*Spoilers all throughout this piece.

The train is a lie. It seems likely that it’s conditions for possibility are based on a lie (in my view it seems likely that Wilford manufactured the climate crisis himself or with others in order to solidify his place in the world as a genius and exceptional). It’s order and chaos are based on more lies and arbitrary distinctions (which Tilda Swinton elucidates so marvelously in her rant on why one wouldn’t wear a shoe on their head even as the violence of this analogy and the distinction it grounds is being performed before the inhabitants of the back of the train). Even the Snowpiercer’s technology, a purportedly perpetual motion engine that powers itself, is revealed to be a lie, for it depends on other parts of the train that began to fail and so must be replaced by children’s invisible labor in order for the train to keep going. So there is a lie of a self sustaining individual and independent power as the source of life on the train (the engine is narrated as agent in gathering snow and purifying it for the water supply, but if the engine depends on child labor, it is clear that it is the labor and lives of the most vulnerable that is the grounds of the social life and social order of the train) How does one disrupt the lie? Joon-Ho imagines this by refusing the lie that grounds the reason for the train itself: that the world is forever uninhabitable.

Joon-Ho reveals the possibility of lateral movement and lateral thought when Nam and Curtis converse outside of Wilford’s door; there is a shifting of the imagination Joon-Ho instantiates through his shifting of the camera at the moment when Nam reveals his observations about the outside to Curtis and his belief that it is now possible to survive outside the train.

The shift that occurs visually represents a shifting of the field in view, that there is other movement available than the vertical movement from the bottom of the class barrel to the top of the class barrel, that there is a more fundamental restructuring of thought which enables one to stop thinking of the walls of the train as walls and to consider them as doors instead, as things that can be opened up. In this shifting, it is a gesture to the kind of radical immanence which troubles transcendence of the trains hierarchy and distinction as the goal for revolutionary movement, suggesting that seeking transcendence, at the end, will still occlude the mechanization of human bodies and their valuation based on their place and how well they fit into the order of the train. Joon-Ho also includes brief flashes back to various behavior we saw Nam engage in that seemed odd and out of place precisely because he was operating from an imagination that was out of place–that was out of order with the lie of the train’s necessity–and was preparing to make that alternately imagined reality possible all throughout the fight to get to the front.

Given who survives at the beginning of the end, the film also eschews white liberal anxieties about white people’s place as overseers of what ought to happen. It illuminates that if there is a place for white people to animate revolutionary struggle and the reinvigoration of the imagination, it is in refusing to take control of the train and letting the self determination of the most vulnerable lead the way in derailing capital’s reproduction of distinction. That is, Snowpiercer imagines a world without whiteness as it’s beginning, which is not a beginning of a decline, but the beginning of the end of distinction, a beginning of an alternate way of inhabiting time and the space of the world; a refusal of the myth of distinction as necessitating separation from the world and reentering the precarity of the world and of humanity with eyes open to the risks that lay with being in the world but also the hope that there is life in the world that can be sustained within the world, not shielded from it in the false distinctions and social order of a white supremacist, capitalist, and patriarchal imagination.

*an addendum:
I wonder, too, if Snowpiercer, with it’s tightly crowded rear train cars policed by military and aristocrats following the order of an unjust law says anything to us about the conditions which ground the situation with Israel’s war on Gaza. That is, the mundaneness of the Israeli state’s violence and the manufactured crises in the Middle East that serve as justification for unwarranted brutality and further enclosure under extreme conditions. It seems the film does much to, in exploding the situation of the train as an allegory or parable about capitalism, law, order and power, reveals the absurdity of such positions that claim to be neutral. There is no space for neutrality in such a extreme power disparities. That the resistance of those in the back cars cannot be subject to a morality that finds an order which is grounded in the law that maintains the train in the first place. The choices of those in the back to resist (and Nam and Yona show that there are multiple ways of inhabiting the space of resistance) is conditioned by their enclosure, and thus is subject to an inquiry as to why the enclosure exists in the first place and who benefits from maintaining it as such?

One thought

  1. Thank you, Amaryah! I loved that movie! I’m pretty sure it’s going in my Systematic Theology syllabus. There is so much there, so much that stirs me and excites me and encourages me. I watch it and (obsessed as I am) I think a parabolic “throwing to the side,” where a paraclete might arrive, a future not along the trajectory of progress, but one that comes at us from our blind side.

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