‘Snowpiercer’ and the Futility of Revolutions

From Pop Mythology - by Raoul Dyssell
There was a time in cinema when certain films crafted by true auteurs would place the director’s name before the picture name as the full title. Notable examples would be famous directors in film history like Charlie Chaplin, Franz Capra and David Lean. While this practice often bleeds arrogance, a film has come along this year that is a true genre masterpiece – arguably, the film of 2013 – and most certainly the most relevant picture made since David Fincher’s The Social Network.
That film is Snowpiercer or, as I would prefer it to be called, Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, all words italicized (which is how I’ll refer to it throughout this entire post). Much like Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim (again, my preferred title of that movie), Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer is the work of a true auteur, and had anyone else’s thumbprints been on the story or the vision, it would have been a snowball to its face. This is his creation and no one else’s, and those that assisted him in his creation, including the creators of the source material on which it is based, Le Transperceneige, should be sincerely praised for their skills and hard efforts.
[Spoiler warning: If you have not seen the film, it is advised that you do not read on beyond this point until after you’ve seen the movie. Also, for a summary of the plot, you can refer back to my original review of the movie. ]

Concept art for ‘Snowpiercer’ (© CJ Entertainment / The Weinstein Company)

From head to toe, this is a film about a revolution with an ending that might dishearten the optimistic cliché-seeker, but this is in tune with the status quo of the human condition: we want to be controlled. A pre-ordained place in a hierarchical train from front to back is our destiny. Each revolution will always end with a new leader who sets up a new foundation of subsequent inequality. This circle will essentially repeat itself again and again and again. What is the solution, therefore? The solution, ultimately, would be a swift purge of learned values and the preservation of innocence that has not been schooled in class but, instead, in love and friendship.
And this is why Bong Joon-ho is a genius. Like Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, all the film has in common with its source material is the premise, while the story and the arc therein belongs to the brilliant mind of its writer. And in both cases, the films were fortunate enough to be steered by the singular vision of their directors. Bong has painted the world as a train, symbolic of how humanity operates, and at its climatic, heartbreaking end, has shown us the futility of revolutions as we know them. The real, true revolution is the one that takes us back to the basics, our beginning, so that we may start over on a clean slate.
It seems that every film about self-reflection leads to Ed Harris, and in Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer he plays the train’s captain and builder of its sacred engine, Wilford, a man flawed by his brilliance. In a conversation between him and Curtis, played by Chris Evans (who delivers a performance in this film that places him in the same league of actors we consider Oscar-caliber), at the film’s climax, he asks him a question that serves as the film’s question to the audience: “Have you ever been alone on the train?”

© CJ Entertainment / The Weinstein Company

Suddenly, we have a leader who is as ashamed of his actions that brought him to this point, while he is proud, at the same time, of the cause that he has led. When Curtis looks back over his shoulder when he has finally reached the engine, he sees himself in the savagery of what he has inspired, and realizes that the end to humanity’s suffering is literally to accept its situation. He thereby must choose to become yet another Wilford-like tyrant and maintain order with an iron fist over the bloodthirsty masses following in his footsteps, or to end humanity entirely.
It is furthermore profound, but also as expected, that Wilford would ask Curtis, responsible for the chaos from the tail of the train to its head, to be the one to take the wheel after him. To understand this, one must first make sense of the train through allegory. Although plaintively obvious to scholars of history, the significance of the train being a flow diagram for the constructs of humanity cannot be ignored: we always want and seem to justify our need to wear a shoe (figuratively speaking that is). So, remove the shoe and you become a shoe to be worn. A class, therefore, will not revolt until they feel themselves to be a shoe, therefore if no freeloaders existed on the train and the tail section were occupied by the economy class, they would revolt on the premise that there is nothing for them to stand on. Then there are the elitist meth heads – or kronole, in this case – at the front, clouded in a façade of ecstasy, blind and ignorant to the structural inequalities at play as well as to their own preordained position.
Thus, Curtis’ journey across the length of the train, being the only human to have ever done so, justifies Wilford’s request: he’s been a shoe, and now as a hat, he can truly witness the repercussions of his actions and see method in the madness, that the pot must always be stirred once in a while to create and invent chaos if it itself does not arise from the preordained insanity. Insanity, as Wilford eloquently puts it, is required to accept this and live at peace with oneself on the train. Tilda Swinton’s memorable Mason acts as humanity’s rationalization for this insanity.

