
    • "After a month, we ate the weak."
    • "That wasn't what Gilliam and I had in our plan."
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Subverted. Tilda Swinton's Yorkshire accent is perfect, but when she starts speaking it comes out of absolutely nowhere, and the overall effect is jarring as hell.
  • World of Ham: Everyone on the train is a bit...unhinged after spending 17 years trapped in a metal box rocketing through the icy remains of Earth. Even the first-class passengers, who live in total luxury, seem to act perpetually insane (partially thanks to the Fantastic Drug Kronole).
  • You Need to Get Laid: Wilford suggests this to Curtis to help him relax.


Video Example(s):


Still Cold...

Following a botched attempt to end global warming, the Earth has been trapped in a permanent state of winter. The only survivors are the passengers aboard the most advanced train ever built; when tail-end passengers finally get a chance to see out a window, they can tell that the world is no better after seventeen years.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (14 votes)

Example of:

Main / AfterTheEnd

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