Last night, the first episode of Snowpiercer premiered on TNT. The show is based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette, and the 2013 film of the same name directed by Bong Joon-ho. Snowpiercer follows Andre Layton, a former homicide detective who forced his way onto the titular Snowpiercer – the 1,001 car long train that perpetually circles the globe after a catastrophic event turns the entire world into a frozen, inhospitable wasteland – and now lives in the tail end with the other “tailes”. For over seven years Layton struggles to survive, cold and sick and tired, forced to breed rats as a source of food, until one day he is confronted by the train’s security force, and is taken from the squalid back apartments to solve a murder.
Image via Gizmodo
While the show seems like it’s going to be telling the same general story of revolution as the film and graphic novel, there are a significant amount of differences that make this adaptation a unique perspective. For one, neither the film nor the graphic novel have a murder mystery subplot. Not only does the show use the murder on the Snowpiercer as a vehicle for Layton to be carried all about the train, most likely sewing seeds of discontent against Mr. Wilson and building up his rebellion, but it also adds a new layer to the tired “futuristic dystopian revolution” genre. The more important difference, however, is that, already in the first episode, neither side is portrayed as wholly good or wholly bad.
To elaborate, in the film and graphic novel, the inhabitants of the Snowpiercer (struggling to survive in the back railway cars of the train) were forced back there over time, and are used when the stories begin as slave labor. But in the show, one of the first scenes we see features mobs of people storming the Snowpiercer as it’s about to set off, and those who make it on are regulated to be back of the train.
The main difference between these two adaptations is that, in the show, the tailes were never supposed to be on the Snowpiercer. Melaine Cavil, a first-class passenger and the Voice of the Train, even informs Layton that, while the farms of fresh fruit and vegetables he’s been seeing may seem like excess, the people of the Snowpiercer are just barely getting by with the amount of food they have. Yes, she may be lying, but if we are to take her on her word, it seems like Snowpiercer only allowed a specific number of passengers because they wouldn’t have had enough resources to sustain a larger population. Maybe that’s why the tailes aren’t taken care of properly, because those who run the train don’t want to waste their very resources on people who weren’t supposed to be there in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that Layton in the opening narration explicitly states that only the world’s billionaires were able to afford a ticket, making what could’ve been a safe haven for as much of humanity as possible into an exclusive bunker where the world’s one percent are able to ride out the apocalypse in luxury. However, we learn from Roche, one of the train’s security, that those who didn’t pay for a ticket were still able to earn their way onboard by getting a job. It seems like those who run the Snowpiercer haven’t thrown the tailes overboard only out of the kindness of their hearts.
None of this is to say that I found the debut of Snowpiercer disappointing, on the contrary! We only need to look at the French Revolution to know that not all rebellions against authority necessarily lead to a better world. Snowpiercer is telling a story of class warfare with a very unique and intriguing perspective, and I am very excited for next Sunday!