Snowpiercer A ritual of repetition or rebirth

On the occasion of the release of “Snow Country Train” in 2013, the Korean publisher Barunson reprinted the original manga “Transperceneige” in three bound volumes, with a quote from director Bong Joon-ho printed on the jacket. “One day in 2005, I picked up this manga for the first time, and in that moment I realized that it would consume my life for a whole period of time. From then on, a dangerous and unusual film adventure for me had begun.” The Snow Train manga was first introduced to Korea in 2004, the only country other than French/Belgian origin that translated and published the manga at that time.

I The original manga

Transperceneige is a new word synthesized from the French words “snow” (neige) and “penetration” (transperce), which is the name of the never-ending train in the manga. 1977. Writer Jacques Robb came up with the story idea, but his collaborator Alexis died shortly after penning it. five years later cartoonist Rochette joined, and the two collaborated on the first volume of Snow Country Train (later named The Escapist), which was serialized in the famous comics magazine À suivre and later released in a single volume by the Belgian publisher Castelmann, which had long published The Adventures of Tintin. In 2005, it won an award at the Angoulême International Comics Festival. However, with the death of Rob in the 1990s, “Snow Train” gradually fell into oblivion, but in the hearts of a small group of French comic fans, it is still a cult classic, and is even regarded as the greatest science fiction masterpiece in the history of French comics.

The Snow Country Train” takes a closed train as the last Noah’s Ark for mankind to show the horrors of social class division, oppression and centralized rule giving it a George Orwellian allegorical quality. At the same time, Rochette’s minimalist black-and-white style, his expressive presentation of the characters’ expressions and his absorption of American comics and film noir styles made it a significant work in the 1980s when French-language comics were shifting in the direction of adults. Ten years later, Rochette rebooted the comic in honor of Rob, bringing in a new script collaborator, Benjamin Legrand, to create a sequel, “Survey Team” and “Crossover”. However, the sequel broke the “train never stops” – can not stop the setting, the style of painting has also changed greatly, can be said to be unsuccessful. Rochette later recalled, “For a long time, I wondered if I had made the wrong choice to make a sequel. Today, however, I know it was the right choice. Because without the sequel, Snow Train would never have been published in Korea, and Bong Joon-ho would never have been made” – let alone rediscovered by 21st century readers. Along with the film’s successive releases around the world, the manga will also be available in English for the first time in 2014 from publishers in the U.S. and the U.K.

Hell Sentence (spoilers below)

Snowpiercer is now more commonly defined as a “graphic novel,” a name that only became popular after the birth of Watchmen and Batman: The Dark Knight Rises. Graphic novels are inherently more adult-friendly, with stories that have the conflict structure of novels and deeper themes. As a political allegory in the guise of science fiction, the author trivially completes the science fiction setting of an apocalyptic disaster: the Earth’s climate changes abruptly, humanity faces extinction, and only one train can stop the bitter cold; it is driven by a magical perpetual motion machine that circulates around the Earth. Once it stops, the system will be broken and everyone will be frozen to death. As in real life, the inhabitants of the train are divided into upper, middle and lower layers like a glass of turbid water clarified down.

The story of “The Escapist” begins with a man on trial. The creators have shown that they were inspired by Orson Welles’ adaptation of Kafka’s film “The Trial”, and also referred to Godard’s black-and-white science fiction film “Alpha City”, in which a man comes to Alpha City by train and tries to destroy a super computer that symbolizes centralism. The main character, Proloff, unable to endure the famine in the last carriage, breaks the glass and tries to escape to the front carriage, where he is taken in the direction of the locomotive to be judged. In the middle of this he meets the heroine Adeline, a naive middle-class girl who sympathizes with the underclass. As he moves closer to the locomotive, the class of inhabitants gradually rises, and Proloff sees things he thought had long disappeared from the world, coffee, tobacco, botanical gardens, aquariums, libraries, and learns the terrible origins of the protein blocks distributed to the lower and middle classes as food. They encountered priests in robes in the middle-class carriages, preaching fervently for God with a sacred locomotive. Some cars are movie theaters, showing Casablanca or Star Wars 7, while in the uppermost cars nude paintings are posted everywhere and people with nothing better to do than to get high on sex and drugs. Eventually Proloff arrives at the locomotive and meets the ruler of it all, a frail old man with the look of a scientist, who tells Proloff the shocking truth, and the real reason why Proloff was taken from the end to the first car for interrogation is revealed. The comic ends a few years later, when the Snow Country train finally stops at its final destination, the deadly hell.

