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    The Film 
  • Accidental Aesop:
    • The delicate balance of the train's life support is referred to constantly as the reason for the abuse heaped upon the tail-sectioners, though critics usually ignore this in favor of condemning the tyranny du jour. This makes most Green Aesops kind of horrifying, as they often boil down to, "The place is more important than happiness, well-being or lives of the people who live there." Especially since the train is destroyed in the ending; if the place demands dehumanizing sacrifices of humans, it should be destroyed!
    • Even worse, the film's message could very easily be "a strictly segregated social hierarchy may be oppressive, but any attempt to rise above your station would only bring ruin". As much as the film plays up the "shoe/hat" metaphor as ridiculous and oppressive, the decision by the shoe (Curtis) to overthrow and replace the hat (Wilford) is what directly causes the train to be destroyed, condemning humanity to extinction.
    • The real Aesop is listen to science. Observe nature and respond in kind as Nam figures out that the snow has been steadily melting all these years and its possible that a balance will return. In other words, the Engine need not be eternal and it isn't eternal as the parts and components break down anyway.
  • Adaptation Displacement: Did you know it was based off of a comic series? Neither did a lot of people outside of the Francosphere! When the books were released in 2014, they were riding off of the film by saying this inspired the film. So much that when one of the authors returned to the work years later, the film was basically adopted into canon.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
    • Was Gilliam truly a traitor to the tail-end section or was he so traumatized by the cannabilistic melee from the train’s early days that he thought population control was the only way of preventing another outbreak? Also, he urged Curtis to just kill Wilford outright, and not even give Wilford a chance to talk with him. Was Gilliam regretful that he let Wilford manipulate him for all these years and didn't want the same thing to happen to Curtis, or did he just want to keep his collaboration with Wilford a secret?
    • Sure, Gilliam worked with Wilford all this time, but in the aftermath of the Yekaterina Tunnel incident, he urged Gray to follow Curtis. This could be seen as a dick move on his part, but he may have figured out that Wilford would be gunning for him, so he wanted to get Gray as far from him as possible. It seems like he was trying to maximize Gray's chances of survival.
    • For that matter, was Gilliam ever really working with Wilford? We know that Wilford has security systems monitoring the entire tail section of the train, so it's quite possible that he found out enough to manipulate Curtis that way, and we have no one's word but Wilford's to go on that he was actually telling the truth.
    • Wilford. Evil SOB who keeps hundreds of people in horrible conditions to maintain the system that keeps him in comfort, while totally indifferent to human suffering? Or a man who unexpectedly finds himself responsible for keeping the entire human race alive, and who is resigned to having to make terrible choices for the greater good.
    • Then there's the Front Section Passengers who all swarm Minsoo at the end. Is it the truest example of the rich's disdain of the poor that they all pull themselves together just to stop them from succeeding? Judging by their rather young ages it is likely that they spent most of their life on the train, being conditioned to revere the engine and Wilford as divine, and thus stepped in to stop the threat to their master. Or maybe they're all a bunch of druggies mad that Minsoo took their Kronol.
  • Anvilicious: Class differences are bad. The rich exploit the poorer and don't care about them at all, and that's bad. Trying to claim that everyone has a "proper place" in society is really, really bad. Did we mention that class differences are bad?
  • Award Snub: Received no Academy Award or Golden Globe Award nominations, despite it being critically acclaimed and named by some as one of the best films of the year, though Tilda Swinton did receive some recognition for her work as Mason. Somewhat justified though as it was released in Korea in 2013, making it ineligible for the Oscars, though it did get a 2014 release in the States.
  • Broken Base: Fans of Bong Joon-ho's previous works are split about whether the movie was great or not.
  • Complete Monster: The Snowpiercer's creator, Wilford, is a selfish megalomaniac who wishes to control the remnants of mankind. Combating global warming with a risky procedure that ends up freezing the world over, Wilford takes advantage of the catastrophe to seemingly save mankind with the titular ever-running train. Creating a caste system, Wilford tries to starve the impoverished people at the tail end of the train, resulting in them having to resort to cannibalism to survive. Under his iron-fisted authority, the upper-class of the trains have their children educated to worship him as a godlike figure, and he continues to mistreat the lower-class people of the train's rear-end, feeding them disgusting bars made from cockroaches. To keep the tail-enders under his control, Wilford uses his mole, Gilliam, to occasionally organize riots doomed to fail, ostensibly to let them purge their anger and costing many of them their lives. When Curtis tries to incite his own rebellion against Wilford, Wilford has Gilliam killed for failing to stop him and orders a massacre of the tail-enders, putting the slaughter on speakerphone to mock Curtis. Revealed to run his train with children in the engine, Wilford is a callous man with a god-complex, who only saved humanity at all to create a cult where he could feel adored as a messiah.
