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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

spoiler alert: about the ending of Snowpiercer


[major spoilers for Snowpiercer; spoiler-free review here]

I confess to being a little mystified when I hear that some people are upset by how Snowpiercer ends. Because while what happens in the last ten minutes or so of the film may not constitute a traditional happy ending, it is the only possible — the only honest and authentic — “happy ending” for the story as it has been set up. Anything else than what we get would render the story a tragedy on every level.

Stories of rebellions against evil overlords and unfair systems are rife in our culture. From the story of Jesus to Star Wars, we are bombarded with men — it’s almost always men — who are rankled by the injustice they see around them and often suffer under, and who are moved to attempt to upend it; sometimes the job of righting wrongs is forced upon them, but they eventually accept this job as a thing that Must Be Done. It’s not a coincidence that many of these tales of rebellion are structured around how the protagonist is changed by his fight, and how even if he is successful and sees evil overthrown and a new world begun, he knows he will never quite fit into it. What it takes to destroy the evil changes him too much. Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins (just two accessible examples): they both almost succumb to the seductive darkness they are fighting, and it leaves them damaged in ways that even those who love them and fought alongside them can’t quite appreciate.

In Snowpiercer, we have Curtis, played by Chris Evans. He has been living for 17 years in conditions of squalor at the back of the postapocalyptic ark train while those in the front of the train are enjoying the end of the world in luxury. He has been formulating a plan to get a small band of his fellow passengers up to the front, to the Engine, to take control and make life for everyone a lot fairer and more equitable. And he gets there! He gets all the way to the Engine, where he meets Wilford, played by Ed Harris, the designer of the train and its overlord, who is perfectly happy for Curtis to take over from him. And so Wilford begins to explain to Curtis just what it takes to keep the train running.

This is when it becomes clear that Snowpiercer is never going to have its Death Star blowing up, or its Ring thrown into Mount Doom, at least not in the same unequivocally satisfying way that those other stories got those moments. Because here, the train is the Death Star; the train is the Ring. The train itself is the evil that must be destroyed… as a representation both literal and metaphoric of how power becomes its own self-perpetuating force.

Curtis’s attempted seduction to the Dark Side begins long before he ever meets Wilford; it begins long before the film opens. For Curtis, we learn, has been receiving secret messages from the front of the train for a long time: inducements to rebel, suggestions that he will receive help along the way. And then he learns that Wilford himself had been sending these messages! (If it hadn’t been Curtis intercepting them, it would have been someone — there’s always someone who’s disaffected and thinks he can do things better.) The train is a carefully balanced ecosystem not only of air and water and food and similar resources but of people… and part of keeping the rabble in the back of the train in check is giving them hope and letting them think they have a chance of a better life. In this world, fear and chaos are carefully regulated distractions, kept in check by hope… and vice versa. The society of the train requires, explains Wilford, “a proper balance of anxiety and fear, chaos and horror, and if we don’t have that, we have to invent it.”

(If this sounds awfully familiar, stay tuned.)

Here’s the real kick in the pants for Curtis: If he were to take over from Wilford, he would have to continue to use Wilford’s methods for keeping the balance just right in their precarious little society. The risks of failing are too great: the fate of humanity is at stake, and the world outside is uninhabitable. (Or so everyone has been told. By Wilford. Who may or may not know otherwise. But this is what Curtis believes to be the truth.) The train must keep moving, for its own motion is what generates the power that makes life possible; even the squalor at the rear of the train is preferable to freezing to death outside.

But there’s more than just planned “revolutions” and orderly chaos. The train itself, as a machine, also needs caring for, and with so many physical things — such as cigarettes and bullets — going or gone extinct, there is no way to manufacture the replacement parts the Engine requires. So, in a horrific Dickensian way, small children are being used as replacement parts: Wilford has them taken from the back of the train and sets them in among the works to do the little jobs of the broken bits that are now missing. Wilford makes it plain that without enslaving little children, the train stops and they all die.

If this sounds like a terrifying metaphor for the real world, well, it is. This is a place where the poor are literally cogs in a machine designed to maintain decadent luxury for a tiny minority, where the hope among those abused poor that someday they will see a better life for themselves within that system is what prevents them from completely throwing over that system. (Think about how poor white people are encouraged to vote against their own interests and blame some nebulous Other — immigrants; racial minorities — for keeping them down, rather than placing blame where it belongs, on the oligarchs and those who directly serve them.)

So Curtis learns that if he were to take over from Wilford, he would have no choice but to keep using small children to run the Engine. This is the final horror for him. This is the moment when he realizes that this unfair system cannot be fixed, or taken over for the better: it must be smashed. Curtis is already halfway to the Dark Side — that happened when he killed Wilford’s representative, Mason, played by Tilda Swinton. This is where he comes back.

He destroys the Engine.

The other option — Curtis takes over, and the rebel becomes the establishment — is akin to Luke joining Vader to rule the galaxy as father and son, or Frodo putting the Ring on forever. It would be a tragedy for Curtis… but also for the people on the train. Even the rich ones. Because it’s only after the train is destroyed that the people on the train discover that at least some things they’ve been told about the world outside are not true. There is life outside: only polar bears that they can see so far, but still, it’s something, and those bears show up instantly. (What are the odds that the train crashed at the only spot on the planet supporting life now? Slim.) And it suddenly becomes impossible to believe that there aren’t other pockets of human survivors somewhere, too.

Snowpiercer’s ending is powerfully satisfying in one important sense: it’s extremely radical in a way that has deep resonance for our real world. It asks us to consider whether a society that requires abuse, slavery, and entrenched inequality and injustice is worth saving. Is it even possible to reform a society that is built from the ground up on such horrors, or must it be destroyed and reconstituted in an entirely new way? Should we believe those who say there isn’t another way to do things?

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spoiler alert
  • Yes. Thumbs up. Totally agreed with that ending.

  • Oracle Mun

    People are upset with this ending? I don’t get it. It’s a perfectly reasonable story choice, and certainly I find it more satisfying than “rebel ends up maintaining system he’d wanted to overthrow.”

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Still haven’t seen this (but I don’t care that much about spoilers). The way you describe it, the ending is losing me with the polar bears. They rob Curtis’s decision of its impact. He’s deciding that it be better that all of humanity die than allow the inequality to continue. That what little time the Train is buying the human race – and all it’s doing is delaying the inevitable; unless I’m misunderstanding what the children are being used for, the Train won’t run forever – is not worth the cost to the soul of humanity.

    That’s a hard decision. It goes against our basic survival instincts. That’s probably why people hate the ending. They take to heart what George Carlin once said sort of off-handedly, “That’s the whole point of life – NOT DYING!”

    I assume the movie wants you to believe that what Curtis does is the right thing. (Though, in his case, it’s probably better described as the best out of bad choices.) He can’t win, he can at least lose righteously. When it shows us polar bears, it’s suggesting that he’s stumbled upon The Right Thing™, the unequivocal best choice. And it’s reassuring the audience that yes, doing THE RIGHT THING™ will always lead to an ideal outcome. As a message, that’s trite and childish and stupid.

    So, yeah, it sounds like a great ending… right up to the final images.

  • Bluejay

    It asks us to consider whether a society that requires abuse, slavery, and entrenched inequality and injustice is worth saving. Is it even possible to reform a society that is build from the ground up on such horrors, or must it be destroyed and reconstituted in an entirely new way? Should we believe those who say there isn’t another way to do things?

    I found Snowpiercer’s argument powerfully eloquent and appealing, but there’s more than one way to spin the issue.

    Should we be satisfied with the status quo? No. Should we shrug in apathy and let current injustices stand? Absolutely not. But we should also, I think, be wary of those who say that society is beyond saving. And we should ask those who eagerly wield the rhetoric of “destroying and reconstituting society” exactly how they plan to go about it.