© CJ Entertainment / The Weinstein Company

That Curtis would, even for the slightest of moments, consider this ironic request of Wilford’s is indicative of a trait that sums up the hypocritical nature of the human condition, and that is that our desire to be controlled and our desire to control are one and the same – they are innate. We require order (an “engine”) to make sense of the world (the “train”) that we live in. At the same time, we want to be at the head of that order for, if “we control the engine, we control the world.” Essentially, we all want to be Wilford, echoed in Curtis’ final lines: “There isn’t a soul on this train that wouldn’t trade places with you.”
We loathe our corrupt governments and hate our two-faced presidents and iron-fist dictators, but by seeking to overthrow them as a result of our unhappiness, we become them. Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s overthrowing in 2011, only to be replaced by Mohammed Morsi and the oppressive Muslim Brotherhood, which has now been overthrown with the threat of the return of a regime similar to that of Mubarak’s (which is what spawned the revolution to begin with), is history’s most recent example of this truth.
Both Curtis and Song Kang-Ho’s Namgeong Minsu character, after being at odds with each other throughout the film, have this beautiful realization. At the final explosion, they decide to shield the innocence of Yona and Timmy with the love still present in their corrupted bodies. Left at the end after the purge are these two unlikely survivors that become humanity’s last hope: a teenage girl and a young boy.

© CJ Entertainment / The Weinstein Company

While the Adam and Eve metaphor is unavoidable, it does recall what I said earlier, and that is that we are given a second chance to start over on a clean slate. Even though this farfetched ideal is unwanted, “the horror” that Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz spoke of in his dying breathe at the end of Apocalypse Now, echoed by Wilford in Bong Joonho’s Snowpiercer, is alive within us all and while the purge may never become imminent, we can find an alternative solution within ourselves to shield us from this inherent evil: love and the preservation of innocence.[subscribe2]

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But don't despair, a truly misanthropic anti-authoritarianism points the way to the only escape hatch

there are people and cultures in this world that resist being pigeon-holed in this ‘industrial age’ archetype of passengers on a train.

‘humanity’ is not like this. many of us have not lost touch with our natural experience or natural wolfiness. there is nothing stopping us from being in touch with our sense of 'self' as the universe expressing itself.

there are many who have no desire 'to be Wilford', and it was Thomas Mann describing fascism in Europe in 1920s that captured Wilford-lust as;

“The capacity for self-surrender, he said, for becoming a tool, for the most unconditional and utter self-abnegation, was but the reverse side of that other power to will and to command. Commanding and obeying formed together one single principle, one indissoluble unity; he who knew how to obey knew also how to command, and conversely; the one idea was comprehended in the other, as people and leader were comprehended in one another.”

so, to say that this fascism, the acculturated behaviour, ... is ‘innate’ in 'humanity' is a bit much;

“our desire to be controlled and our desire to control are one and the same – they are innate.”

the train does not even come close as a metaphor for life. it is a metaphor for the social dynamics of industrial age Europeans; i.e. it is a metaphor for minds trapped inside of their own rational thought structures.

very often, the ship metaphor is used as a 'local system' model since it has its hierarchy ranging from ‘the bridge’ through first class, down the hierarchy of classes to steerage [the polarity that associates with splitting off of 'authority' (of the master) from 'responsibility' (of the slave)]. the ‘ship’ metaphor improves on the train in that the ship is in a watery medium that can become turbulent and threatening and sink the ship, .... keeping us reminded of the fact that man is only in control ‘inside’ the notional system and that every system is included within a far more powerful relational suprasystem that likes to recycle ‘systems’ occupied by Enlightenment European men who have convinced themselves that they are in control over their own futures because they cast themselves roles within rational thought structures and put this mental model into an unnatural precedence over their real-life physical experience.

the cycles of revolution spoken of here, such as the Egyptian revolution are tempests in the teapot of the notional sovereign state, the ‘train’ that colonizers convinced egyptians they were riding in. how can we call the Egyptian revolution a ‘revolution’? Something that happens inside an idealized local system called ‘the sovereign state’ is not a physical reality. The physical world is only given once and it includes all the peoples of the earth including the region known as the United States whose rational braintrust (political administration) would have supported Mubarak against the people of Egypt a mere sixty years ago (i.e. at the time the U.S. and Britain got rid of Mossadegh in Iran and put in their man, the Shah).