  • Death of the Author: It's been argued that Bong Joon-ho wasn't making a film about class warfare, but about tyranny itself; maintaining the train - both its life support and its rigid caste system - demands that everyone aboard make inherently dehumanizing sacrifices. The tailenders obviously get the worst of it (living in squalor and eating gel bars made from ground-up cockroaches), but the frontenders also have no freedom as the system permits no growth or change and when the population climbs too high, they are sacrificed just as callously as the tailenders in Wilford and Gilliam's revolution. Wilford cannot risk interacting with the population, as they have come to see him as a divine figure - breaking the illusion risks the system breaking down. The frontenders are as dependent on the tailenders for survival as the tailenders are on the frontenders—and the architects of the revolution are the least free of all. Unless everyone is free, no-one is.
    ...whether or not the human race survives is irrelevant. What is relevant is that they are free and that their survival depends on their own independent minds. This is the movie's final message: the importance of freedom; damn the odds.
  • Ending Fatigue: The film seems as if it's about to end during a tense scene near the exit of the train... And then Wilford's door opens.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse:
  • Esoteric Happy Ending: The shackles of tyranny have been cast off, and life is returning to Earth, but, humanity might be effectively wiped out, and that beautiful polar bear sure seems awfully interested in our two remaining heroes. Terminus, however, confirms that our two remaining heroes have not only survived, but made it to a safe spot.
  • Fan-Preferred Couple: A number of fans like to pair up Yona and Grey together despite the fact that they never interact one-on-one, probably because they're the two youngest and most attractive people in the main cast. Sure, Grey canonically dies, but Franco survives much worse than a stabbing, so those fans usually choose to believe that Grey survives and hooks up with Yona after the end.
  • Fanon Welding: A popular fan theory by YouTuber Rhino Strew describes it as a sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory way darker than anything Roald Dahl ever wrote, with Wilford as a grown-up Charlie Bucket after Willy Wonka (or should it be, Wilford Wonka?) left him his business empire. The film even uses "Pure Imagination" in the score, as if to acknowledge the similarities between Wilford and Willy.
  • Genre-Busting: The film has qualities of science fiction, Western, action-adventure, even at times feels (fantastically) like an RPG video game, yet none of these titles would fit perfectly.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: In Bong Joon-ho's previous film, The Host, Song Kang-ho's character Gang-du lives, while Go Ah-sung's character Hyun-seo dies. In Snowpiercer, Song and Go once again play father and daughter, only Song's character dies while Go's lives (longer).
  • He Really Can Act: Most of the cast got this reaction, but especially Chris Evans and Song Kang-ho.
  • He's Just Hiding!: There are those who feel this way about some of the minor characters (like the remaining tail section prisoners) after the derailment.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: During the classroom scene, when they get to the part of the propaganda video on Wilford's backstory where his childhood self talks about how he wants to live on a train forever, the front-section schoolchildren all scream out "forever!" and perform a gesture that looks an awful lot like dabbing. While that gesture has its roots in anime and Super Sentai, it only caught on in the West in 2014, the year after this film was released.
  • Ho Yay: Setting aside Grey and Gilliam's confirmed May–December Romance, the devotion Edgar exhibits toward Curtis and the look of heartbreak on his face when he realizes Curtis isn't going to save him from the executioners could be interpreted this way.
  • MST3K Mantra: Viewers rolling their eyes at the class struggle and (frankly) ridiculous concept need to remember it's a movie, and has more in common with Brazil in its tone. Once you get that, the movie is fine.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • It's been a thing for watchers of the movie to recommend others to bring "yanggaeng", a type of jelly sold in Korea, to eat during the movie, because of its similarity to the protein blocks within the movie. In the same vein, other foods recommended are sushi, eggs, steak, and Coca-Cola.
    • Thanks to this popular video, it's become a popular fan theory that the movie is actually a sequel to Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory of all things.
  • Narm:
    • When Andrew is punished by getting his hand frozen outside of the train car for seven minutes, Mason places a giant clock on a gold chain around his neck to count the time: This detail can seem kind of silly if you happen to associate it with Flavor Flav's Iconic Item.
    • Curtis slipping on a fish in the middle of the intense Axe Gang fight, with a pretty ridiculous expression on his face.
    • During the Axe Gang fight, Officer Fuyu turns to look at Mason. Mason's response?
