Snowpiercer and Plot Holes

22 07 2014


Saw Bong’s Snowpiercer and liked it. I’m a bit confused, however, not about the film itself, but rather about some of the comments it’s been getting on the Internet. Specifically, about its presumed plot holes. Now, I hate discussions about plot holes, but it seems to me that, with Snowpiercer, people are basically boring the holes themselves, or in plain English, making up plot holes where there’s only ambiguity or lack of information, and sometimes not even that. Why? I don’t know. Following, my replies to some oft-mentioned plot-holes-that-aren’t:

Why a train?!

This is the part that confounds me the most. What do people mean by this? It makes no sense. Why a train? Why not? It’s a crazed industrialist’s vanity project. There’s a didactic video, included in the film, that illustrates this point very forcefully. It’s a train because its owner liked trains and he had the money to make one. Rich people have been funding ridiculous projects since the time of the pyramids. The only difference is that this ridiculous project ended up being humanity’s salvation when the Earth froze over. It’s not like the countries of the world got together and thought, hey, you know what would be a great solution if our Earth-cooling plan backfires? A train! No. You might say, well, shouldn’t the countries of the world have thought up a contingency plan? Well, yes. But they didn’t, and the train definitely wasn’t it. And anyhow, that’s not what people are criticizing. Perhaps international leaders are all hidden in bunkers somewhere. The protagonists don’t know and neither do we.

Why can’t the train just stand still instead of going around in circles and risking derailment?

I’m not sure about the science behind it, but it’s made pretty clear that the train needs its engine to keep running for heating and it needs to keep moving to procure water.

Aren’t there any simpler ways to control population?

Probably, but perhaps Wilford was not keen on attempting them. We should not take his climactic explanation at face value. He’s selling an idea to Curtis, and Curtis buys into it until Yona raises the floor panel and (literally) reveals the train’s dirty underbelly. It’s not about population control, or not just about that: the reason the tailenders are forced to live in misery is because they’re reserves for slave labor, the worst of which is accomplished by five-year-olds in the engine room. Wilford talks about the balance of life or whatever, but that’s just an excuse. Population control only applies to the tailenders, who must not get too numerous. Simply executing them for no reason would encourage dissent. Having them die after revolts, on the other hand, encourages the tailenders to learn obedience.

Why does Gilliam con Curtis?

Gilliam’s relationship with Wilford is complicated, in part because we only get Wilford’s version of the events. Given what we know about Gilliam – I mean, this guy chopped off his arm to make a humanitarian point – several things are possible. A) He bought in into Wilford’s talk about the balance of life. He really believed this was the best situation for everyone: frequent revolts to give tailenders hope and resulting population control to keep the tailend inhabitable. B) He could’ve been conning Wilford, not Curtis. By dealing with Wilford, he grants the tailenders a margin of freedom so they can actually revolt. At no time does Gilliam suggest he does not believe that Curtis can get to the engine. He even seems pretty convinced of it. And when his “agreement” with Wilford is broken – that is, when the tailenders get to the water room – Gilliam doesn’t seem distraught or worried about his well-being. Quite the contrary, he encourages his fellow tailenders to continue. He likely didn’t tell Curtis about his “agreement” with Wilford because, well, if he had, would Curtis have walked straight into an ambush? Not telling him was the only way to get him to push forth and make a break for it.

I think both solutions work, frankly. We’ll never know, and neither does Curtis. That’s the problem when you only get one side of the story, and a considerably unreliable one at that.

Who maintains the rails?

I don’t have a clue. This is actually a legitimate criticism. Even accounting for the fact that these rails are used only once a year, they should suffer environmental wear and tear. Especially when the environment is, you know, catastrophically frozen. But this is the future. Maybe they’ve invented particularly durable rails. Of course, according to the film’s timeline, the train and its rails were already finished in 2014, which is obviously hilarious and improbable. But who pays attention to numbers?

Why does Nam not speak English? He designed the train’s electrical circuit, but he speaks no English?

Sure. I don’t even understand why this is an issue. It’s likely that someone like him would know some English, I guess, but given the technical focus of his work, I’m not convinced he should know that much. Also, he might have once known some English, but after years of detainment and lack of practice, he might have forgotten what little he knew.

Why do Curtis and Nam stop using the translator devices and talk in their own languages?

They don’t stop. The film establishes that they use them and then moves on. Every now and then, there’s a medium shot featuring the gadgets to remind us that they’re there. But no, we’re not constantly being reminded of them. This is not because the film thinks we’re dumb or impatient. It’s because it doesn’t want to waste our time.

If the film requires us to fill in so many blanks, the film didn’t do its job.

Think not what a film can do for you, but what you can do for a film. Or rather: what you can do with a film. Frankly, this post took some minutes to write, but about thirty seconds to think up. If all I need to do to resolve my niggling plot-related doubts is reflect for thirty seconds, without making up anything that the film didn’t suggest or outright explain, then yes, I’ll go ahead and do that and continue to develop my wonderful relationship with the movie. It’s not a chair. I don’t have to sit on it. Audience participation completes the work of art. Move on and stop asking what a film “has” or “is supposed” to do.




5 responses

18 10 2014
sanker from india

I loved the film. Bong is such a great filmmaker. I love Memories of Murder, The Host and Mother too.

8 06 2015
Carlo Kokoth

You forgot to include one crucial word in the title. FTFY:

Snowpiercer plot-holes _apologism_

Not that it was that bad a movie, it was watchable. But it was built on a shitty premise – which it had to drag behind the whole time – and ended with total catastrophe.

Contrary to what unwashed peasants might feel like believing, it ended with extinction of humanity – 2 specimens are not enough of “genetic diversity” – it is said you’d need some 50 “families” (fifty non-related pairings) for the genome not to stagnate due to inbreeding …

27 08 2015

The movie might actually agree with your last argument, I guess. It doesn’t suggest otherwise. Not sure what unwashed peasants have to do with your point, though.

3 10 2015

Carlo – Maybe if you’d spend a little less time convincing yourself that others are beneath you, you’d have time to realize that there surely were a lot of survivors in the other traincars, a majority of which didn’t get buried/fall off the cliff.

Well written summary, Beaucine.

3 10 2015

Carlo – Maybe if you’d spend a little less time convincing yourself that others are beneath you, you’d have time to realize that there surely were a lot of survivors in the other traincars, a majority of which didn’t get buried/fall off the cliff.

Well written summary, Beaucine.

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