Like most graphic novel or book inspired films, Snowpiercer departs quite a bit from the graphic novel source material. While many themes are consistent, the two stories vary in the characters and their motivations. Both the film and the novel follow a man’s visceral journey traveling from the tail end of a train to the front. This train contains a sustainable ecosystem that happens to hold the last of the human race and endlessly circles over a post-apocalyptic, frozen-over earth. While the actual destination is the same in both stories, the ride through the graphic novel and the film are quite different. There are other differences as well, but these are the three that I wanted to highlight.
There are some spoilers ahead, so you’ve been warned!
1. A Story of Man. One Man.
The film follows the story of the hesitant and conflicted Curtis Everett as he leads the revolt of the poor, rear-train dwellers to the front of the train in an attempt for equality in the train. While this noble mission should serve as the centerpiece of story, it takes a back seat to Curtis’ internal struggle as he begrudgingly has to make some difficult choices and step up.
At the end we find out that the revolt he’s leading is a way to prime him to become a successor to Wilford, the train’s creator, engineer, and authoritative figure. While the same fate is also true for Proloff, the main character in the graphic novel, Proloff doesn’t lead a revolt but is selected and escorted to the front to meet with Alex Forrester, the graphic novel equivalent of Wilford. In Proloff’s story a social activist, Adeline Belleau, who sympathizes with Proloff and the poor, quickly becomes a love interest and is thrown into the path to the front. The graphic novel focuses less on Proloff’s internal struggle and more on a world fraught with class struggle where society is over-consuming it’s dwindling resources.
2. Religion versus Education
Wilford is depicted as the savior of man Snowpiercer’s society and this is taught to train citizens, or at least the affluent ones, in a typical classroom setting. Alison Pil plays a fanatical teacher in the classroom train car where she leads the classroom of kids in cultish jingles and the group viewing of Wilford propaganda videos, creating a world where Wilford is praised by the socially conditioned affluent class members. The graphic novel leverages religion as a way to unify society and support the belief that if they have faith in the holy engine that the train will continue to run and provide for them.
While classic education provides for some action and entertainment in the film, the notion of religion and it’s place in a dystopian world provides a unique backdrop to a bleak world with little to believe in.
3. Shit is real. Tarantino Real
The graphic novel is a grim take on a society that is already dark, sad, and generally a bit depressing. Proloff longs to be free from the low class life in a military run world filled with sin and crime, where religion is an outlet for hope, and where the class divide is so great that the poor are believed to be plagued with disease. In the film’s setting, the world is just as dark but has a twisted sense about it that makes it a bit comical while still serious in tone– kind of like how Tarantino portrayed slavery in Django Unchained. Having not seen any of Joon Bong-ho’s other work, I imagine that this may be a bit of his own stylistic twist that he brought to the film.
For more musings on the Snowpiercer film, check out the latest Nerdycool podcast where Antuan, Brian, and I talk about what we liked and disliked about the film. Snowpiercer is still out in some theaters and is available on demand through several video services.
Snowpiercer was directed by Bong Joon-ho and written by Bong and Kelly Masterson. Snowpiercer Vol. 1: The Escape is the English translated version of the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette originally published in 1982. Snowpiercer Vol. 2: The Explorers is not part of the film and is a story with different characters in the same Snowpiercer world.