      Mason: What are you doing, you dozy boger?! Don't look at me! Look... THEEEEEEEEEEEAH!
    • Curtis' line towards the end, "I know that babies taste best."
    • The sight of the children performing the functions of train parts is...odd to say the least.
    • The use of a polar bear of all things to showcase that life still persists in the outside world. By then, the two sole survivors are an unarmed 17-year-old and an even less resilient 5-year-old, whereas polar bears are lethal apex predators in a biome where food is scarce with or without a man-made ice age apocalypse. Put those two things together and this uplifting moment becomes decidedly less so. Supplemental material reveals that the two characters survive, but you won't know that by just watching the film.
  • Spiritual Adaptation:
    • The film shares a lot amount of similarities to the first BioShock game. The class division, a protagonist with a shadowy past, Wilford's egocentric propaganda, children being brainwashed to serve the societyit's all there. Some fans even go on calling this film "BioShock as directed by Terry Gilliam". Furthermore, while BioShock sought to deconstruct the Objectivist themes of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, one could see the villains here as the kind of bad guys that Rand herself could have written. Wilford is a fascist tyrant who preaches that salvation comes from serving him, Gilliam is a socialist tyrant who preaches that salvation comes from serving each other (at his command, of course), and the two of them are working together to maintain the train and its oppressive system.
    • As mentioned above on the Fanon Welding trope, the movie is also considered by some fans and critics to be an unofficial sequel to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

    The Series 
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: This review of episode 4 posits that, given LJ is all-but-stated to have been underage and too young to consent when her relationship with Erik began and that her parents were strongly implied to have been aware of what was happening but turned a blind eye, her speaking up to Layton in the dining car about Erik's absence (and that he had his gun) was her way of escaping an abusive relationship by ensuring Erik never came back from Nikki's murder. While this aspect of her background isn't given much light after her trial, her actress also believes she was being abused in her relationship with Erik.
    • There's a horrible moment in episode 5 when her parents tell LJ the key thing to repeat on the stand is that Erik forced to do everything - to which a suddenly-emotional looking LJ tells her parents he did force her, then asks "you do know that, right?" in a tone that suggest she's about to cry. Given how her parents react (Lilah just walks away while Robert mouths false reassurance), there's an excellent chance she's actually referring to her relationship with Erik, one both her parents have already been shown to have turned a blind eye to.
  • And You Thought It Would Fail: As mentioned below, the trailer wasn't well-received as people thought it would be inferior to the film and would be a generic post-apocalyptic show. When it premiered, it surprisingly got a generally positive critical reception with the audience reception being slightly higher. It did so well that a second season was commissioned but it ended up getting delayed until January 2021 due to the pandemic.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse:
    • Javi, for coming across as the Only Sane Man of the Engineers at times and getting a Big Damn Heroes moment in episode 9.
    • Bojan, the husky yet surprisingly tender worker tasked with Braving the Blizzard, who gets an impressive moment of heroism during a mechanical failure.
    • Among the tail section rebels, arguably Big John, Santiago and Winnie.
    • Miss Gillies the primary school teacher gets some moments to shine.
    • Dr. Pelton the Closest Thing We Got medical examiner.
    • The Wild Card Almighty Janitor Terrence.
  • Jerkass Woobie: Ruth is a grade-A kiss-up-and-kick-down toady with a snotty disdain for the lower classes and a downright religious devotion to Mr. Wilford (who in no way deserves it, and doesn't even seem to know that she exists). But she has just enough moments of vulnerability and humanity that it's hard to really hate her, and it feels a lot like her more odious traits are caused by a desperate desire for things to just make sense in a terrifying post-apocalyptic world.
  • Love to Hate: Joseph Wilford has swiftly proven himself as a very enjoyable villain, thanks to his shamelessly self-centered actions, monstrous ego, relationship with Alexandra and Sean Bean's performance being an enticing mix of playful charm and coiled menace. In a show where most characters at least pretend to be motivated by higher ideals such as freedom or order, it's fun to see someone truly out for themselves at the expense of the remaining human race.
  • The Scrappy: Zarah has gotten a bit of hate from fans for her selfish tendencies.
  • Tainted by the Preview: The series' initial advertising made it look like it was going to be a procedural (not helped by the fact that TNT is known primarily for airing crime procedurals), which turned off a lot of potential viewers, especially those who are fans of the movie. In reality, the murder mystery is merely a catalyst for the series' larger arc.
  • They Changed It, Now It Sucks!: The series takes a lot of liberty with the Snowpiercer story, most notably giving Mr. Wilford a very different role than the one he had in the movie. A lot of fans of the movie are not happy about that.
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