ByMichelle Wu, writer at
Trynna write.
Michelle Wu

Spoilers alert!

While I was rummaging through films, I stumbled upon Snowpiercer and decided to watch it again. Even from the first time, I knew the film is proposing a concept more in depth than the usual struggle against totalitarianism. The constant references to the necessity of everyone remaining in their ‘preordained position’ greatly hints on The Great Chain of Being.

What is the Great Chain of Being?

Also know as ‘Ladder of Life’ and ‘Scala Naturae’, the Great Chain of Being portrays a hierarchy system in which ‘every created thing has its duly appointed place’. According to this concept, God remains at the highest in the chain, followed by angels, men, animals and the list ends with minerals as the final component in the Chain. Each living thing within a category positions itself once again according to gradation. As an example, in the category of men, kings undoubtedly seat above knights, and knights above peasants. Every subcategory in this delicately arranged Chain adheres to its responsibility; any attempt to disrupt the order is deemed ‘unnatural’ and is considered a ‘sin’.

Snowpiercer’s train structures similarly to the aforementioned Chain; ‘Wilfred the Merciful’ carries the ubiquitous symbol of God and is constantly at the front. Props such as the speakers, and the television in the learning section are fixed high up above to illustrate his majestic state in the train (or chain). Curtis and the other rebels are the commoners; they serve as human supplication in the last coach. The order of the Chain starkly echoes Mason’s line after the incident where Andrew threw a shoe at Claude:

‘Eternal order is prescribed by the sacred engine’

The revolt of these ‘freeloaders’ would be considered sinful based on the theory of the Chain. Even though their rebellious attempt to usurp the front triggers the train to lose its balance on the tracks occasionally, the rebels are shed in a positive light; they are the protagonist while the rest are persistently under Wilfred’s command.

The train losing its balance on the track
The train losing its balance on the track

But wait!

My analysis of the film was somewhat shallow when I bumped into a brilliantly written review of Snowpiecer ( and my mind has once again entangled itself in a cobweb of thoughts on Plato’s Cave and how it’s presented in the film.

Explanation on Plato’s Cave

Imagine for a moment that there are a few people in a cave, where they are chained to face the wall of the cave since birth. All they can see are merely the shadows formed from their backs; their perceptions of reality are based on these shadows. They compete among themselves to predict the movements of the shadows to determine who is more worthy of drawing conclusions. The cave symbolises the world in which reality is blurred. Supposed that one day a prisoner escapes and steps into the world outside, only to discover that his ridiculous days are over, would he go back into the cave? No, of course not. When the escapee made his newfound discoveries, he would be ‘unwilling to descend to human affairs because he has gained understanding, intelligence and ‘the good’ that typifies the outside world. However, if one from the outside is captured into the cave, during the time that he adjusts himself to the situation, the dwellers in the cave would consider him to be ridiculous since he has yet to possess their way of thinking.

Doesn’t that ring a bell?

In the film, everyone except those in the last coach, are akin to those in the cave; they seem to be under a delusion and accepts where they are stationed. One excellent example is from the man who is responsible for the production of the protein blocks in one of the coaches. He is not bothered by his surroundings but follows on with his menial task, under the assumption that ‘[his] place is here’ in the protein block production coach.

Namgoong Minsu repudiates from their reality and seeks for the sun outside the cave by proposing the possibility that life can permeate the world gradually once again. His indifferent treatment towards the conflict reflects his unwillingness ‘to descend to human affairs’. In the end, his daughter is granted with the truth by the sight of a polar bear on the presumedly lifeless land.


But what about the people at the last coach, especially Curtis? They seemed to be like odd ducks; they conform to both ideals yet stray away from them at the same time. Although they attempt to emancipate from strict system of the Chain, they are not under Wilfred’s delusion. Although they are rebels, they are not as ingenious as Minsu. It brings them to the cyclical existential question, “What then?” A sarcastic overtone pervades their relentless efforts to overthrow the oppressive system, leading the audience to understand the absurdity of the violent conflict between them. However, are they considered as mindless people sacrificing their lives, who conforms to their social responsibility as rebels? When Curtis sacrifices his hand for Tim, does it mean that he has liberated from Wilfred’s delusion and receives a similar understanding as Namgoong?

Further contemplations

This film reminded me of a poem by Thomas Hardy, the title of which is ‘Convergence of the Twain’. The poem proposes the fallibility of human nature in which all creations of mankind will be in vain, destroyed eventually by nature. This film implies a similar thought, and also possibly questioning the purpose of Curtis’ exertion to meet Wilfred. Within the train, everything is manmade; the hierarchy system, the conflict between classes, the constant notion of religion are altogether destroyed in the end, with nature prevailing over mankind’s creation.

Could you follow my train of thoughts? Do share yours as well by leaving a comment below!


Fancher, Lynn. Aristotle. College DuPage, 2004. Web. Sept 2015.

Duthie, I. George. Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Great Britain: Routledge, 2015.

Plato. ‘Part VII: The Philosopher Ruler’, in The Republic. Print. Sept 2015. Penguin Classics.


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