I Hated Snowpiercer: An Unpopular Opinion


I finally watched Snowpiercer a few of weeks ago in the comfort of my living room after failing to gather a company into the movie theatres or live in another country where the film had already been released in 2013. I made popcorn. I piled up all blankets and pillows within arm’s reach to amplify my mind’s zone and also to make the couch extra cozy. I had watched the trailer several times, read excellent, spoiler-free reviews, and had been waiting for this moment all summer.

We began as four (my mother, my sister, my father, and I), then three, then two, then… one and a half? Only my dad and I survived through the end, and then with only part of our once-livid interest still intact.

We decided immediately that the film was a terrible, terrible letdown. I didn’t understand—this movie was supposed to be the film to watch. The director had been lauded as a visionary, the performances as inspired, the story a beautifully-woven allegory for the ages. But I hated it. We hated it. Everyone hated it. I took to the Internet for solace, to try and see if perhaps I missed something, if perhaps some crucial metaphor had gone over our heads unnoticed. According to all the positive reviews I read, though, none had. I seemed to understand the same symbolism and metaphorical figurations these reviewers celebrated as masterpiece filmmaking, only I saw them as remarkably incomplete, utter failures of storytelling.

I even went to read some negative reviews to see if anyone else shared my particular perspective or brought anything new to the table besides the countless happy audience members giving standing ovations left and right.

But then I encountered another problem, and that was that not one of the negative reviews I read mentioned any of the issues I spotted, and in fact, they usually lingered on separate issues that I never had a problem with at all, like the suspension of disbelief required to digest some of the technology discussed on screen. Only one so-so review from a blog dedicated to reviewing screenplays—which I have studied on several occasions in college thus far—seemed to share any of my concerns. So what is a film lover to do?

Since I obviously share an opinion overwhelmed by an opposing majority, I have a feeling that much of the remainder of this post will be for my benefit and your curiosity alone. But I just couldn’t help myself. At long last, I present:

A Step-By-Step Guide On What to Do When You Dislike Something Everyone Else Loves: the Snowpiercer Edition.

(But watch out. There be spoilers…)

 Step 1: Always bear an open mind.

Haha... "bear."
Haha… “bear.”

If you think the film you’re about to watch will be a cool, meta, action-packed dystopian mind-thrower, don’t be upset when it isn’t. This is just what advertisers want you to believe, and they’re allowed to be deceptive to a certain point. You may watch said film and think to yourself that this is no action-adventure at all, nor does it provide any sort of original commentary on modern-day predicaments of politics and human nature. An honest advertiser would have told you that the film is, in fact, more akin to a surrealist piece of art, where the components may or may not combine into something that makes any sort of sense. Your blank stare as the lights rise is normal, and many critics would tell you that this is merely a sign of your enlightenment, or the turning of brain around tiny fractions of subplot that must be important someway, somehow. Do not be alarmed when you are not, and they are not. Again, this is what they want you to believe. Before this realization hits you, just sit back, relax, and at least enjoy Song Kang-ho being undeniably cool without really having to do anything.

Step 2: Remember that all logical inconsistencies are just a sign of your mental weakness.


Perhaps at a certain point in the film, shortly after the arrival of the finger-licking child-whisker who may hint at cannibalism, or just corruption, or may just be freaky for no reason, you may begin to wonder if all the events thus far witnessed have been hallucinations, or maybe a dream cycling inside the head of our main man, Curtis. After all, why would scriptwriters go through the trouble of constantly addressing drug use aboard the train, and all the numbing, mind-altering side affects of its ingestion? Why should anyone trust a word out of gate master-slash-addict Namgoong’s mouth, and why, if he’s introduced as a gate master, does he fail so miserably at his job? These are valid questions if you don’t understand the immense symbolism and indigestible allegory and have not trained your brain to compete with upper echelon critics who will tell you exactly why you are so crude and uncultured.