The second episode, “Survey Team,” tells us that the Snow Country train is not unique, that there is an identical train running on the same track, and that the people here live in fear that they will collide with the previous one that stops somewhere. The second train occasionally stops to send out survey teams to collect resources from the outside world, including museum paintings brought back to the train for the amusement of the upper class. The main character Puig is a member of the survey team. The third installment, “Crossover,” continues the characters from the second, this time the train finally meets up with the first train and learns of the terrible fate of the people there. Soon after, they receive the sound of music from far away and nowhere, as the 20th century Rolling Stones seem to sing sadly, “When the train leaves the station, its back shimmers with …… When the train …… ” (<Lyrics of Futile Love>). However, when the survey team came to the place where the signal was sent, they found no survivors there, only a cold phonograph spinning in vain. The Snow Country Train, still the last refuge of human destiny. Like a merry-go-round, it is as futile and uncontainable as hell. Yet mankind has nothing but it and nowhere to go. “Enjoy the hell you have,” the comic gives a rather desperate and poetic ending, perhaps it will remind you of the internal monologue of Sheriff Gordon sitting on the train to Gotham City in Frank Miller’s Batman: The Year of the First, “Gotham, that is, this is what I deserve now All of it, perhaps, is my sentence in hell”.

Film Adaptation

Bong Joon-ho’s film continues the setting of the manga and the story framework of the first film, while absorbing a lot of detailed material from the second two films, but it is very different from the original in terms of plot, characters and ending. From the final result, Bong Joon-ho’s film is a complete presentation of the author-director’s personal worldview, even though the tragic poetry of the original manga has been lost to some extent.

A film must be based on empathy for the motivations and emotions of the characters in the story if it is to gain an audience. Although the original manga is widely respected, it has a significant shortcoming, that is, the main characters in the three parts are thin in character, and act as the personification of centralism of the power of the face of the image. In his adaptation, Bong Joon-ho first focused on creating a character who can lead the whole film and give him a sense of hierarchy. Unlike Proloff’s individual actions in the original, Curtis’ rebellion becomes a Spartacus-style act of collective insurrection. As the leader of the underprivileged and the eventual successor of the regime to some extent, Curtis is no longer just a pawn to drive the plot, but a mirror to reflect on humanity itself. He gradually faces a stark choice, one is to affirm the rationality of this centralized society and oppressive rule in the name of survival, or is such a human being, this kind of hell is not worth saving. In the film, John Hurt as the spiritual mentor of the rioters at the bottom, and Ed Harris as the ruler Wilford, these characters have hidden motives, from a metaphorical level, they and Curtis are like two sides of the same coin, with a dichotomy of unity. If Proloff’s ultimate choice in the original was out of despair, and Curtis’ was out of a deep understanding of the nature of totalitarianism and the fate of mankind, Bong Joon-ho also deepened the cartoon’s satire of the social system and raised it to the level of philosophical introspection.

Bong is a master of arranging material, designing metaphors and puns, and the film is full of various symmetries and contrasts. The film opens in a space of black night skies and white snowfields, with a train whizzing by, its body (originally 1001 cars) continuing beyond the frame, quickly broken by the chaotic third-world scene in the car at the end, a shot taken directly from the first section of the manga. The most impressive character in the film comes from Tilda Swinton, who gives a highly exaggerated performance as the embodiment of the insanity of the minions of power in a centralized society, while the real ruler, Wilford, has the image of a realistic and calm wise man. At the same time, the movie is also not in the comics of the snow country train builder Wilford’s background to enrich, the inventor’s crazy dream of living on the train eventually became the reality of all mankind, also full of great irony.