  • Well, there’s still absolutely no guarantee of anything, not even short-term survival. There’s just a hint of hope.

  • True. But that Batman example is speaking specifically about our real world. *Snowpiercer*’s example is far more metaphoric.

  • Bluejay

    Yes, but as you say, the questions Snowpiercer raises have resonance in the real world, and so those arguments are worth taking a hard, specific look at. Where is the line between “reforming” society and “destroying and reconstituting” it? Are all efforts at “mere” reform pointless, since the only solution appears to be to overthrow the entire system?

    In the real world, many people who argue that there’s no point in working within the system are those who give up on things like voting. Or who say, like some Tea Party idiots have, “If ballots don’t work, bullets will.” I’m not particularly sympathetic to an argument that leads either to George Carlin’s apathy (“you’re screwed, the Man has won, you’ve completely lost the game, why even bother”) or to violent tantrums.

  • those arguments are worth taking a hard, specific look at.

    Absolutely. But not many stories in pop culture do that. Often we don’t ever even get a sense of what the new order is gonna look like. I mean: The Empire is defeated, the Emperor is dead. Now what? Does the ordinary moisture farmer on Tatooine even notice any difference in his life?

    I would hope that *Snowpiercer* would generate precisely the sorts of questions you mention.

    Also too: Smashing the system and starting over doesn’t *have* to be violent.

  • Bluejay

    Smashing the system and starting over doesn’t *have* to be violent.

    Maybe so, but that’s why when someone says society as it is isn’t worth saving and has to be destroyed and rebuilt from the ground up, we have to look at the fine print. (It’s interesting to note that the metaphor Snowpiercer presents as the solution — the destruction of the train and all the attendant injuries and deaths — IS violent.)

    Often we don’t ever even get a sense of what the new order is gonna look like.

    Well, now that you mention it, what IS the new order in Snowpiercer going to look like? It shows us in great detail the destruction of the old, but nothing at all of the creation of the new, besides a couple of human survivors and a polar bear. So what now? What are the specifics of the new society? How do you avoid the injustices of the old one? THAT’S the story I want to see.

  • I’d love to see that story.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    It always bothered me that Nolans’s Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows’ plan appeared to be:
    1. Instigate as much wanton death and destruction as possible
    2. ???
    3. Profit! (and also Justice!)
    Not only do they not seem to have a plan to make things better, their evidence that their past actions made things better seems suspect.

  • So they don’t really want to change the system, they just want to change who profits from it.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Well , the “profit” thing here is part of the South Park reference, one of the few I’m willing to make. But, yeah, sure. Assuming they think it that far. The League of Shadows aren’t really revolutionaries. They’re kinda crypto-anarchists. They want to tear everything down, and don’t really care what rises in its place. They assume that “harmony” will naturally ensure, but they don’t explain the value of “harmony” they want to use. Nor do they explain why chaos leads to harmony, but order leads to corruption. So, yeah, they seem pretty confident on steps 1 and 3, but are maddeningly vague on step 2. I guess that’s to make it morally easier for Bruce Wayne to oppose Ra’s al Ghul.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Sure, but why? Doesn’t Curtis make his decision based on the realization that there is no hope in his situation?

    Wilford’s system is based on some fairly standard capitalism v. socialism tropes. The movie’s thesis seems to be that, at the end of the world, both systems are fucked. In the world of Snowpiercer capitalism = comfort for few, misery for most, slow death for all; socialism = much more misery for few, slightly less misery for most, somewhat quicker death for all; and Curtis chooses quick death for all.

    I can’t imagine that the filmmakers didn’t realize that showing that life on Earth was still possible would be something that a significant portion of the audience would latch onto. The movie challenges our basic survival instinct. The ending gives us an out. Why undercut itself like that?

  • LaSargenta

    Something I find odd is this assumption that when Curtis realizes what it takes to keep the train going his act(s) of destruction is anything other than suicide.

    I think that although his initial dream was to change the society, he realized that there was no reason to keep the train running.

    After all, why *should* they survive?

  • We get a hint of hope. Curtis clearly has none.

    I don’t know how faithful the ending is to the graphic novel. But a completely grim ending is often too much even for non-Hollywood films.

  • In honesty – as well reasoned as your argument is, it was the polar bear that put me off. Maybe it’s just that I associate CGI polar bears with a certain cola product. In fact, I half expected it to produce a bottle and take a swig – I think I would have liked the ending more than I did, if it had; at least it would have surreal impact. As it was, it was too cute, too pat, too comforting, immediately reassuring the audience that the right choice had been made, and thus ending the need to contemplate that choice. I agree with everything you say about the film, but I still did not care for the bear…

  • LaSargenta

    Maybe I’m just lucky, but I haven’t seen those commercials often enough to make them my default ‘CGI polar bear’. My mind went to The Golden Compass.

    That connection didn’t ruin the end for me.

    A bear ( or any animal aside from humans) has a different raison d’être and probably pretty much ignores both the ruins of humans and the completely absurd and desperate train.

  • LaSargenta

    The graphic novel is completely different. (The french serialized one…I havent looked at the fancy-binding translation I saw at Forbidden Planet.)

  • LaSargenta

    Have you seen it yet?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Not yet, no. I’m teasing out the details from this and a few other synopses. So I may be missing some important details.

  • LaSargenta

    Sounds exhausting. Just see the thing already.

  • RogerBW

    The thing I found unfortunate about the film was not the story that it told – I agree entirely with MaryAnn’s interpretation, and I don’t think any other is supportable – but the way that the universe is carefully set up to eliminate any possibility of middle ground between the two extremes. Either Curtis becomes part of the system, or he destroys it utterly, incidentally killing most of the people he was trying to help. In this stripped-bare world, unlike the real one, there is no such thing as reform, and there isn’t even the possibility of getting what’s left of the kids out now and letting the train come to a halt without all the destruction: there is only Become The Man or Bring It All Down. No middle ground. If you are not with us, you are against us.

    The tale is well told, but I found it just a bit too simplistic.

  • Bluejay

    Yes, this. That’s what I was trying to get at in my comments, but you say it better. :-)

    If the film is supposed to be a metaphor for the real world and inspire real-world conversations about how to enact change, the absence of the middle ground serves it poorly. Absence of the middle is PRECISELY what’s plaguing real-world politics today (at least US politics). “Compromise” has become a dirty word.

  • Danielm80

    I think the filmmakers went out of their way to avoid middle ground, because the bleak, us-versus-them world creates higher stakes and greater drama. It’s not realistic; the central metaphor is so implausible it’s almost self-parody. It’s the way a stoned high-school student would see the world. But for me, it works as a nightmare scenario. This is what the planet will look like if we don’t learn to compromise. We’ll end up with a population too damaged to see anything but black-and-white solutions. If you watch the news, it’s obvious that many people are already there, including the Tea Party idiots you mentioned. I don’t think the film is meant as a blueprint for social change. It’s an example of why change is necessary. That’s because it’s a heightened version of the world we have now.

  • Bluejay

    So you think the filmmakers intended to present all the available options in the story (Status Quo / Become the Man / Tear It All Down) as bad options? Okay, but that seems different from what MAJ is suggesting, which is that the film supports Tear It All Down as an actually good real-world option: its ending is “powerfully satisfying” and “asks us to consider whether a society that requires abuse, slavery [etc] is worth saving. Is it even possible to reform a society that is built… on such horrors, or must it be destroyed and reconstituted in an entirely new way?” This seems to be a rhetorical question to which the answer must be “yes, such a society is not worth saving, and Tear It All Down is the best option.” Which is what I’m pushing against, because in the real world, it often isn’t.

