Snowpiercer starring Chris Evans is a suspenseful, action filled film in which we get to witness a bloody revolt against an oppressive class system. The movie displays a dystopian world in which Earth has frozen over, and the extreme cold has exterminated nearly all of humanity. The last few living are aboard a nonstop power train that was designed by a man named Wilford. Wilford is very similar to the character Big Brother from 1984 in that they are both the very top in charge of the class structures. In Snowpiercer, there are very distinct social classes that are physically divided by train cars. The lowest class is housed in the back of the train. They are under very strict control by what is understood as Wilford’s army police. They live in terrible conditions and have to eat what they later find out is ground up roaches everyday. They are unaware of the full extent of their situation, as they are immobilized from moving train car to train car. When the movie begins, tensions have risen between the people and the police, and Curtis is leading a rebellion to get to Wilford at the front of the train. The further they advance, the more the lower class realizes the extent to which they have been lied to and mistreated, as they pass up sushi bars, green rooms, clubs, and other luxurious things that the higher classes have been indulging in. Curtis finally reaches Wilford in the end after fighting his way to the front, as all of his close confidants have been killed along the way. Wilford reveals the truth to Curtis, explaining to him that sustainability requires strict order and population control. He tries to tell Curtis that things are the way that they must be, and he hopes for Curtis to be his successor. For a second, we see Curtis contemplate whether he should stop the entire system, or take the oppressors place and benefit from it. He gets snapped back into reality once another character shows him the child slaves running the eternal engine beneath the floor panels, and shuts the engine down. As soon as this happens, an avalanche destroys the train, killing everyone except a young girl that helped Curtis along the way and a child that was a slave keeping the engine going. It is hinted in the movie that the world is finally heating up and people can survive outside again, and the last scene sheds some hope as the two survivors see a polar bear and venture out into the world.
I believe the world created in Snowpiercer is a great realization of a dystopia. One reason for this is that almost every face of oppression played a part in maintaining control in this world. Iris Young outlines these faces in an article titled “Five Faces of Oppression”, where she explains in depth how each of the following is a form of oppression: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. A common feature of different dystopian worlds is that there are often layers of oppression used to exert control over groups of people. In Snowpiercer, we can certainly see several layers of oppression taking place. The exploitation of children is a major part of the movie. In the beginning of the movie, the Wilford’s soldiers come and take several small children from the lower class tail end of the train. It is a big mystery throughout the movie as to where exactly the children are being taken. In the end, it is revealed to Curtis by Wilford that the children are the only ones small enough to replace a machine part that is essential to keeping the engine running. The train’s eternal continuation on which humanity has been relying on for survival has been powered by child slave labor.
Young offers a strong idea of the effects of marginalization in the following quote: “A whole category of people is expelled from useful participation in social life and thus subjected to severe material deprivation and even extermination.” This effect definitely takes place in Snowpiercer. The marginals in this story are the people at the tail of the train that share striking similarities to the proles from 1984. The main difference between the proles and the tail of the train people is that the oppressed group in the film are very aware of the marginalization they are living under. The older passengers knew what life was like before the train, making them harder to brainwash. In 1984, no one knew their real history; it had all been erased, which diminished the possibility of a rebellion. One similarity between the two groups is that they have no chance of ascending to a higher social class. The proles are born proles, and they bring more proles into the world, which is a similar case in Snowpiercer.
Another face of oppression, powerlessness, is an essential oppressive device used in the film. The people want to revolt against their oppressive system, but they feel like it is an impossible task because all power has been stripped from them. They have no weapons, no money, no food of their own, and no resources. The biggest fear of the oppressor is that the oppressed will realize the fragility of the system of control and use their unrealized power to revolt. In Snowpiercer, as soon as the people realize that bullets are extinct and guns are only being used as a scare tactic, they regain their sense of power and strike back, beginning a revolution. With this power, they fight their way all the way to the front car to face off with Wilford. Violence, another face of oppression, was also a key tool in maintaining the train class system. People were often made an example of by the soldiers. Anytime someone stepped out of line, they were publicly beaten. This was displayed in one of the first scenes when a man threw his shoe at one of the top officers. They gathered everyone to watch them place his arm outside of the train as it froze off in the bitter cold, all the while delivering a speech to scare the people back into order.
The oppressive class system displayed in Snowpiercer seems very realistic, as we have seen similar class systems unfold throughout history. For example, the feudal society used in medieval Europe was in place to maintain some level of order. The idea of an uninhabitable planet is not too far fetched to imagine either. There has already been talk of how humanity can possibly survive in the face of a planetary meltdown. There is currently a mission in plan called Mars One, whose aim is to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars, foreshadowing humanity’s need to find a sustainable home for the future. The candidates for the mission must meet very strict requirements to be selected, making it so that only those at the top of the social food chain are chosen. The main concern with these plans moving forward is that with limited space, there is a selection process that assigns values to peoples lives that ultimately decide who is worth the best and worst treatment. This is also seen in Snowpiercer, as people’s placement on the train was tied to their capital worth. This fear of being oppressed based on socioeconomic class, disabilities, age, and/or money in the face of an ending world is very probable and possible, as we have seen only those at the top of the class system being selected for the Mars One mission. Snowpiercer serves as a chilling warning of what could unfold in the face of the end of the planet if seek these kinds of oppressive social systems for answers.