As the train moves forward, the camera moves forward with the march of the rioters, and as the social hierarchy rises, the colors on the screen also transition from gray to splashes of warm green, blue and yellow, red, forming a series of symmetrical movements. The repetitive movement of the train week after week echoes the inevitable trend of history from centralization to riot to centralization. If in the original manga, the snow country train is like the animal farm in 1984 (the reply below points out that it is wrong here.) ), then in Bong Joon-ho’s film, it likewise resembles the dark railroad tunnel linking history and the future located at the end of “Memories of Murder,” and the riot that keeps rolling toward the front section of the carriage is a ritual of repetition or rebirth. Unlike the manga, this ‘circle’ is broken at the end of the film, through the intervention of two Korean father-daughter characters, Song Kang-ho and Gao Xing. The film finds hope for the continuation of human society in the remaining innocence of children. Through them, the film adds a third party point of emphasis to the symmetry, cycle and repetition, thus starting a revolution and rebirth.

From Despair to Hope

Bong Joon-ho’s most creative adaptation of Snow Country Train is the introduction of the concept of “train baby”. The motivation of Octavia Spencer’s Tanya’s search for her son, who was taken away, gradually becomes the reason for the underclass rioters to keep moving forward, injecting a crucial emotional element into the plot. The final presentation of the fate of the vanished child is reminiscent of Chaplin’s Modern Times and is the most moving aspect of the film. Bong Joon-ho also transforms the original priest into a school teacher played by Alison Pill, who leads the children to sing Wilford’s praises like the Nazi singing Führer. Bong Joon-ho’s treatment avoids religious sensitivity on the one hand, and more importantly, satirizes the brainwashing of children, the last hope of mankind, by the power class, and the protection of children – the only remaining innocence – becomes the most important point of the film.

Snowpiercer is boldly based on the theory of perpetual motion, a theory that has been considered ridiculous for centuries, which makes it fallacious by any standard of the science fiction genre. Bong Joon-ho is not making a science fiction film. The original text vaguely hinted at nuclear weapons as the cause of the sudden climate change disaster. In Bong’s adaptation, the reason becomes even more silly and ironic: humans release a refrigerant into the air in order to control the warming, and it ends up freezing the entire planet. This is just like the final DNA test report in “Memories of Murder” and the U.S. Army’s scientific experiments in “Han River Monster”, reflecting Bong Joon-ho’s own distrust of science, human wisdom and stupidity, progress and destruction are also like two sides of the same coin, only one step away from each other.

In the original, no date was given for the human race to enter the ice age, while Bong Joon-ho gave a clear number of 17 years, which is to pave the way for the past experience of the main character Curtis, but also let some viewers sensitive to numbers gave the film a “creative” interpretation, that the number 17 implies the human race towards adulthood The main character Curtis’ journey is just like a teenager entering society, facing the crisis of being assimilated into the adult world. Even Bong Joon-ho himself was speechless when he heard such an explanation. But let’s look at it from a different and inclusive perspective, can’t the repetition and rebirth in the movie be described as a “human” coming-of-age ritual?

The absence of sex

The original manga had a lot of sexual content that exuded a liberal European attitude, which disappeared in Bong Joon-ho’s film. A reporter once asked Bong about the complete lack of gender chemistry in the film, and he laughed and explained that this was perhaps due to the strict tutelage as a child, so we had to tolerate the director’s “subtle” personality. Also, the dark humor in the original manga is difficult to transplant into a Korean director’s English film, and even the humor that Bong Joon-ho himself is known for in his previous works is largely depleted.


The cover poster of the first part of the original film “The Escapist” is posted on the wall of the car on the ground floor of the film, which is a special tribute by director Bong Joon-ho. The two original authors, Rochette and Legrand, who also formed a close friendship with Bong, visited the Prague set and made guest appearances as two of the rioters. In addition, the film also features an underclass painter who paints portraits of others, and all of his work comes from Rochette himself. Commenting on Bong Joon-ho’s adaptation of the film, Rochette said that Bong had a deep understanding of the differences between the two art forms, comics and film, and had chosen the best route.

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