    I don’t think it’s impossible to create a powerfully satisfying metaphor for social change that includes an option for nonviolent reform; I’m sure Ursula K. Le Guin could have thought something up.

  • Danielm80

    I think the film is powerfully satisfying as drama. I’m not sure it works–or is even coherent–as a political treatise. I enjoyed it as a dreamlike metaphor that shows the worst aspects of our society. Most of the options it presents are either bad ideas or make sense only in a worst-case scenario. I did agree with one message: The system isn’t working. Actual social reform should probably not be left to action-horror filmmakers. I would give that responsibility to wiser people, possibly including Ursula Le Guin.

  • thomskis

    Great piece. A lot of the ideas here are very pertinent to us Scots at the moment.

  • Bluejay

    I think the film is powerfully satisfying as drama.

    Oh, I agree. I enjoyed it.

    And yes, the details of actual social reform should be left to people other than action filmmakers. But if we’re seriously discussing these films as metaphors and commentary on the real world, then that means we’re using the philosophical stances of these films to frame our discussions. A film that gives us more options than Snowpiercer would expand the possibilities we’d consider in a conversation about the real world, at least as it relates to the film commenting on it. Does that make sense?

    I suppose Snowpiercer doesn’t NEED to be more nuanced than it is — it does what it set out to do — but that lack of nuance isn’t therefore immune to criticism. That’s what Frank Bruni was criticizing — and got bashed for it by MAJ — but if you read his comments in full, he’s essentially pointing out the same lack of philosophical nuance that RogerBW and I are noticing.

  • Danielm80

    I think a more nuanced ending would have been possible. They could have introduced a character called the Machinist (full name Deus X. Machina) who said, “If we all work together–every one of us–then we can melt down the metal on this train and build new parts, and the train will work better than ever!” But I hope that the bleaker ending they chose will alarm people into thinking that social reform, on a massive scale, is necessary, and it has to happen right away.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    That’s not a nuanced ending, that’s Jim Kirk’s Kobayashi Maru solution: completely alter the premise. If the train has a foundry and machine shop*, then you remove one of the narrative drivers (that the train is breaking down) and one of the most horrific aspects of Wilford’s social apparatus (that he’s using children as machines).

    You were right the first time: the movie is setting up very stark choices for its characters. It’s a bit muddied on what it thinks of those choices (Curtis can’t know that he’s choosing Tear it Down and Start Over; he thinks he’s choosing Mercy Killing), but that’s what it’s going for. Roger and Bluejay may be criticizing it for failing to make an argument it’s not trying to make.

    * and why doesn’t it? That a pretty egregious oversight in the design.

  • RogerBW

    Oh, I think the film is what the director wanted it to be. I’m criticising it for an over-simplistic approach to storytelling which to my mind invalidates it as a useful basis for discussion — unless you go for the extended approach that Daniel’s suggested, i.e. that the film is asking you to say “no, there are more options in the real world than just these two”.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Is it over-simplified, or is it appropriately simplified for the medium? Remeber that a film is the prose equivalent of a short story to a novella. Action films are shorter still, due to the amount of running time dedicated to action sequences. Le Guinn offered the citizens of Omelas a similarly stark solution. Was she over-simplifying? Or was the lack of nuance justified by the length of the piece (less than 3000 words).

  • I’m glad someone mentioned that story. :->

  • Bluejay

    Wait, I missed the part where they decide the city isn’t worth saving, so they tear it down and incidentally kill most of the citizens. Unless, of course, Le Guin is making a slightly different point than Snowpiercer.

    See, I knew she could come up with a nonviolent metaphor. :-)

  • Danielm80

    Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    It’s right next to the part where any citizen offers to take up the child’s suffering. Which is next to the part where the children band together and refuse to allow any of their members to replace the current child.

    They’re there because Le Guin decided that her story had space to consider two, and only two, options. That’s a valid artistic choice. As for anyone else borrowing the theme and looking at other choices (“Protest or Forget, citizens of the Starship UK”), it’s enviable but not required to achieve the same as the masters in order to emulate them.

  • Danielm80

    By “nuanced,” I meant “Shakespearean.” All the supporting characters in the movie will be paired up with appropriate romantic partners.

    Or we could go for the P.D.Q. Bach ending: All the dead people come back to life and do a cheerful dance.

    It’s possible that “Deus X. Machina” was a little bit tongue-in-cheek. I do think that a nuanced and optimistic ending could be done. For some of
    us, it’s important to speculate about what that ending might be. But I don’t think the director was ever interested in an ending with more hope or less violence.

  • lannalee

    I just wanted to see more people come off the train.

  • LaSargenta


    I think it would have been better if no one got off at all.

  • anotherscott

    Curtis destroys the engine? What did I miss? I thought the destruction of the train was an unforeseen consequence of the Korean couple blowing the door open, and unexpectedly starting an avalanche.

    As for what’s bothersome about the ending, to me, it’s just the ambiguity. Are the two of them the only survivors, or are there others who survived the crash? Are we supposed to think they are going to somehow survive in that arctic wasteland, or are we supposed to think they are doomed? While in a sense, you can say that what happens to them is besides the point, strictly as a yarn (forget the allegory), it would be more satisfying if it didn’t feel like they forgot to film the last few pages of the script.

  • Blowing the door didn’t help, but removing the kid from the engine is what causes it to stop working.

  • great ending… the polar bear is what the explosives guy saw out the window that he said “nevermind” The point of the movie that was optimistic as the old world system of “inequity” and “control” was destroyed and the new start was beginning with the kids that didn’t remember the system and world of the past. Curtis made the hard choice.

  • BlueBoomPony

    I think people don’t like the end because it pretty much spells extinction for humanity. Um, yay? They’re not going to be reconstituting anything. And most people are not misanthropic nihilists and recognize a false dichotomy. There were lots of options between status quo and crashing the train, which was an unintended consequence anyway. How about stop the damn train at the next salvageable looking city?

  • BlueBoomPony

    did I see a different version? No one chose what happened. They just wanted to blow the door, not cause an avalanche.

  • BlueBoomPony

    Because not everyone hungers for human extinction, even in fictional form.

  • BlueBoomPony

    There is no beginning. What the movie set up at the end is human extinction caused by an unintended consequence.

  • Dan Cronk

    My big problem with the ending was the polar bear. If there was life on the planet, how is it that no one has EVER seen it through the trains windows? They are traveling around the world every year and yet no one sees a polar bear until they destroy the train???

  • Dan Cronk

    Actually they did expect it to start an avalanche. In the conversation between the korean man and curtis, the korean man explains he has recently seen that there is the kind of snow on the ground that just needs a little push to get going. AKA avalanche show

  • Dan Cronk

    That’s exactly what I thought. It would make far more sense to take control of the train and stop it at the best location for possible survival. Blowing it off the tracks in the middle of the mountains means certain death. Stopping it anywhere is probably a bad idea but if you’re going to stop it, at least attempt to do it in a way that leaves you the best odds.

  • Dan Cronk

    Did they invent mind control of some kind? Why was the child ignoring Curtis?

  • Dan Cronk

    Also, if polar bears could survive the deep freeze, so could humans. In fact I don’t understand why you would need to be traveling around in a train… We know how to heat buildings and we have structures that can survive in the vacuum of space, if humans can’t survive then no other animal possible could. I guess the fact that there was a polar bear suggested to me that conditions outside couldn’t have been that bad to begin with and so humanity outside the train would still exist. It destroys the entire concept of the earth being uninhabitable. What would have made sense is if they stopped the train and used its preserved resources to start life on a thawing planet.

  • You don’t have to “hunger for human extinction” to see the ending of this story as the best and most appropriate ending for *this* story.