If the global colonizing dynamic is still alive and well, then the Egyptian revolution, as far as its 'national' orientation is concerned, is a commotion in Stalag 17 that has been allowed to go just so far by the colonial powers who operate on a world scale and continue to make puppets out of Egyptian military leaders. Sure the colonized state leaders get to lock the locals up in the cellar and fuck them as they want, like the colonizers did to native children in residential schools in a continuing cultural genocide that keeps colonialism at the top. The action constituted by fuck-ees rising up and wresting control from fuck-ers as all the other ‘residential schools’ look on (those on the bridge nervously and those in steerage enthusiastically) hardly deserves the term ‘revolution’. the diminishing and demeaning of 'the arab spring' lies in the retention of the sovereigntist cell structure. No Omar Mukhtar, on escaping from a colonial cell, would then reconstruct such a cell, thinking that the cell architecture had been the problem.

as far as the notion of ‘second chance’;

“we are given a second chance to start over on a clean slate”

what we have been doing to ourselves with the sovereigntist/capitalist ‘train’ is called ‘delusion’. we haven’t been doing what we think and say we have been doing. there is no such thing as a ‘local system’, ... it is a delusion born of 'convenience' and 'economy of thought' [Mach]. it takes us outside of our experience; i.e. it disconnects us from our natural physical sensory experience and substitutes acculturated rational thought structure.

indigenous aboriginals may have to carry both american and canadian passports to move about on un-physically-bounded prairie and ocean but they don’t have to believe in the ‘existence of a local sovereigntist train or ship’, nor see themselves as passengers on it, nor work their way up from steerage to first class and on to the bridge.

as for ‘the horror, the horror’ uttered by kurtz. in joseph conrad’s ‘heart of darkness’, ...

“Kurtz’s reaction was to answer horror with horror; to be master of his own horror, rather than being an accomplice of the anonymous “mainstream” horror.
.
On his deathbed, in Marlow’s cabin, Kurtz seems to become fully aware of his immorality, both as part of the colonialist system and as an outsider of it and exclaims “The horror! The Horror!” His final exclamation encapsulates both the atrocities of colonial advances (in which he has played a prominent role) and his unexpected answer to them as self-deification and tyranny; the most shocking image of his cruelty being his use of natives’ heads to mark the bounds of his home in the jungle.”

kurz and marlow cannot stand the ‘neutrality’ of the complacent and self-important anonymous people who constitute the machinery of colonialism/imperialism and who feed themselves with materialist dreams. marlow speaks of his return to brussels;

“I found myself back in the sepulchral city resenting the sight of people hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and silly dreams.”

what is alluded to here is that people who buy into rational thought structures such as sovereigntism/colonialism have to leave their own experience behind and live, instead, in a world of rational plans and objectives, and this demotion of their own physical experience and elevating of rational thought structures to the helm is the real point, ... not whether the way of colonialism is worse or better than the way of primitivism.

"Heart of Darkness is experience ... pushed a little (and only very little) beyond the actual facts of the case." --- Joseph Conrad

these comments on this review of the snowpiercer (??? – is this an allusion to snow-pisser or piss-holes in the snow which have the same topology as a moving train opening up a hole in fresh fallen snow) can only be comments on the review since i haven’t seen the film. as far as the review goes, it seems to be bogged-down in an industrial age ‘system’ (train) metaphor that it then tries to conflate with fullblown life circumstance, describing fascism as ‘innate’ in ‘humanity’ and ‘revolution’ as the inverting of fuck-ee and fuck-er positions in a local ‘system cell’, ... where what is left wanting is liberation from delusions wherein rational structures are put into an unnatural precedence over experience, ... a liberation that many are talking about rationally but whose status is still very much like when colonizers plunked down this inverted ‘rational structure-over-experience’ Western norm over top of turtle island; i.e. if one is in a minority in a nuthouse in which the nuts who believe they are the sane ones with noblesse oblige to cure the naturals of their ‘irrationality’ are toting guns, ... one may need to step carefully in the undertaking to dissipate the delusion that is in a powerful precedence.

but let's make no mistake about it, ... this is not a battle between good people revolting against the oppression of bad people at the top, ... it is a revolt against delusion being the acculturated norm, ... the elevating of acculturated rational thought structures to an unnatural precedence over natural physical sensory experience. are you sure that international boundaries exist and that you must get permission to cross them and show your papers? or is it the case that that there is a whole cult of armed people who you must humour or else suffer serious, life-threatening consequences?