When Namgoong’s daughter Yona is introduced as a clairvoyant, don’t pay attention. She does not actually use these powers anywhere else in the film. And if you happen to notice a strange editing cut between that reveal and the sudden arrival of the guards, when she and Curtis seem to change position and location in an instant, only to catapult into an immediate, dream-like fight, don’t even mention it to anyone. No one cares, and no one else noticed.

No other critic will even question the strange coincidences in which Curtis happens to find crucial notes in just the right protein bar, or just the right egg. These, again, may appear to be clues hinting that the train and the events within the train do not operate under logic, and are perhaps images of a dream state, or an underworld where things don’t make sense and everything results in pain. You may have even started counting cars to see if they might mimic the famous rings of hell. But no, you’re thinking too hard. Critics will take all these events literally, even though you understand—and they still claim, somehow—that the film itself shouldn’t be taken literally, that all movement and progress of the speeding train is just an illusion of a failed, stagnant system. But some people, like you, who think this film is unsuccessful in pulling off the metaphor, just don’t know what they’re talking about.

Don’t even worry about all those deathblows that don’t actually kill anyone, not even when that one guy’s been stabbed through multiple vital organs. Don’t bother your little head over Curtis planning for a mad dash toward the Engine and then taking his sweet time, lingering for monologues, school lessons, sushi breaks, and shootouts that defy physics and seem to cause him to forget that the route to the Engine is a one-way street, and the bad guy is already cars behind.

Besides, Curtis is right about one thing—eating babies is gross and disturbing, even though the line delivery makes something about it seem comical. You must believe what the critic says, that the secret-cockroach ingredient is far worse than baby meat, despite your baffling objections to the contrary. Many people in the world today eat bugs on a regular basis, you may think. But no, you forgot that nothing makes sense, and when Curtis gags at the sight of creepy crawlies when he already lives in a cesspool of filth and grime and has been nourished on the flesh of children, you should understand the deep, deep, unfathomable complexity of that carefully crafted metaphor that only masters of film analysis view as a reasonable reaction.

Step 3: Don’t let your imagination get the better of you.

Me this whole movie.
Me this whole movie.

Few people at the mercy of the critics will admit, in this case, that the film in question could probably benefit from a lot more mystery. In fact, you may have been filled with optimistic wonder at the start of the film. Perhaps you wondered if the enigmatic Wilford is a physical entity or an elaborate rouse in what seems to be the hallucinogenic tones of the film—but no, you’re wrong again. Wilford is, in fact, just a man. Many reviews will have told you that this counts as a “big twist,” and that they can’t—just can’t—tell you the actor’s name or it would spoil absolutely everything. Disregard your aching disappointment when the final act neither surprises nor intrigues. Remember, the film told you from the start exactly how everything would happen, so just relax as the clichés unfold before you.

Don’t even risk celebrating the novel quality of the train’s gunmen’s supposed and secret lack of actual bullets. Not even when Curtis’ bold attempt to prove it turns out to be wicked awesome. This would normally count as a cool plot twist, but since this movie only wants you to think it’s innovative, it will actually reintroduce bullets shortly and reduce into a series of gory shootouts and hatchet fights. Then your favorite character, the only one—how did no one else pick up on this?—that acts like a rational human being, dies. Maybe it’s symbolism, but since no one else on the Internet thinks everyone else in the film is acting like a mental patient, well then, maybe not. Also, you were supposed to believe that he was seventeen years old the whole time. Didn’t you know that?

In this tired state, you might also find your eyes drifting over the set design more often. Usually, it delivers. But when you finally encounter the Engine room, you must be sure to only note what everyone else notices: namely the creepiness of Wilford, the pristine conditions of the tiny room, the reveal involving Gilliam that literally makes no sense and doesn’t actually make any difference whatsoever but which everyone will love, anyway. Don’t mind that the image of the Engine—to your eyes, at least—appears totally artificial, as if drawn on a piece of paper…as if it doesn’t actually exist. Whether this is a purposeful design no one can tell—not a word of this problem exists in any review, so your concern is mostly invalid.