  • Because the only people with windows were living a life of luxury and comfort. They may well have seen the bears or other life before. But it would not have been in their best interest to stop the train.

  • But your option is an extension of the original dilemma Curtis faces: How much should an innocent be made to suffer for the “greater good”? Is a “greater good” possible when it relies on the suffering of innocents?

  • The child was utterly traumatized? Brainwashed into believing that it could not stop its task lest everyone die (which wouldn’t even be wrong)?

  • RogerBW

    I’m not sure that’s entirely supportable – our heroes stop to look out at the frozen escapees, they know when the frozen city is coming past, and so on. Clearly they have some view of the outside even if it’s in limited doses.

  • The people in the back of the train have been lied to.

    Leaders lie and manipulate and deceive. That’s kind of the entire point of the film.

  • Or they’ve been *told* about those cities.

    “Behold the dead cities of the civilization that killed the planet! (And by the way, give thanks to your savior.)” is powerful propaganda.

  • Sampi

    My thoughts exactly. How about taking control of the train and creating a fairer society? Give the people in the back of the train some real food; if there isn’t enough food for everyone, how about everyone lives on a half-protein bar half-normal food diet? Split the luxuries equally.

    OK, so children have to be used to make the train work, so what? Can’t they all take turns? Have breaks, be treated kindly and lead relatively normal lives? That little brat from the front-wagon class sure could use a lesson in humility. Explain the situation to everyone, tell them it’s necessary for their survival.
    I would’ve been happier if everyone just died, but still Curtis’ decision didn’t make any sense to me.

  • So, you wouldn’t be one of the citizens of Omelas who walks away…

  • LaSargenta

    I got no problem with you disliking ambiguity (although I disagree that ambiguity is bad, that was one of the things I liked about the film); but, I got a serious problem with you knowing the name of Curtis but relegating Minsu and his daughter Yona to “the Korean couple”. They aren’t a couple, they’re family. They’ve got names, and the fact that is his daughter is a plot point for cryin’ out loud.

    Makes me assume that you can’t be bothered to remember their names ’cause they’re not “normal” and white-anglo-saxon-protestant-sounding like Curtis. Minsu’s name is said probably just as much as Curtis’ during the film.

  • LaSargenta

    “[T]he korean man” has a name. See my reply to anotherscott above.

  • LaSargenta

    Way to miss the broader implications of the story.

  • LaSargenta

    I think Sampi’s point about making all on the train take responsibility for their survival is a good one and not equivalent to Omelas.

  • anotherscott

    Geez. I’m just bad with names. I often can’t remember the name of someone I met an hour ago, much less someone from a movie I saw a a day or two earlier. I sometimes forget names WHILE I’m watching a movie… someone will refer to someone else, and I’ll ask my girlfriend which character s/he was talking about. I wouldn’t have known Curtis’ name either, except it was mentioned right here in the article so I picked it up from there. It’s very presumptuous of you to have “a serious problem with” me, you don’t know me at all. BTW, “I got no problem” is poor grammar. But I won’t judge you on it.

    Meanwhile, thanks to the other people who responded to my post for their interesting perspectives.

  • LaSargenta

    We’re on the internet. This is a giant communal memory bank. IMDb is in English, even. Things like names can be checked. Not doing so when we’ve got all this at our fingertips is ridiculous.

    And, they weren’t a couple. The fact they were father and daughter is a plot point.

    Feel free to judge. That’s what humans do.

  • anotherscott

    My use of “couple” just meant pair of people. I didn’t know/remember what the relationship between them was. (I missed seeing subtitles for part of the movie, so it’s possible I may never have known what their relationship was, I don’t remember anymore.)

    I wouldn’t have thought it was worth my time to check IMDB to avoid possibly offending two fictional people. I could as easily talk about some movie characters as “the tall guy” or “the little kid” or “the woman with the cane,” etc. I wouldn’t expect other people discussing the movie to find my lack of interest in researching their names to be offensive. But to each his/her own…

  • LaSargenta

    …because there were no nations left on the train. Because the logical identifier of Minsu is “the explosives guy” and of Yona is “the creepily clarivoyant girl”.

  • anotherscott

    “Korean” is not an offensive term. For the purposes of discussing the film, the word identified the characters I was referring to accurately and efficiently, and I don’t see your alternatives as identifying them any better. People on the train may no longer have belonged to nations, but they did have heritages. I would be surprised if people on the train did not consider themselves to be French, Russian, Indian, or whatever else. And if that had been how they were presented, I would not see any issue referring to characters as “the French couple” or whatever. If it had been a French film, and there was one American pair-of-people on the train, I would have no problem if someone referred to them as the American couple. It’s simply a description, and an accurate one. It is not a slight.

  • LaSargenta

    Of course Korean is not offensive! But, identifying only a hero/protagonist by name and everyone else — no matter how important or how much character development they get — gets shafted with being reduced to their “nationhood” that no longer exists in the course of the story?

    And I spent a lot of time with my father with no mother in the picture; lots and lots of father-daughter experiences and partnership from early childhood well into my forties and NO ONE ever called us a couple. That is not typical nomenclature for that relationship.

  • anotherscott

    As I said, I only knew the name of the protagonist because it was right here in the article.

    But rude to who? The characters are fictional! To you? Why is “the Korean guy” more offensive than “the explosives guy” or any other description? (i.e. “the tall guy” or “the little kid” or “the American guy”?) It’s simply a way of letting people know which character I’m talking about, since I didn’t remember the name. I”m not “reducing” anyone to anything, I simply identified a pair of characters in a way that was concise and unambiguous,

    As I said, I didn’t know/remember what the relationship between them was. Although two of anything (including characters in a movie) can be called a couple, maybe I should have used the word “pair” instead to avoid the ambiguity. But I wasn’t writing an English paper here. I doubt anyone didn’t understand which characters I was talking about, and am not sure what you find so objectionable about my use of the word “couple” that has moved you to continue to make an issue of it.

  • Sampi

    Not at all, they don’t have to live in agony. Can’t children work under the train and still be treated humanely? Like I said, take turns. Give them privileges that nobody else has, value their important work.

  • Maybe. But the continued operation of the train requires the servitude of children.

  • It’s not *fictional* people who have the potential to be offended here…

  • Except anyone not white is Other, and hence “best” ID’d via their not-whiteness. I mean, duh.

  • So, would you refer to Chris Evans as “the white guy”?

  • Someone once mistook me for my father’s wife, and it was one of the creepiest things ever. I mean, I love my dad, but ick.

  • Tonio Kruger

    There’s a lot of stories that could be mentioned in regard to this movie.

    For example, the more I hear about it, the more I can’t help thinking about the obvious parallels the ending has with the similarly downbeat ending of Escape from LA. And I seem to recall that you hated that movie, MaryAnn.

  • anotherscott

    If he was the only white guy in the plot and I couldn’t remember his name, sure, why not? Or if he was the only American guy, or British guy, or whatever, I might refer to him that way. These are neutral descriptors, I don’t see why they should be offensive. Nor would I be offended (as a white guy myself) if, in such a situation, someone else referred to a particular character as “the white guy.” (I wasn’t going to speak more on this topic, but since you are the “hostess” here, I felt I should reply.)

  • I don’t delete reviews.

    It’s been years since I saw that film, but I don’t remember hating it. But even if I did, there could be plenty of other reasons for that besides its ending.

  • If he was the only white guy in the plot

    Except… that hardly ever happens. See the problem?

  • anotherscott

    As it happens, there are plenty of primarily black movies, which have little in the way of white characters. But that’s besides the point. How frequently or rarely it happens has nothing to do with how appropriate it is. You asked if it was okay to call a character “the white guy” — I would say yes, if that clearly indicates who you’re talking about… and whether that is the case in one movie or a thousand is irrelevant. I think referring to a character as the white guy or the Korean guy is no more insulting than referring to a character as the red-headed guy, the short guy, the bearded guy, etc., if, within the context of the movie, this makes plain who you are talking about. You may disagree, fine. Again, I think we are veering far astray from discussing the movie, which is probably what most people following this page care about.

