Snowpiercer directed by Boon Jong-ho

“You need to maintain a proper balance of anxiety and fear and chaos and horror in order to keep life going. And if we don’t have that, we need to invent it.”

Fear. Created by violence and death with the intent to control. This is a pinnacle idea in the 2013 film, “Snowpiercer,” directed by Boon Jong-ho. The story of Snowpiercer is centered around the remains of humanity surviving on a frozen future version of Earth. They live in a train that circles the planet in constant motion, never stopping. If the train stops, everyone freezes to death. To maintain order on the train, there is a hierarchy put in place with the lowest class living at the back and first class living in the front. This hierarchy is kept in place with the members of the higher class using fear to oppress and control the lower class. Fear in this sense is presented as a barrier that stops people from realising their full potential. 

The first example of fear being used as a method of control is presented to us during the first section of the film in which a lower class man  attempts to rise against his first class oppressors. During a routine inspection, the first class law enforcement of the train take a child from the rear of the train to bring the front. The father of the child pushes through the crowd of lower class passengers and is brutally beaten by law enforcement. He is then subject to capital punishment when his arm is forcibly exposed to the cold temperatures outside, frozen solid and smashed into peices. 

“Now, as in the beginning, I belong to the front. You belong to the tail. When the foot seeks the place of the head, the sacred line is crossed. Know your place. Keep your place. Be a shoe.”

This quote combined with the violent punishment administered to the offending man shows the viewer how fear can be used by someone in a position of power to quell and abolish any kind of backlash or resistance from people they deem inferior. The punishment instills fear of death or injury in the lower class passengers and the message that is presented to them encourages them to stay in their place or they’ll be the one receiving said punishment. This removes the idea that these lower class passengers are able to become anything more than they are perceived to be by their ‘superiors’.

This idea of control through fear is present in the world today’s, especially in countries like China where punishments are enforced when someone steps out of line. Even something as small as accessing a blocked website or using a certain app can result in hefty fines and even prison time in a lot of cases. Punishing people for doing these certain things discourages them from wanting to do them again. They become afraid of the punishments that they may be subject to as a result meaning that fear is being used as a method of control. 

The second example of where fear is used to control the population is shown when the fear of death is removed when the people of the tail section realise there are no bullets in the guns carried by their law enforcement. When the protagonist of the film, Curtis, a member of the tail section of the train, goes to rise up against his oppressors, the main thing stopping him is the fear of death. However, he has a firm belief that there are no real bullets in the guns carried by law enforcement who would not question killing him otherwise. Upon a second routine inspection, Curtis runs up to the nearest guard and points the gun at his head, pulling the trigger. The gun does not fire and upon realising this, he calls for everyone to rush forward to overwhelm the guards. 

“No. I think the guns are literally useless. They used up all their bullets in the last revolt. Bullets are extinct.”

Through the belief Curtis has in the ‘extinction’ of bullets, Curtis’ fear of death and physical harm is removed. This instills confidence in him and allows him to carry out a plan to rise up against the guards. If this fear wasn’t removed, he would have maintained his status and place as a lower class passenger with no rights, living in poverty. This shows us that once fear is removed, that people become more confident, willing and able to take part in certain things. 

An example of this removal of fear I have experienced is when I am performing with my band on stage. The first few times I performed in front of a live audience with my band, I was nervous and the fear of failure and judgement were the only thoughts crossing my mind. Those performances were poor and, reflecting on them, I know that being afraid of judgment stopped me from engaging with my audience and singing to the best of my ability. After a couple of years of experience playing in front of audiences, that fear has been removed. Overall, I have become a more confident person on stage and am able to engage with the crowd, sing well consistently and just play better shows in general. 

The message presented to us about fear throughout, “Snowpiercer,” is that it can act as a barrier that can be used to prevent us from reaching heights we never thought possible. This idea is important in today’s world where we are frequently exposed to ideas and opinions of celebrities and influencers who tell us we should do and act in certain ways. The majority goes with these ideas and ways of living without much questioning for fear of being rejected by society. Overcoming that fear can allow us to become more independent thinkers and be capable of more than we previously knew possible.

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