Snowpiercer Film Analysis

Hegemony on a Train, The Mise-en-scène of a Class based System.

Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer takes place after a man made mass extinction left the world in a new ice age and now the last of humanity survives on an ark like train that eternally travels across the globe.

The film follows Curtis (Chris Evans) as he leads the impoverished members of his home in the tail section in an attempt to overthrow the God like conductor, Wilford, at the very front. As the tail section fights there way through the trains differentiating compartments we begin to see a class system of a hierarchical society in a condensed form.

It is overtly obvious that Snowpiercer’s underlying tones are an allegory of class culture and how animosity within the system houses tensions that eventually lead to revolution. It is not, however, this message that intrigues me the most it is how this message is conveyed on screen.

The tail section has come to form a community that revolves around surviving on the minimal hand me downs of those in the higher classes. This shown through the windowless DIY miss match of steel, timber and cloth compartment they reside in. With the residents clothed in a way that is stereotypical of homeless people giving the viewer a sense that they are merely train hoppers that are trapped in this space which has become their entire world.

Seemingly you would think that the upper classes would be the complete opposite of the tail but in fact, the front of the train is also devout of windows. The front section is split into a rave, sauna and drug carts giving the affluent members of this society no reason to think anything other than the train being the entirety of the world they know. Even in the engine room a claustrophobic atmosphere is present with sense of only being able to see forward with the direction of the trains path forcing the characters to look in only two directions, forwards or back, which Joon-ho masterfully shows this by maintaining a profile shot through most scenes which show movement to the right of screen as being motion to the front of the train.

Similarly to the restrictive nature of the back and front of the train, the colour palette is also eerily similar, both are heavily muted. The back is a mixture of greens and blues while the front is primarily blues and greys with the only difference really being how the opposites live in their spaces.

In contrast to the rest of the train, it is the middle section where windows furnish every cart, There is a school, greenhouse, fish tank, dining hall, tailor and dentist. Even though versions of these sections could be at the front the train the audience is never shown this giving the impression that the middle class of the train are the most similar to capitalist society. The scene that demonstrates this difference the best is when the group come upon the school cart. The room is covered in a rainbow of colours, with end to end windows lining both walls, giving it a unique brightness not seen anywhere else in the film. The children showing sense of hope that there still is a hope for the future, even the teacher herself being pregnant.

To me, this shows that the middle class aren’t single-mindedly looking in one direction like the other classes but have the ability to think for themselves to study their environment and to see the world outside of the train as being part of their home. This may not be an exact reflection of our own hierarchical society but it is the interpretation Joon-ho has beautifully displayed on screen.