Step 4: Always let your politics rule your interpretations.


If several people claim that Tilda Swinton’s character is supposed to echo Margaret Thatcher, you had better believe it, even when the two have almost nothing at all in common. Remember key words like “capitalism,” “socialism,” “conservatism,” and “liberalism,” and then only use them in negative sentences and with deep disdain. This is the best way to fit in.

Step 5: Try to linger on the good things.


When all else fails, and you realize that maybe this movie just isn’t for you, despite all your hype, despite understanding that the film is a science fiction allegory and then failing to appreciate its effect and all that—just remember the good things. Tilda Swinton gives an amazing performance as Mason. Luke Pasqualino makes a pretty suave ninja dude. Jamie Bell is pretty likeable. Chris Evans’ beard is life. You know, those types of things. Be calm.

Well, now, that all feels pretty cathartic. Believe it or not, I actually have more to say on the subject of Snowpiercer and why I think it didn’t quite make the cut, but I have a feeling I’ve said plenty for now. I haven’t actually met anyone in real life who liked this film, so I’m more than curious to hear other opinions that might give me a new perspective on it. Especially since I’ve expressed some opinion here in haphazard and rather emotional fashion, to say the least.

Anyway. If you have made it to the end of this ridiculous edition of Prologue to a Blog, I thank you for your time. I hope to be much more consistent with my use of it—my time and the blog—in the future.



14 thoughts on “I Hated Snowpiercer: An Unpopular Opinion

  1. So, I’m curious– I too have written a negative review of SNOWPIERCER, although mine is much more an intemperate, profane rant and not the calm dissection that this one is:


    and it has recently become by FAR my most popular post. And it’s still getting tons of traffic, day in and day out. I’m envisioning legions of disaffected SNOWPIERCER haters out there who are searching the internet for comfort and validation, and they’re finding my blog.

    Are you seeing that this post is getting traffic out of proportion to the rest of your site too?

    1. I’ve been seeing a resurgence in ‘Snowpiercer’ commentaries in general, I think because it’s recently been added to Netflix’s instant library and a lot of people are watching it for the first time. I feel like I should give it a second go through new eyes, but I, too, thought that a lot of things in the film (especially at the end) just didn’t do what the director and a lot of critics said they did. But yes, I’ve had a little bit more traffic than usual to this post today, probably thanks to your link. I’m always glad to see someone sharing my posts and adding to the conversation!

    2. I am one of the legions who have scoured the internet in search of both that comfort and validation that most everyone who is reviewing this film seems bent on denying me. I hated this film as much as I have ever hated any film, and then to see almost NO negative reviews just made me feel like I was losing my fucking mind! Thank you for restoring some of my sanity.

  2. I can’t get over how popular Snowpiercer is. I’ve come to the conclusion that it might have something to do with the fact that most films aren’t about anything and don’t contain any ideas.
    They are just spectacle or merely go through the motions required of a particular genre. Something that appears to contain ideas like Snowpiercer or has the appearance of cleverness and complexity like Inception excites regions in the brains of a large section of movie goers, just so long as it remains dismally conventional in terms of filmmaking, otherwise it might alienate and confuse. Like a sugar coated train ticket given to someone who hasn’t tasted anything sweet in 17 years, they think it’s a Belgian chocolate.
    But appearing to be dealing with ideas isn’t the same as actually presenting ideas or having anything to say. A writer stating his characters all talk in poetic prose isn’t the same as actually writing poetic prose for them to speak.
    Snowpiercer is about nothing. It appears to be about a lot of things though. But it simply has nothing to say about class division, religion, totalitarianism, personality cults, decadence, morality or even humanity. I think the reason it fails to be about those things is that the director himself has a weak understanding of them. I came to that conclusion through watching his film Snowpeircer, a film about nothing.
    A side note, I found it peculiar that the English actor Jamie Bell was playing an Irishman, even though he was the only Irish person on the train and had been brought up by John Hurt and Chris Evans since infancy. Maybe he just wanted to show off his accent?

