Snowpiercer is presented in a conventional 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the U.S. widescreen cinema standard, and runs for 126 minutes. Although the film has a laudable focus on issues of food security, I sadly cannot recommend it. I appreciate that many hands work on a film such as this, but ultimately I hold the director, Mr. Bong, responsible for the inconsistencies that he has allowed to appear in his product.
The first obvious area of interest is the protein block, the film’s primary on-screen food source. Early in the running time, the male lead discovers that these blocks are comprised of processed insect protein. I have no quarrel with this – in the conditions of the train, entomophagy is a highly sensible choice. Insects provide all nine essential amino acids, valuable fatty acids, and are high in calcium. They also grow very efficiently – insects will produce 12 times the amount of protein from their feed when compared to, say, a cow.
I am also pleased by the jelly-like appearance of the blocks – while I deal with the more traditional mammalian gelatin in my professional life, the gelling agent has also been successfully extracted from insect sources. I truly wish, dear reader, that I could leave it there, and congratulate Mr. Bong on his choice.
Sadly, the response to the revelation of his protein source leaves a lot to be desired. Curtis, the aforementioned male lead, reacts with immediate disgust. One might well expect somewhat less squeamishness from a character who is later revealed to have sought out and consumed human infants! I grant that babies are established to taste better, in the character’s own objective impression. But I would argue that the drive provided by taste is considerably reduced when one’s only options are to eat or die. Sadly, throughout the remainder of the film the protein blocks are continually disparaged, and a valuable opportunity to educate people on a new and sustainable food source is lost.
This loss becomes more pitiable when we learn that, before the protein blocks, the tail section’s main diet was human flesh. This food was, in the end, provided via a system of voluntary limb donation. I do not approve of this system. I have previously had cause to speak of the inefficiency of this “living larder” style of cannibalism, and do not wish to repeat myself. In the film’s defence, the inevitable post amputation deaths from sepsis and shock would indeed provide a source of fresh corpses, and yet more protein for the tail section to consume.
The inciting incident for the voluntary system is revealed to be an elderly man, Gilliam, performing self-amputation with a knife. This will not stand. Perhaps Mr. Bong believes that his own arm is as soft and boneless as a well-aged steak, but I should hope he knows better about the rest of humanity! The removal of limbs requires specialised tools, and a severing of bone and sinew. Without access to these, Mr. Gilliam is at a severe disadvantage. The removal of his limb would have been an extremely long and, presumably, painful process–nothing like the inspiring moment of high drama that is implied. Yet with a suitable axe or bone saw, the problem could have been solved. I would suggest that Mr. Bong does his research next time he talks about removing limbs!
This film created the opportunity for a truly relevant and interesting discussion on the allocation of scarce resources. While it has failed in this instance, I hope that Mr. Bong’s career will provide other opportunities to explore these topics, and to rise to the level which I believe he is capable of.
Editor’s Note: This article has been corrected from its original version. The meat processing professional lacked an understanding of international naming conventions; they wish to apologize and encourage you to eat more meat.
Helen lives in the UK, where she works in science media and wastes too much time online. She has a degree in the history of science.