Have you seen Snowpiercer yet? Do you plan to? You should. Our movie critic David Edelstein called it “a fun dystopian sci-fi epic,” and with its arrival on VOD today and expansion into even more theaters this weekend, it is way too easy for you to watch the Bong Joon-ho film. So get on that! The rest of us will be here discussing the movie, so come back once you’ve made us proud. [Major, major spoilers ahead!]
After the Snowpiercer train makes its final crash landing (and BOOM goes the Kronole!), what happens to humanity? Does the film end with hope (as it seems to imply), or would the odds still be impossibly stacked against our final two survivors making it on their own for very long, what with that polar bear giving them the big eye?
(In case you forgot what that polar bear looked like at the end …)
Director Bong Joon-ho talked with Vulture about this very subject a few weeks back. His take? That the ending is optimistic. (Or is a happy ending just the magic of the movies?)
They have no memory of what it’s like to be on the Earth. For them to procreate, it’s going to take a little time. So, for me, it’s a very hopeful ending … But those two kids will spread the human race … I don’t really feel everyone must die. I hope there were other survivors who lived through the avalanche, I just didn’t have the means to shoot that … You realize later on that the kids are the ones keeping this engine going, and this machinery intact. The engine is itself is on its way to extinction along with cigarettes, and other goods. Extinction is a repeated word throughout the film. But outside the train, life is actually returning. It’s nature that’s eternal, and not the train or the engine, as you see with the polar bear at the end.
Obviously, he’s the director, it’s his movie, and he’s the definitive source on what he meant by the ending. But that doesn’t mean fans haven’t gone wild speculating about the scene’s inherent ambiguity. In one Reddit discussion thread, a slew of dystopian naysayers claim that, unless there are survivors elsewhere that Bong Joon-ho decided not to show on film, Tim and Yona are dead meat. “A girl and a kid that lived in a sheltered environment their whole life and don’t know how to hunt or gather in the snow … I give them a couple of days, tops,” writes HappyZavulon. Many suspect they’d simply get eaten by the very animal being used as a symbol of hope. Suggests emareperiod: “The polar bear eats humans. One of the top 3 human eaters on the planet. Vicious human eater. They are dead. Dead, dead, dead, dead, DEAD.” Then again, CGNema counters with a more positive argument: “They are the last people, and they are the first people.”
Unlike Snowpiercer, the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, on which the film is based, doesn’t end on a positive note — although, arguably, the film strays far enough from the book in general to make comparing their endings a moot point. But for our sake: In Le Transperceneige’s two editions (recently translated into English by Titan Comics), only one really revolves around the main Snowpiercer train — which, by the way, has 1,001 cars. (The second is about a group of explorers, 17 years later.) At the end of the first part, “The Escape,” the sole survivor of the Snowpiercer train, a man who has worked his way from the back to the front named Proloff, is given the reins to the train’s engine (just like Chris Evans’s Curtis Everett) before realizing that a virus has killed everyone else on board. And unlike the all-holy engine in Snowpiercer (“The engine is eternal, yes. The engine is forever, yes.” sings Allison Pill along with classroom of students), Le Transperceneige knows that its engine has an endpoint: “The train may use a perpetual motion engine, but that doesn’t mean she’s eternal! She’ll have to stop one day,” Proloff says at the end of “The Escape,” banging on the machinery.
But whether or not you leave the theater (or turn on the lights in your own living room — thanks, VOD!) feeling pumped about the future of Man or utterly despondent about its allegorical message about humanity is ultimately up to you. Snowpiercer turns out to be like a personality quiz you might have taken on BuzzFeed: Is the glass half full (They made it! Look at that healthy polar bear! We’re saved!) or half empty (It’s so cold out! Look at that horrifying polar bear! We’re all toast!)? Which Snowpiercer ending are you?