    1. I agree with your poetic prose analogy. While I don’t think the film was necessarily “about nothing,” I was definitely under the impression–before I watched the film–that it would bring something new to the table in terms of all those things you mentioned: class, religion, decadence, morality, etc. Instead, I was weirdly underwhelmed the whole time. As I said, I think the movie did do certain things, but just not the things many critics said it did. But hey, maybe I was just too excited to search for things in this film I was never supposed to find.

  3. Thank you for that review. Snowpiercer is the second movie I’ve seen in two years that I am absolutely dumfounded that I, alone, dislike it (the other being “In a World…”) I simply couldn’t stomach allegory for the sake of allegory: rear-to-front is poor-to-rich; the train doesn’t work in the real world so (as you pointed out) it must be an illusion of forward motion; the winners write history as do the forward passengers in the train; etc etc. What do I not see? Please, other critics, give me the drug that lets me see the wonder that is Snowpiercer. (And while I didn’t slam it per se, I totally didn’t get it in a mini-review on my own blog, http://jayceland.com/blog/archive/2014/07/30/another-ten-more-movies-june-2014-to-july-2014/ ).

    1. Loved your blog! Like you, I was completely UN-surprised by the film, which is why I was so confused about the majority of critics apparently stunned by its “twists.”

  4. Just randomly found this movie on Netflix. Needless to say it was terrible. I was just shocked that I seemed to be in the minority with that opinion. Glad to see another reasonable human being. Just thought I was in the twilight zone.

  5. This is an anti-capitalist, anti-oppression social justice movie. Given that some critics may share the politics of the writer it might have been sent to the head of the class on that basis alone.

    The film makes a big deal about the lead actor being the first to traverse the full length of the train because anti-capitalists often criticize meritocracy. They don’t believe it really exists as advertised so naturally the film suggests that advancing all of the way through the class system is incredibly rare. It’s probably a dig that the one who did it was a white male as well.

    Basically a band of social justice warriors decide that it’s better to freeze to death than be involved in a capitalist society. Humanity ends but at least they killed all of the white people first.

  6. Thank you for this post, it helps me thinking I’m not the only one that had (huge) issues with this movie. Well, I know I wasn’t alone in the first place because after the movie we (friends & I) all stared at each other with a look meaning “wow, was it really THAT bad, or was it just me?”, and agreed that indeed it was.
    I get the “suspension of disbelief” thing. I’m totally fine when movies are not realistic, but they should be coherent. If it’s a total sci-fi movie, fine! I accepted the climate thing and the train quite easily. Ok, it’s the story, it doesn’t need to be plausible, just go for it.
    But when the movie starts, it has this kind of “seriousness” to it, like it was really trying to tell a story about the fight of the classes, and how awful it is. Ok, cool, totally fine with that. But then it got completely ridiculous, and really not coherent (the fight … the SCHOOL. THE RAVE). And trying to be serious, while also being ridiculous and incoherent, in my book at least, is synonym of a BAD movie.
    Trying to sell it as an “anti-capitalist, anti-oppression social justice movie”, for me at least, is an insult to the intelligence of the viewers. There’s just nothing to get from it, just mountain-sized clichés. I didn’t find any clever part that got me thinking in this movie. There’s the bad guys (rich), the good guys (poor), and some of them communicate to maintain the status quo in the train. And it has to be like this to keep the train moving. Wow. That’s some deep thinking right there. And there’s people comparing this to 1984, really?
    The worst argument I’ve seen is probably “it’s a korean movie, you just don’t like these kind of movies”, come on! Are you really putting this at the same level of Old Boy for example? Ok, some things are original, some angles are cool, some shots are beautiful. But there’s not much more than that. Aesthetically, I can understand that you could like some passages of the movie. But does it make a good movie, really?

    Six months later, I’m still astounded at the scores I see in IMDB and specially Rotten Tomatoes.

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