  • Actually, one of the great things about this movie is how diverse the cast is. Even if it is still a white guy in the lead.

    there are plenty of primarily black movies

    No, there aren’t.

  • LaSargenta

    But, in this case, as I recall, there are 4 characters who speak Korean (or so it sounds to my untrained ear), Minsu, Yona, the military leader (played by an American) and the soldier who does the translating. There isn’t a distinct “Korean guy”.

    At this site, by the by, this is discussion of the movie. Our host, MAJ, and lots of the readers get involved in broader discussions of what the movies and the reactions to them mean within the broader cultures.

  • anotherscott

    re: “there are 4 characters who speak Korean” –

    When I said, “the Korean couple blowing the door open” do you really think anyone here didn’t know which characters I was talking about? That’s the point. I didn’t know their names, but for the purposes of conversation, I identified which characters I was talking about concisely and clearly, and to my mind, inoffensively, as “Korean” is in no way a slur.

  • In that case, why not just call them “the couple blowing the door open”? Do you think anyone wouldn’t know whom you were referring to?

  • LaSargenta

    This leads to a totally different conversation; but, I don’t think that children doing some kind of work suited to their physical and intellectual development to be a bad thing. This is especialy true when it is in the context of a community doing work. Labor does not equal servitude. We learn by doing; in many ways, what is called a proper curriculum for children is abstract and limited. Learning how to function with the technology in a community is a necessary survival skill and wouldn’t be forced servitude.

    What the children in the context of the class system on Snowpiercer were enduring was not work within a community, but slavery. That community was not working, only some of them were.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Well, sort of. Min wanted to blow the door. I don’t think he’s what anyone could call a rational actor in this situation. But, nor is he completely irrational. So it’s hard to gauge what he thought would happen once he set off the explosion.
    Curtis, meanwhile, literally shoved his hand into the trainworks. He had to know that what he was doing would stop the train. That something else further demolished the entire thing is kind of incidental.
    So, no they (probably) didn’t intend to derail the train, but the definitely wanted everyone off.

  • a

    “Think about how poor white people are encouraged to vote against their own interests and blame some nebulous Other — immigrants; racial minorities — for keeping them down, rather than placing blame where it belongs, on the oligarchs and those who directly serve them.”

    Uh oh. I smell the envy of liberalism. If the author is talking about the West, and particularly the United States, then we don’t have oligarchs. This isn’t Czarist Russia, where the nobility would hunt peasant children for sport.

    This movie might have worked in the 19th century, but not now.

    And, if society is going to be torn down and rebuilt, who gets to make the decisions? Remember Czarist Russia. You think its replacement, the Soviet Union, was better? No, just different misery.

    Be careful the discontent you sow. You might think just the rich get eaten, only to find out you’re in the pot with them.

  • a

    I’d like to know your source concerning the Tea Party.

    I’ve never heard once that they advocated violence.

    Quite the contrary. Their methods are to get what they see as good, qualified politicians elected.

    That said, I totally agree with the premise of your original post: Be wary of revolutionaries who act as messiahs.

    A current White House occupier is a good example.

  • a


    Of course it has to be violent.

    You’re letting your leftist ideals cloud your mind.

  • Deleted some comments from someone who thinks “leftist” and “liberal” are insults. And then threw in a random anti-Obama slight for good measure.

    You want to argue politics? Do it without namecalling. And also join the rest of us in the real world, not the imaginary one you see on Fox News.

  • Dan Cronk

    He may have a name but it’s really not important.

  • Dan Cronk

    But clearly life on earth was wiped out. If it wasn’t people would have spotted life while traveling around in the train…

  • Dan Cronk

    No actually the goal was to cause an avalanche. Thats why the Korean guy made the comment about the snow being the kind that just needs a little push before it will go. If your version didn’t have subtitles you may have missed his dialogue.

  • Dan Cronk

    Except the Korean guy lived in the luxury section and he had never seen the polar bears before.

  • Dan Cronk

    How is it an extension? I’m suggesting they stop the train in a city rather than a mountain range…

  • Cy Hall

    The 2 survivors will be eaten by the polar bear, so the only hope they have is false hope which is so cruel.

  • LaSargenta

    Travelling at that speed and along only one track can result in lots of things being missed.

  • LaSargenta

    Considering how much screen time he has, and how that character provides other perspectives than those in the back do, I disagree.

  • Obviously life has *not* been wiped out. The people in the back of the train don’t have windows, so they wouldn’t see. And the people in the front of the train are so comfortable that why should they care if rats and such — or even people scrabbling in the desolate cold to eke out a living — are scurrying around outside?

  • Er, wasn’t he frozen?

  • The cities will have long since been picked clean by the initial survivors. Haven’t you read any apocalyptic SF? :-)

  • Magdeleina

    I thought the ending did not work because it didn’t go bleak enough. You give us a world of black and white extremism where the hero decides that dooming humanity is better than living with the inequality of the System. If we could have just seen the train crash and burn with no survivors, that would have been a much more powerful impact on the audience than the ending we got.
    Instead of just going with the overall tone of darkness and tragedy inherent in the extremist themes in this movie that tries so hard to be an intelligent satire, we get a freaking POLAR BEAR! The last five minutes take any emotional and intellectual conversation that the film tried to make and marred it all up in the mind with the stupidity of that final scene.
    When the credits roll, I’m not thinking about socioeconomic inequality or the nature of capitalistic hierarchies. No, I’m thinking about how those two kids who somehow survive that train wreak are totally polar bear kibble.
    I don’t want some rosy-glassed ending where Captain America actually has the audacity to *gasp* change the system from the inside without murdering the last remnants of humanity. I get that this film is trying to say that there is no middle ground or compromise in this universe. It deserved an ending as dismal as the cannibalism of babies.
    What I cannot accept is the fact that this asinine ending compromised the last glimmering vestiges of intellectual impact in a film that was logically shaky from the get go. They compromised. They thought they couldn’t show a truly tragic resolution this crazy movie deserved so they left us with the most cliched shaggy dog closer possible.
    In my opinion, the only way to end a radical movie mired in bleak tragedy is with bleak tragedy. Otherwise you get Snowpiercer instead of a film that actually makes you want to discuss issues on oppression and inequality.

  • RogerBW

    That’s an excellent point. Where the film has been saying for much of its running time “the choice is between this horror or death, and maybe death is better”, it undercuts that by ending with “well maybe it’s not death after all”.

  • brainhurt_and_fear

    The Train was the Death Star, but the Death Star was not evil–it was just a tool. The Emperor and Vader were the evil, Wilford’s role here; Curtis is tempted, as was Luke. The destruction of the train was perfect. But the assumed survival of the kid was absolute BS. Sure, there’s a surviving polar bear (poetic in that polar bears are said to be dying out now due to warming), but the kid is sweaty. It is still damn cold, and she’s about to freeze to death. We didn’t need the extra little “there is no hope” epilogue after the train crashed. That’s what made the ending crap, not the crash.

  • Damian Barajas

    Finally got around to seeing this movie.

    The problem I see with finding a middle ground solution is that in the end, even if conditions were to improve, you’d still be stuck on the train. Curtis knew all too well what would happen if the population ever outgrew the limited food supply. Once he reaches the front of the train and we learn why kids are being measured prior to being kidnapped, its also pretty apparent that “The eternal machine” Isn’t eternal at all. We can clearly see that things are going to get worse, and that pretty soon, even more radical steps might need to be taken.