the arab spring is, first of all, this awakening out of the delusion; i.e. an awakening that restores the natural priority of experience over rational thought structures. it would be potentially possible for people, at this point, to reject the rational ‘sovereigntist’ structure and reach out to one’s brothers around the globe for support in NOT re-building the sovereigntist structure with some or other newly revised rational plans and objectives, ... but that hasn’t happened. the sovereigntist structure is still ‘taken for granted’ as something that can be 'reformed' and made to work, ... however, ... the ‘representative democracy’ scheme that puts someone in charge on the basis that they have a rational plan that a majority can support, leads directly back to the rational thought structure known as ‘fascism’ as captured by Thomas Mann;

“The capacity for self-surrender, he said, for becoming a tool, for the most unconditional and utter self-abnegation, was but the reverse side of that other power to will and to command. Commanding and obeying formed together one single principle, one indissoluble unity; he who knew how to obey knew also how to command, and conversely; the one idea was comprehended in the other, as people and leader were comprehended in one another.”

representative democracy or dictatorship in the context of the sovereign state and/or corporation IS ‘fascism’. it is the ‘fuck-er over fuck-ee’ system-cell captured in the Enlightenment European ‘train’ or ‘ship’ [rational system takes precedence over experience] metaphor.

I rather like this post. Especially your tangent on institutional-boundaries being the product of a cult of armed goons.

I've been thinking a lot about this lately as my personal financial situation has been pressing me in to the outer-orbit of the security industry, and when the work isn't monotonous drudgery, that's exactly what me and my fellow rent-a-pigs are doing.

We're just the third-rate auxiliaries to the modern warrior caste, enforcing the will of the propertied class. I spend the majority of my time at work assuaging the mostly irrational fears of whiny, hysterical yuppies and occasionally I have to "deal with" someone who's actually making them uncomfortable. I do this with a supreme sense of irony as an anarchist and because I don't drink the koolaid, the dynamic is crystal clear and just as you say IMHO.

The whole security industry is obviously just various incarnations of this same thing, with cops and military being the most zealous "true believers", all the way down to cheap, desperate mercenaries like myself. The wage-slavery makes me completely a-moral by default although I'm always trying to be the hammer only as a last resort on people who really deserve a bad day regardless of the larger class tensions … but yeah. I think you're absolutely right (about this one thing anyway)

I don't dig your "noble savage" rants … I get what you're trying to say but the message gets lost in the medium I'm afraid.

a pig is a pig.

Yeah … I know. That's why I called myself a rent-a-pig … you fucking idiot.

One of the rare instances of 'emile" posting some intelligent, read-worthy comment, intead of an incoherent pretense to brillance. But...

"‘humanity’ is not like this. many of us have not lost touch with our natural experience or natural wolfiness. there is nothing stopping us from being in touch with our sense of 'self' as the universe expressing itself."

Wolfiness, yes, but most usually within the confines of the techno-scientific, capitalist system.

Like punks riding cars to get to a countyside concert that uses electricity-based acoustic systems they don't know much about what they're made of. Yet they are still behaving like wolf packs, and not being much possessive about anything or anyone. On the outside, they just end up being "wild" supporters of the system, enforcing it in the relatively virgin countryside, to a wildlife that sees them even more as dangerous oppressors... and as a matter of fact they may have crushed one or two wild animals on their way back from the concert as the drivers were too drunk or tired to care. Still the pylons and cell towers in the area were left unarmed, as the thought of sabotaging these was even stranger to these clueless kids as the (first) Crimean War or quantum physics, which a few of them may be found to be versed into.

So I don't wanna point the finger at the crust punks (being almost a crust punk myself)... there are many more invasive and chauvinistic consumerist cultures supporting society, like the usual yuppie idiots, but the point here is that this acculturated norm is more than what we perceive it to be, as it is also supporting falsely wild and autonomous elements among our psyche; especially our desires of not following the herd, which makes us still follow the herd after all, one way or another.

Hence you're right, especially in the second paragraph, but some of us might understand (as some DO) comestic or identitary politics as struggle against the acculturated dominant social norm, yet it is nothing else than the continuation of the same old gang culture of teenagers, that is far from being in conflict with the larger society.

