IMDB Synopsis: Set in a future where a failed climate-change experiment  kills all life on the planet except for a lucky few who boarded the  Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class  system emerges. 

Director: Joon-ho Bong (as Bong Joon Ho) 

Writers: Joon-ho Bong (screenplay) (as Joon Ho Bong), Kelly Masterson  

Maybe nothing captures the gestalt of sustainability better than a  well-articulated combination of beauty and hopelessness. And no other  form does this combination better justice than graphic novels. And no  other form turns graphic novels into pablum, like a Block Buster. That is  why the ‘just ok’ movie Snowpiercer is a perfect movie when it comes to  sustainability. 

Snowpiercer is based on the 1982 graphic novel Le Transperceneige by  Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette. It’s 2031 and we are told that prior  to the start of the movie, climate change was a significant enough threat  to mankind that scientists created CW-7, a geo-engineered solution to  global warming. What could go wrong? More locally, we can look to  our own attempts to course correct with tiny mirrors designed to reflect  sunlight, radically increasing plankton growth to increase Co2 uptake,  or pumping emissions underground – all bad enough ideas for the United  Nations Covenant on Climate Change to release this statement in 2016: 

“Countries should resist the urge to experiment with large scale planetary  geo-engineering until it’s clear what the consequences of meddling with the  oceans or atmosphere may be.“  

But good sci-fi is better when it doesn’t listen to scientists, so the  remaining humans climb aboard a very long train run by an autocrat  named Wilford (Ed Harris). 

The train is organized into social classes. The tail of the train is the  working class, middle class gets indoctrinated into Wilford’s ideology  in the middle of the train, and the front of the train go to raves and eat  locally farmed sushi. There’s not much more to read into this other than  it is exactly like air travel today. It’s actually too easy to read with a  

Marxist eye…so i’ll fight the obvious class parallels with the exception of  where it overlaps with sustainability. For example, the impact of climate  change on the rich at the front of the train is nearly nonexistent. They  are content in their windowless (they have scenes projected on the walls  for them) world to consume any and everything as they did before CW 7. The middle class feel it, but are kept informed just enough to keep  quiet – someone else has it worse after all. That’s an important part of  sustainability – there is always some one worse off to help by shopping.  It’s the poor at the back of the train that feels the greatest effect – as we  know the dirtiest places on our planet today are also the poorest.  

If there are rich people in Flint, they don’t worry about water quality. We are shown a world that has been frozen solid in a flash of climate  change mitigation backfire. The survivors climb aboard a train that must  grow its own food and control its own population. It’s a kind of reboot  fantasy-prison (iIt contains the consequences of I told you so for an en vironmentalist), and of course it is about power. Wilford says, “we must  always strive for balance, food, water, air…population must be kept in  balance.” The new earth-train contains an entire ecosystem capable of  producing fish, some rare beef, vegetables, fruit and oxygen for just the  right number of people – no more. So Wilford orchestrates little upris ings from the back of the train to justify mass killings.  

He “stirs the pot,” as he calls it. 

There’s a great scene where the real protagonist of the story – not the  Chris Evans distraction hero – who fights his way predictably up from  the lower class – but with Kang-ho Song as he tells his daughter (a “train  baby” since she has never known the outside – aren’t we all train  babies these days?) Yona about dirt and how he used to walk on it. She’s  amazed at the feel of dirt – as any train baby would be.8 There is a  newness in the dirt to the child – a representation of the future without  the train. It’s a movie that we are told is about Revolution and how  Revolution is often manufactured and part of the system that requires  Revolution to maintain its control. It’s positively Zizekian in that way. 

But from a sustainability perspective, it connects class in a perfect  manner. The rich will continue to consume, the middle class will be  offered sustainability as a kind of pacifier, and the poor will shovel coal.  Zizek will exclaim, “wake up and smell the apocalypse” as he refers to  “touchy feely” environmentalism as a stand-in for the Chris Evans’ kind  of Revolt in Snowpiercer – it’s all part of the same system. 

From an interview with Liz Else in the New Scientist, Zizek unpacks his  thinking on this: “The fear is that this bad ecology will become a new  opiate of the people. And I’m against the ecologist’s’ anti-technology  stance, the one that says, ‘we are alienated by manipulating nature, we  should rediscover ourselves as natural beings.’ I think we should alienate  ourselves more from nature so we become aware of the utter contin gency, the fragility of our natural being….But I think the problem runs  deeper in many ways. For example, such extreme genetic engineering  will create substantially different organisms: we’ll find ourselves in a  terrain full of unknowns. These dangers are made worse by the absence  of public control, so profiteering industrialists can tinker with the build ing blocks of life without any democratic oversight.” Zizek is talking, of  course, about CW-7. 

At the end of Snowpiercer, after the staged Revolution becomes a real  (literal) train wreck, survivors climb out into the cold, breathing real air,  making real footsteps in real snow. 

And what should appear as a glimpse  of hope for the world order? A healthy polar bear. 

And the whole thing turns into a fucking Coke commercial. 


8 Spoiler: The image of the footprint is going to come back to us at the end. 

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