    About the ending. I was not expecting as hopeful an ending as this, and I guess a lot of people weren’t either. It just didn’t seem possible or “right” for such a horrific story to have an ambiguously happy ending.
    But the way I see it, throughout the movie we are asked to accept some pretty implausible things as necessary. I would never condone child slavery as depicted here in the film, yet, in this world, its a valid ethical question to ask if child slavery is OK if it allows humanity to survive.
    What the ending ultimately tells us though, is that in our own way, we are also passengers on a train running on a closed loop. I read it as saying that while we are stuck aboard, hurtling to nowhere, trying to preserve what little we have, for fear of dying if we don’t, its possible that there may be hope outside of the system we find ourselves trapped in.

    When the train stops, we get a chance to get off and look at what we fear.
    No, Curtis did not mean for this to happen, he’s clearly been played from the beginning and is only fulfilling his predefined role. If there is any heroism in our white protagonist, its in the final scene, where he decides that he can’t live with perpetuating the status quo. He gives up his leadership to Namgoong and Yona to do as they will, he won’t keep the train running (on time or otherwise).
    In the end, if the story is an allegory for our world, then the ending is a call to action. It is important that we understand that everything that happened on the train, the reason’s we might argue for slavery and half measures is because what we believe about the world is false. Or at least, no longer applicable. If saying that if we believe that stopping the train is death, then we’re just as brainwashed as the kids in the school.
    In the end, the movie is saying that destroying our society does not mean destroying humanity.

  • Bluejay

    In the end, if the story is an allegory for our world, then the ending is a call to action.

    What action, specifically?

  • Damian Barajas

    My gut reaction? Anarchy. Thinking about it a little more, Its asking us on the back of the train to derail it because no one at the front is looking out the window.

    The one thing that all people on the train agree on and believe without question is that staying on the train is necessary for survival, even the people on the back of the train believe this, they don’t want to leave the train, they want to take it over. Wilford is a complex character, savior to humanity yet he loves his train more than anything. Believing it is necessary allows him to continue his obsession with abandon. He can rationalize child slavery as necessary to human survival, but its still in service to his obsession.
    Its only the crazies who dare look out into the world and wonder if there’s anything else besides this and do something about it.

    Similarly, in this world of 99 vs 1% per centers, we’re stuck in a situation where we know whats coming, global warming, the scarcity of fossil fuels, overpopulation. Yet we cannot stop the machine that feeds this. Sure, I could turn off my TV, computers, cellphone, stop using my car and heating and washing machine, except I depend on those to keep a roof over my head and food on the table. (Speaking of the 1%, what were the demands of OWS? Basically redistribute the wealth. Not that different from Curtis and his crew (The goals, not the methods))

    If abandoning the train means rejecting what we know to be true about the world, then the call to action would be to reject the belief that our economic system is what keeps us safe and that our leaders can put their own desires aside for the good of the group. The call to action is for those that would look out the window and dream for themselves. The artists and freethinkers.

    What action? Destroy the assumptions we make that keep us running at full speed toward certain and foreseeable disaster.
    But that’s my take. YMMV :)

  • Bluejay

    What, in practical terms and on an everyday level, would anarchy entail?

    I’m all for finding brave and creative solutions to our seemingly intractable problems. But if someone suggests that the only solution is to completely tear society down, I’d like to see the fine print. :-)

  • gabbe’

    And you all think that those two little people would survive a hungry polar bear attack?

  • Radek Piskorski

    A bear is an apex predator, so it’s a simple way of saying that there surely are other animals around he can eat.

  • See, there is even more significance in the polar bear. Polar bears are alpha predators. They need a a plentiful prey source in order to survive, and those prey need food. A food chain. That means a whole ecosystem still exists. Humans could survive. Like the Inuit woman, only she left too soon. This also means that Big W probably knew this. He just wanted the control. Hell, he probably froze the world on purpose, just for the power.

  • Jessica Webb

    I thought the train only had N number of survivors. And how many fur coats are there?

  • Jessica Webb

    I thought this could easily follow the Plan of the Overseer in Fallout 3. Let everyone leave eventually. Wait for the plane to melt. Hope to survive 50 years or so in the hellhole.

  • Huh?

  • Danny Rose

    polar bears are man eaters

  • And…?

  • Allen W

    My wife and I finally saw this. My summary: Stephen King’s “The Long Walk” on a train, by way of Terry Gilliam.
    The ending was a bit more hopeful than I was expecting, even given the likely relative positions of humans and polar bears on the new food chain. At least the bear didn’t seem hungry, which as others have pointed out implies plentiful prey animals. Still, even on a “normal” alpine winter mountaintop in the real world, two young people who have never even been outside before are unlikely to last long, unless they go back to the train and start eating dead people. But applying real-world logic to a fairy tale is rarely useful.
    Both my wife and I assumed that the fate of the children was going to be worse than it was. I thought for most of the movie that the Engine must literally burn children (this being that sort of fairy tale), and that the “industrial waste” hallucinogen was their ashes (and if not, then where did it come from, and what was its point?). Meanwhile, after Chris Evan’s big cannibalism speech, my wife was sure that Wilford was eating the kids, and that Chris Evans would recognize the taste. I think we were both kind of relieved that they were “just” being used as replacement parts.

  • realtalk

    yall white mayos make everything about urselves so stfu

  • Dan Cronk

    Even if the city is picked clean there is shelter. Also if animals are alive in the mountains they will most certainly be around at lower elevations where there are lower temperatures. A snowy mountain is one of the absolute harshest environments that you can find on this planet. It’s a poor choice.

  • Dan Cronk

    He was in jail. He used to live in the luxury section before. He was in charge of maintaining the door locks. I think he designed them. Hence why he could open them.

  • Dan Cronk

    You’re kind of missing my point. My point is that it is not possible for polar bears to survive if humans can’t. A smaller animal might have some advantages over a human but a large animal would need a large food supply. If polar bears are alive the entire food chain below them needs to exist.

  • Dan Cronk

    Why is any name important?

  • Danielm80

    Otherwise, people may call you “the Korean man,” as though that’s your only significant character trait.

  • I think you’re missing my point: mere survival in the cold wilderness vs a life of luxury on the train? Most people would choose the latter.

  • Dan Cronk

    See when you reply to someone elses original comment you’re supposed to write something relevant to what they’re talking about. You’re just derailing my comment.

  • Dan Cronk

    So what important character trait does the name Curtis or anything else imply? Names are not important. Actions are. You could change the name of every character in every book ever made and that wouldn’t effect their significance. Also to anyone who has watched the movie it is very obvious that is not his only important trait.

  • Danielm80

    Of course names are important. Names help define people’s identities. That’s why so many books about baby names are published every year, and so many books on the deeper meaning of names.

    Names are important in stories. To use an obvious example, fairy tale characters like Cinderella and Snow White are defined by their names, and the stories explain at some length where the names came from. The Bible spends a lot of time talking about the meaning of names.

    Neil Gaiman says that he has trouble writing about a character until he’s figured out the character’s name.

    Names also have a lot to do with racial identity. In real life, studies have shown that job applicants with names that suggest a specific, non-white cultural background are less likely to be called in for an interview.

    When Barack Hussein Obama ran for president, a lot of people wrote about his name and how it would affect his chances of being elected.

    The name Curtis provides clues to his family history and cultural background, and the names of the people in the movie tell us something about the society he lives in.

    And, as I said before, his name identifies him as a unique individual. Your description of him doesn’t. You may know that he has lots of distinctive, important character traits, but when you describe him as “the Korean man,” it implies that you don’t.

  • Bluejay

    First of all, you’re being rude to the hostess.

