Snowpiercer is, on its surface level, a fairly straight forward American science-fiction/action film. For all its technobabble and skin-deep critique of class systems, it doesn’t seem like much separates it from the likes of The Hunger Games. The future imagined here is a grim and metallic one, like many more before it. Where Snowpiercer comes into its own is in its structure. A clear forward thrust enshrouds complex motivations and drives. The film withholds information that, when revealed, recolors everything that came before it. This structure is a staple of Korean action cinema, as evidenced in Oldboy, and in this way Bong infuses Snowpiercer with a markedly non-American style. Snowpiercer is a radically different film when viewed a second time.
Much like the major reveal in Oldboy, the final section of the film re-contextualizes almost every major event before it. Even the inciting incident, Claud taking Tanya’s son, reads in a significantly different light. On a first viewing, the audience may infer that Wilford wants these boys, with specific measurements, for an unsavory (and perhaps cannibalistic) purpose. The tail section elders are implied to be victims of frost amputations like Andrew. Mason is so sure of the estimated death toll because the rebellion was purposefully incited as a culling event. Namgoong wants Kronole not just because he is an addict, but because he wants to free himself from the system.
Perhaps the most disturbing and impactful reinterpretation is Curtis’s relationship with Edgar. Curtis is sold to us as a hero. This is Captain America, for godsake! However, Curtis’s paternal relationship with Edgar comes from the guilt of cannibalization. These sins are why he doesn’t believe he could lead the tail sectioners, let alone the whole train. Gilliam, revealed to be in some regards a traitor, is further exemplified by fact he was able to stop Curtis.
Although Snowpiercer‘s plotis a clear, linear track, its story is anything but. What does revealing information in this structure do for a film? Which “version,” so to speak, did you prefer?