The movie "Snowpiercer" (2014) (IMDB) is 2 hours long. It stirred such contradicting emotions in me that I've already spent more than 6 hours poking at its allegories and their premises. If I have to sum the film up, it would be something in the lines of: a visually appealing and emotionally impacting piece of cinema that suffers from unsolvable contradictions and pure nonsense. It's a movie that wants to attack capitalism and ends up attacking fascism without even realizing it. Basically a 2-hour long straw man attack against capitalism.
The main topic of this movie is, doubtless - equality and justice between men and thus this is a very politically motivated piece. And however sympathetic one must inherently be to this topic, the movie is so full of moments that would make you feel uneasy and questioning the motives of the characters that it's close to unwatchable at some points. In this review I'll try and pick its contradictions one by one.
The main contradictions and their premises explored:
#1 World as a Closed System - The train is an allegory for the current world of humans. The whole world that we have built and live in is the train. The train is the shell that keeps the most hostile environment we can imagine at bay. Our world, is thus a closed system, according to the author. This is, of course, not true at all. Strike 1.
#2 The Inventor/Dictator - The train runs on an unstoppable engine, designed by a living genius who is the sole human who perceived that the CW7 gas would actually destroy the planet. This is also the person running the train as an authoritarian dictator, oppressing everyone aboard with brute force.
I can only assume that the makers of the movie have never met a person who is actually an inventor and an entrepreneur, otherwise they would have known that there is no way that such a man would become a ruthless dictator. In fact, he would have been the first one to be thrown in one of those neat jail boxes by the thugs who would take over the train using brute force. Strike 2.
#3 Capitalism or Fascism? - This dictator is trying to keep this system "in balance". Rich guys should stay rich and do nothing. Poor guys should stay poor and do nothing as well (but bow in order to eat insect proteins). If this is an allegory for the economic system, as it seems to be, this reveals his utter failure to understand basic economic truths. One such truth is that a capitalist economic system benefits exponentially from each new worker involved, thus there is absolutely no reason to want to suppress the desire of anyone to earn a living in a fair way. What the author describes is nothing else but the current fascistic system that is prevailing in most of the world today. Strike 3.
This system is actually describing the fascistic bureaucracy mafia that runs the world. However, I don't think the authors see it this way and I explain why in my other points. The description is excellently portraying the current fascistic model in which the force of the government/mafia is used in order to, on the one hand: get as much privileges and preferences for the ruling elite as possible (at the expense of everyone else); and, on the other hand: to suppress all but the most capable and persistent from the oppressed class to rise out of poverty (e.g. minimum wage laws, anti-education and indoctrination, etc.). The school wagon, which is no more than an indoctrination Gulag for kids is a direct and fair comparison with modern school institutions.
#4 The rebellion - I think the most absurd thing in the movie and the main contradiction.
First of all, none of the people on this train would have even been alive if not for Wilfred, the creator of the engine and the entrepreneur who built the train, against all mockery and against the advice of everyone around. Second of all, what sense does it make to rebel against the only person on the train that actually knows something about it, it's engine and it's artificial life-support systems. What would they do if they get to him? What would they do just a few days or at best - a few months after they get rid of him??? Major strike 4.
#5 The protein bars allegory - this is a clear link between the E-type additives and preservatives added to many foods today. As you may know, some of these chemicals are derived from insects. In the movie the bars are served only to the poor while the rich are eating sushi and steaks. The obvious suggestion from the plot is that everyone should be able to have sushi and steaks. However, economically, this is impossible since neither sushi nor stakes from the sky. The concept of "abundance" is the obvious false premise here. Strike 5.
#6 Ayn Rand references - this movie owes so much to Miss Rand that I don't know where to begin. First of all, the whole train thing, then the lone genius inventor vs the world thing which is like fallen out of her novel Atlas Shrugged. And finally the character of Tilda Swinton (Mason) - is like a grotesque caricature of Rand physically. Also, her depiction of being "the most loyal stooge" and "the bitch" of the ruling class is an exact parallel to her descriptions from fans of Karl Marx.
However, her character is anything but Rand. Rand would have never been in such a role, she would have never vouched and propagandized for a fascistic status quo. In fact, here novel urges for nothing short of a revolution against the fascistic-altruistic state in which all but the very top elite are sacrificial animals. I give it to the author that he understands that Ayn Rand is the true enemy of any worldview, deluded by Marxist thinking, however his criticism is nonsensical (a straw man attack).
If the inventor has been modeled after Hank Rearden, then the failure is even more spectacular as he is the person least interested in politics in its current form of slave-owning in the whole Rand novel. That would be strike 6,7 and maybe 8. I kinda lost the count.
#7 Prometheus - there is a scene where the rebels do a kind of a literal "pass the torch" race against time. This seems to be the age-old metaphor for knowledge as the only thing that can save mankind against the forces of evil (and nature). However, given that it is used by the illiterate savage against the only knowledgeable person on board it makes no sense at all.
#8 Child Labor / Sweatshops - In the movie we see children being forcefully taken from their parents and forced to work in unhuman conditions. This is, obviously, an attempt to expose child labor and sweatshops as evil and unhuman. However, this is just one more example where Bong misses to note the difference between power as brute force and economic power.
In reality no one is forced to work in a sweatshop - children or adults. What people from richer parts of the world fail to understand is that working in a sweatshop is simply the best among the alternatives these people have (the others usually being much harsher/worse paid work or no work at all). Same holds for the children. So, as long as these people are not forcefully made to do things, the metaphor just doesn't hold. And if it holds, it can only be a critique of a fashist regime, not a capitalistic society.
#9 The "world conspiracy" - the train dictator and the leader of the oppressed are obviously plotting together. This basically means that there is no hope for the oppressed since everyone they choose to get behind would be recruited by the ruling elite. Obviously a corrupt thing to say to the people who are already suffering so much, because it is not true.
#10 The drug addict technician guy must be an allegory for the capable idealist, who worked for the rulers thinking he was doing the right thing until he saw the truth - that he is only helping them oppress their subjects. This is a good allegory, but because of the contradictions one might be left with the uneasy feeling that he is opposing the wrong guy.
#11 His daughter, the clairvoyant, must be an allegory for the pure child who has the eyes to see every type of oppression around her. She is rightfully also one of the two persons to survive in the end (the other one being a small child).
#12 One of the best allegories in the movie the train moving in circle - the sad thing is it too suffers from contradictions. If it is used to describe a capitalistic system in which inventors and entrepreneurs are the "engine", then it fails completely. If it, however, a perfect metaphor for the bureaucracy where the goal is not important and also everything must run as it has always run (no innovation allowed). What is important is that money changes hands and everyone looks busy.
In the end, this is a movie that argues for equality and justice among men and tries to depict it as only possible after a rebellion from the oppressed inferiors to their oppressors - the rich inventors and entrepreneurs. However, the entrepreneurs and inventors are also the world's dictators and mafia bosses in the movie. This makes no sense at all.
I want to end this movie review with a summary takeaway. The fundamental mistake here is the equation of political power (based on violence and force) with economical power (which is based on cooperation and respect for human rights). Just because they both have the word "power" in them doesn't mean they are the same. They are, in fact, opposing in their nature. This, coupled with lack of basic economic understanding is, I believe, fundamentally the basis for all the other contradictions in the move, some of which you have seen described above.