Dystopian Film Snowpiercer Mirrors Real Life Class Disparities


There’s been a growing trend in cinema of underclass discontent with elite oligarchies. Many of these films are dystopian, futuristic, and post-apocalyptic. The most well known franchise in the genre is The Hunger Games. However, several other films have come out in the past couple years with similar themes, such as Divergent and Elysium, in addition to television shows like Revolution. The most recent of these films is Snowpiercer.

Snowpiercer is a South Korean-American science fiction film based on a French graphic novel called Le Transperceneige. First published in 1982 by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette, the story isabout a train that travels continuously around the Earth, which has been frozen in a failed global warming experiment.

Despite the source material, what makes Snowpiercer different from other dystopian films is its reluctance to delve into backstory. This quality separates Snowpiercer from other lite sci-fi fare like The Hunger Games, but the movie definitely doesn’t shy away from the vogue of dichotomous class systems. This is both Snowpiercer’s best and worst quality.

As mentioned before, the entire film takes place on a train with a perpetual motion engine that has been travelling around the world for seventeen years. Characters mention the fateful global warming experiment throughout, but that isn’t the real focus of the film. Snowpiercer is about class politics. The film can be more Titanic than The Hunger Games. The train is divided between the rich in the front, led by rich railroad tycoon Wilford (played by Ed Harris) and the poor in the tail, lead by Curtis (Captain America himself, Chris Evans). There is supposed to be a middle class, but this is a minor point; just know that they paid more for a ticket than the passengers in the tail. The passengers in the tail are constantly referred to as “freeloaders” by the overseer character (played by Tilda Swinton), and fed protein gelatin bars that we later find out are not the type of protein most people typically like to ingest. However, it’s been seventeen years since these people have seen the outside world, so actual food is probably hard to come by.


It is interesting that Snowpiercer makes its appearance in theaters now, as the American public becomes more discontent with their elected officials and scientists like the esteemed Bill Nye warn that global warming is our biggest threat. Climate change may be the most obvious connection between the film and the present, but dissatisfaction with authority is the more relevant theme. Plenty of economists agree that the American middle class is eroding. As the rich get richer and the lower class expands, assigning blame has become a pastime for most of cable news. Like the tail passengers of Snowpiercer, the American people have been walloped by economic disparity – perhaps not as extreme as portrayed in the film, but the analogy is easier to draw when the poor people are dirty and ragged and the rich One Percent wear fur coats and go to train raves.

As people continue to be upset with government overreach, films featuring destructive oligarchies will become more commonplace. Regardless of the success (or lack thereof) of Occupy Wall Street, people are still outraged by the growing American caste system. In the future, public revolt might not be a metaphor in dystopian films like Snowpiercer; it could be the electorate really lashing out against their elected officials. Revolutions are enthralling in theaters, not so much in public.

Snowpiercer is a fun film to watch, but the intrigue of its political world could be expanded upon. For instance, why did it take seventeen years for the tail passengers to revolt? How did they choose to that particular path to take around the world? How do the front passengers make money? How do they have an entire aquarium filled with fish? WHERE DID THE CHICKENS COME FROM?! Some of these questions receive vague answers throughout the film, but the smaller details make the plot holes more apparent.

That being said, the non-stop action from start-to-finish will help you see past any faults. Snowpiercer is a fun, fast-paced, and quite violent science fiction film with intriguing concepts. You will cheer for the disgruntled tail passengers to succeed as they move through the train and learn about the decadent lives of upper-class front passengers. As popular culture always teaches us, reality is easier to accept when you see it on a movie screen.

Snowpiercer is rated R for violence, language and drug content. It is currently in limited release around the country.

Angie Hoxie is a content writer living in Brooklyn, New York. She went to Eastern Michigan University where she studied Political Science, Women’s Studies, and a growing Netflix queue. She can turn any conversation about the Real Housewives into an argument about gender and heteronormativity. She is caught up with the Kardashians. Her goal in life is to make fetch happen.