    Second, she’s not derailing. She’s agreeing with you that life can survive outside the train. Her point is that the people on the train have been fed a lie (that life can’t survive), or prefer the comfort of the train to the cold outside.

    Third, it’s a little weird that you’re picking up this argument again a YEAR after her last comment. How about letting it drop?

  • Dan Cronk

    How does the name Curtis show how he feels about his culture?

    If I changed all of the names of the characters in this movie to numbers it wouldn’t change the story for me.

  • Dan Cronk

    Which in turn would mean that there would be substantial amount of people off the train and it would be very obvious that the cities were still inhabited. People wouldn’t have to eke out a living if the world didn’t freeze enough to eliminate large predators like polar bears.

  • LaSargenta

    The discussion about using a name isn’t about missing out on some insight through understanding a meaning of a name; it is about acknowledging that all these characters who have an effect on the story have names* and it is rude and dismissive to not use them instead of strange and clumsy identifiers like ‘the Korean guy’.

    *This isn’t The Road.

  • Dan Cronk

    If it’s weird I’m picking it up
    It’s just as weird for you to respond. I’m not being any more rude than she was

  • Dan Cronk

    Oh gotcha this is all about people needing everything to be overly PC. The reason I don’t know his name is because it was rarely said. Taking offense to someone using a characteristic of someones personality or physical appearance to reference them is silly in my opinion. Is it really necessary to try and look for injustice when there is none?

  • I think you need to reread my comment and your response to it. If you think my response constitutes derailing or irrelevant, we have no common ground for communication.

  • LaSargenta

    You obviously didn’t read the back and forth between @anotherscott and I. Not only was he missing the name but also using a strange concept for the father-daughter relationship. Look, this is thread about a movie. Yes, it is pretty petty in the grand scheme of things; but, we (incluing you) are on this thread discussing this small thing and — in the world of the story in this movie — there are characters with names, back story, motivations, actions and destinies. This isn’t about being “overly PC”, it is about not paying attention and being dismissive.

    Now, although I should probably have more sympathy for you, I gotta sign off.

  • If these characters all had numbers for names, it would say a LOT about their culture and the world they live in. It would change the story enormously.

  • Oh gotcha this is all about people needing everything to be overly PC.

    No. It’s not.

    In case you’re unaware, “political correctness” is not a pejorative round these parts. And “it’s just a movie” is never acceptable here, either.

    This may not be the movie site for you.

  • William James Phillips

    I just wished Curtis was still alive, im believing he is, but I doubt it

  • Really?

    I don’t get it. The Polar Bear is going to eat the girl and boy. And that’s it? Derailed a train so everyone dies?
    I can’t unsee Snowpiercer.

  • Brian Adams

    Umm, he killed everyone on the train! Including all the people he was trying to save or liberate or whatever. How the hell is killing everyone the right decision!?

  • Brian Adams

    He killed everyone! Including the people he was trying to save or liberate or whatever… How is killing everyone, and wiping out what he believes to be the rest of human kind, the right decision??? Sure, a couple people lived. But he still killed the vast majority of what he knew to be the human species! That’s a ridiculous ending that I absolutely hated!

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Would you have considered a decision to continue to all but literally feed children – living, human children, but just to poor ones from the slums in the back – to this machine, in order to preserve a few hundred other lives, a happy ending?

  • RogerBW

    The children who were in the machine are now dead. No better off.

    The children in the back of the train who would have been fed to the machine in the future are now dead. No better off.
    The future children who would have been fed to the machine won’t be born, because their prospective parents are dead. No better off.
    Taken seriously, the whole idea falls apart. It only works if you treat it as heavy-handed metaphor.

  • Brian Adams

    There way of life sucks, so they should just die to be put out of there misery. Really???

  • Brian Adams

    They’re way of life sucks, so kill them? Are you kidding me?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    That’s not really an answer.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Heavy-metaphor? This movie? I had no idea… ;)

    Anyway, those arguments aren’t terribly strong, philosophically speaking. At best, it’s a wash. Unless you take an absolutist position that any life is inherently better than none.

    And the third one presuppose things that haven’t occurred, and when taken in the totality of the situation, unlikely to occur.

  • Brian Adams

    What do you mean? That’s what your saying. They have a terrible way of life/system on the train, so the right thing to do is cause a catastrophic event that kills almost everyone. How can that be an acceptable decision/ending to anyone?? Please explain.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I mean exactly what I said. Do you think the alternative (that is, allowing the situation to proceed as is, in order preserve a dying species) makes for a happy ending?

  • Brian Adams

    As apposed to killing everyone?! Yes!!! You have to be kidding right now. He chose for other people that they should die instead of live that way. Also, he is now in control, and can take measures to improving the way of life for those people. Or at least try!! Not just take the instant leap to making the decision for all of them that they should die. I mean, this has to be a joke that you think that’s okay.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    OK, so you’re the type of person who would not walk away from Omales. Which is fine. Even in that story, most people didn’t.

    You are jumping to a lot of conclusions here, you know. I don’t think it’s “okay”. I think the movie presents Curtis with nothing but bad choices. He’s a monster whatever he decides. I disagree that the degree of “less bad” between what Wilford wanted and what Gilliam wanted is all that big. And I appreciated that the story went with the “Fuck it, burn it all down” choice, if only for a change of pace. But a “Fine, then I’ll be the monster” ending would also have been acceptable, rather than the usual deus ex machina.

    I also disagree that he had any other option. Tried what? Not using children to keep the train running? If that were a choice, we’d be talking about a completely different, and significantly more realistic, story.

  • LaSargenta

    Their. And their.

  • LaSargenta


    And, yeah, Doc, I agree.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Brian also really likes “your” in it’s non-possessive form. :)

  • LaSargenta

    Yeah. I figured after correcting each of you once, I was finished. No need to rub it in.

  • LaSargenta

    Why is it always “the children”?? What about all people? Children age. They need grownups to be responsible and supportive in order to age properly. Sorry, but as George Carlin said, fuck the children.

    This isn’t a story (parable) about children. It is a story (parable, long-form heavy-handed metaphor) about grown-ups making ethical decisions. They might be wrong ones, but the children are no more important than the man whose arm was frozen off in the early part.

  • Brian Adams

    But he could have taken steps to doing everything possible to make their lives better. Anything is better than just killing everyone. And of course it’s terrible that children had to be used to keep it running. But maybe try squeezing some smaller stature adults in there? Fashioning some kind of tool for them to use, other than their hands? Letting them work in short shifts, and making it a highly praised job with fantastic rewards for their service for when they are not working? Helping them understand that they are literally saving the lives of all the people they know and love by doing this job? There are literally so many other scenarios that can be at least attempted before the “fuck it, just kill everyone instead” decision is made.

  • RogerBW

    I mentioned the children because they’re the ones who are being slowly killed to keep the original setup running.
    Apart from the two adults who know what’s going on, the adults are unambiguously better off in the original setup.

  • Brian Adams

    Cool, thanks for the correction. I guess I was more focused on making an actual point. Unlike you.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Yes, yes, but in this story, the character who would know more about the machine than anyone, thinks that children are the only ones who can do the job. In this, story, what else could Curtis try? Not some other story with different sets of conditions. This one.

  • RogerBW

    That’s my problem with it, really; it’s taking this interesting setup and throwing away all the interesting stuff in the name of reducing it to a trolley problem.

  • LaSargenta

    You’re welcome.

    A pity you didn’t take the time to read this thread before hopping in. Your points (and others) have been discussed earlier, I did contribute a little, sometimes only by upvoting others comments. RogerBW’s, for example, very early in the thread were on the money.

    You could have added to that discussion. The way comments are logged here, people interested would have noticed. You wouldn’t have been ignored.