Society actually feeds from these "pretend" revolts and conspiracies. Just identity politics all over, more useful at descending or keeping away some contentious individuals than confronting the established social order, and even less its very financial-political establishment, and the bottom result is these tribalistic authoritarian sub-politics being in themselves devices of reinforcement and reification of social order (what I like to call the "Invisible Party").

actually, your personal situation as 'rent-a-pig' serves as an archetype for all of us since we are paid to protect the continuing operation of the system as it is. the oath of citizenship is essentially a rent-a-pig contract.

"I hereby declare, on oath, that I ... will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; ... and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."

the part of the deal about getting a piece of the real-estate action re the appropriated lands is really what the certificate is all about; i.e. the certificate of citizenship has a value that is firstly related to membership privileges. if these certificates could be sold abroad on crowded third world streets, the market would determine a very high price for them, not based on the opportunity to become a 'noble civilized', but to enjoy the privileges that come with a rent-a-pig contract aka 'colonial citizenship certificate'.

>but this is in tune with the status quo of the human condition: we want to be controlled.

eeehhhhhhh??

what is this why

"most certainly the most relevant picture made since David Fincher’s The Social Network."

wtf... "The Social Network" was a two-hours long commercial for FB, for mom's sake!

David Fincher didn't do any damn decent movie since the '90s, or at least since he met with George Dubya following 9/11... probably to be discliplined against doing more insurrectionary films.

Having just watched Snowpiercer last night I honestly can't see what the reviewer finds impressive about the movie. It is a relatively well made action movie, but not much more than that. Certainly not a work of genius. In terms of it being the most relevant movie since the social network, maybe the reviewer should try watching movies that aren't English language, or even non-Hollywood blockbusters (or English language Korean blockbusters). Maybe the new Transformers movie has something relevant to say too.

But srsly... that idiot article compares this movie to stuff from FF Coppola and David Lean fer fuck's sake... and it gets published here!!!

How about I make a review of "The Purge: Anarchy", which would be even more relevant to this website!? Ah forget it... got better irrelevance to do in my pathetic life.

The takeaway is that it's better to destroy the human race than to allow the machine to continue running...Nihilists on a train.

This movie is a perfect analogy of the question concerning capital and living outside the system. If it is a tight relation to the Outside (cf. Hello), as in, it is impossible to leave, how is one to cope? Does one hope for anarcho-syndicalism? How then is the fragility of the system to be maintained under the force of Equality? task rotation? The point is that everyday we get more and more atrophied in terms of our capacities of living outside of the system (the train); and yet, there is still a world of possibility. For ours is not in such a state at all. This movie is briliantly hopeless; but this lack of hope should only be applied to the delusion of revolution without constraint. There is still all the room in the world for drop out culture. And the final scene depicts just that. They fuck off and leave the experiment that is civilization behind. To take over the train is to invite the realization that one must become the shell and all Its extension (there is no new in the shell of the old, you stupid liberal fucks): One can only hope for oneself.

There were of course consequences of leaving. but to kill all was merely a secondary consequence to escape. What wiped out the train wasn't the action (a bomb exploding) as secondary causes, but the avalanche as second cause, with the bomb as first. If they bombed the others, one would be in a position to advocate that such was pol-pot nihilist like: cruel consequences: Indeed the ordering of all as harmonious is nihilistic in its essence. What is clear here is that one can only leave so that one can have hope for oneself, which is a creative destruction. And against Zerzan, I would maintain that this is hardly passive. Leaving takes grate courage. It requires active destruction, only not for anyone but perhaps those that one finds as friends (which of course does not necessarily include everyone).

Abandon all grates for real liberation!

Dick Van Pike said this has dolphinitely gone too far for cod's hake. We've been herring too much of these. Don't be koi. HRH Prince Fillet had the oppor-tuna-ty to say that sometimes these puns aren't o-fish-al. He has so much sole just like Dan Ackroyd Anchovy Chase even though he is far from being a brain sturgeon. In Cod I trust. That was a turtle disaster.Blame all of this on salmon else. And don't start carping about this or it will be ...Pardon Me I've Got Someone To Krill. Any fin is possible if you don't trout yourself. And I'm not squidding. If you need more time to mullet over become a prawn again Christian.

Fucking brilliant!

stop grating on my capacities!

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