  • LaSargenta

    Well, the adults are periodically being quickly killed to maintain the balance of resources in order to keep everything running. I don’t think of that as better off. Considering that a revolt (successful or otherwise) every so often causes destruction and necessary reordering of the social networks of the children not killed during the revolts, the children also are heavily affected. You might say there is a delayed mortality in the children as I would assume the children and teens left adrift by each of those revolts grow up to be the next group of the Resistance. Gilliam was a father figure to Curtis.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    *shrug* I’m not sure what more interesting stuff there is. It starts with a bogglingly implausible premise, and then stacks other implausibilities on top of it, long before they get to the front of the train. Maybe it’s a French thing, because it reminds me of nothing so much as Planet of the Apes. I think Joon-ho Bong gets that. I don’t think he was interested in the story so much as the visual flair. (Which is not inconsiderable. The Terry Gilliam comparisons are well earned. And Tony Z at Every Frame a Painting did one of his video essays on the effective use of simple left or right movement.) But I, for one, appreciate that he focused down the final choice, and didn’t take the easy way out. Or, at least, he didn’t until that fucking polar bear.

  • Brian Adams

    You’re are still so incredibly far away from justifying killing everyone as the only alternative.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Except that I’m not trying to justify anything. I’m pointing out that in the story they’ve written, there are only two options, and they’re both horrific. Like I said, I would have been satisfied (in the sense that I felt like the story stayed true to itself and didn’t veer off to avoid that final horror) if Curtis had decided to take over for Wilford.
    Besides, either way, Minsoo would still have blown the hatch, because he was either insane, or knew what the final shot was going to be.

  • Brian Adams

    And that’s a fair observation. But that was an agreed upon plan before she ever lit the fuse. Which is my entire point: the plan resolution is flawed/wrong/incorrect. Yes, both options are “horrific”, but one option is so much more clearly horrific than the other. Choosing the DEATH option for so many people the wrong decision. Plain and simple.

  • This movie is not about the justification of killing people. It is asking, Does a culture that justifies killing people deserve to exist?

  • Brian Adams

    Understood. But the vast majority of the culture did not facilitate that function. They merely existed within it. So what we are talking about here is the justification of the execution of individuals within that culture, because the few that controlled its operation are evil. It is an obvious analogy of our society. So if we followed the logic here, then that would be like someone killing all of us, because the leaders of our culture justify killing people to sustain our/their way of life. Yes, they do. Yes, it is wrong and should be stopped. Should we die because of it though? Just the slightest notion of that being even an idea is insane. Let alone actually carrying it out.

  • the justification of the execution of individuals within that culture

    No, it’s the killing of that entire culture.

    It is an obvious analogy of our society.

    Yes, that’s the point. But this isn’t meant to be taken literally. It’s a thought exercise to get you to consider the cost of evil, and whether it’s a price we are willing to pay.

  • Andi

    The ending was genius. In fact, it wraps the movie up perfectly. People get all caught up about the Curtis character, but the movie isn’t about individual characters, it’s about Man Kind as a whole.

    Hence the Moon Landing symbolism at the end. Two “train babies” exit the train into a foreign planet that they’ve never set foot on before. Humanity continues. The Polar Bear is nothing more than proof that they kids can survive. The fact that they’re wearing the fur coats is the icing on the cake (comparing them to early man)

    Also, I think the Ring may not be a great example. Wilford isn’t evil, and Gilliam isn’t good. They worked together, hence why the system was so flawed and had to be destroyed.

  • Joel Martinsson

    The ending was a total downer imo. Basically 99,99% of everybody in the train died and within a day or so 100%. If there weren’t humans anywhere else they went extinct with that derailing.

  • Güney

    He’s obviously dead. He lost one half of his arm so blood loss + the explosion (he’s burnt for sure) + there is no medic, if the explosion didn’t kill him, he would die soon after, as the two kids actually.

  • William James Phillips

    How do you know he lost an arm? I didn’t see it but if you could tell me where in the ending its shown please do, and how he got burned because I didn’t see him.

  • Sabretruthtiger

    Yes, although if they’re the only humans left, even assuming they could produce offspring they would be inbred in short order.
    A much larger gene pool is required.

  • Angela Min Jung Kwon

    The only thing that really upset me about the ending is that it was so.. anti-climatic. If this was a metaphor of the ‘real world’ what would ACTUALLY happen would be, those people from ‘the end of the train’ who got to the very front, they would seize power, and exploit the same things that they came to the front to deny. That’s what real human beings are like. That’s what has been like in history. People who stood up for the poor? Once they got to a position of power, all they did was exploit it worse than it was. The ending where the ‘master’ of the train living in the front was just some sort of Wizard of Oz character who played no role in the whole thing… I thought that was really lame. The child controlling the train => This thing too, we already knew they exploited the weak, why is this suppose to be the ‘grand truth’ It was already the truth from the beginning. This movie starts out amazing. But honestly, I feel like the writers lost a lot of depth in the last 10minutes of it. There was no actual message left in the end. It was too sweet, too utopian. Too ‘cute’. Like the audience is too stupid or too weak to accept a real-world ending. They needed to man-up at the end, and the writers failed.

  • tkell31

    What a hoot. Is it worth saving? It’s basically medieval europe for christ sake. Movie was pretty terrible, and no, humanity isn’t going to go on. They’ve been circling the globe for 17 years and never saw traces of anyone, the fact a polar bear is alive doesnt change that. And two kids with no experience living in extreme conditions would be dead in a day or two tops.

  • Lumiya

    Humans die and nature returns. Pretty good ending, And if you think a 17yr old train baby who has no idea of the word and a 5 year old child will manage to survive and repopulate the world when they only have snow and ice to grow their food and shelter from, Right.

  • Lily

    I’d say that I don’t care for the ending, because everyone dies, except for the two kids. Who are left alone, so they’ll probably die of animals, starvation, dehydration, or cold pretty soon. But that’s just my personal thoughts.

  • Maybe it’s not supposed to be a happy ending.

  • TheTruth

    Yes there are, there are hundreds made every year in West Africa. Just like there are thousands of films that have been made in Asia without any white characters. You need to learn to think for yourself.

  • TheTruth

    You need to give it a rest, you are the type of person who likes to act offended on behalf of others. Grow up and don’t be so sensitive.

  • David Holland

    Except everyone died except the girl and the boy and there was no way they were going to survive. So in the name of justice all of humanity dies?

  • Chuck Behler

    It was a very appropriate ending to the situation. But more than that, the ending, heck whole movie was very daring! I haven’t seen such a movie in forever!!! It really makes u think! If we just talk bout Curtis character. He wasn’t a good man! He was a cannibal, at one point had ate babies!!! He hated what he was turned into too!!!! One of the things that fueled his drive to take control! Just to learn he wld have to do that to others! And he almost did! Then he learned bout children slaves. Since he hated that part of himself! That was just a reminder of what he did. And he cldnt go there again! And that was just one point of Movie! This movie asked a lot of questions. But to its credit didn’t give answers! Let’s us do that! I know a lot of ppl didn’t get this movie! That’s fine! This movie found its audience. To b honest, just saw it yesterday 4 first time! Never even heard of it . Caught it on a trailer b4 a movie i rented!!!! I loved it!!!! I loved even with his marvel success! He still going 4 dramatic roles like this !!!! :)

  • SaN

    I didn’t quite get the ending either. From the perspective of Curtis, he either believes that the world is uninhabitable, in which case he dooms all the humanity that there (supposedly) is, or he trusts Minsoo that the ice is melting and the climate is changing, in which case he could take over the train and stop it in the middle of somewhere where they could start again. I mean, I get these “endings that will keep you thinking”, but destroying the only thing around that isn’t completely frozen and unusable while killing most of the people aboard doesn’t make much sense to me.

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