What Snowpiercer says about revolutionary thinking
The moral case for the problem with revolutionary thinking that needs to be fixed.
The world never stops turning. Change is something that never stops. By its very definition, it can't, otherwise it wouldn't be change. If things didn't change, they would just stop. And the idea of stopping has its own fundamental problems. Snowpiercer at its core is about that fundamental concept, change. The title itself refers to a train that quite literally can't stop. It circumvents the globe in an eternal cycle of perpetual motion that sustains it. You might even call it a revolution of sorts.
So it's fitting that what happens on the train and drives the show's story forward, is the idea of constant, never ending revolution. The people on it are never entirely satisfied with how things are. They need things to change to fit their liking. Whether it's the people up train who never feel entirely safe from those down train, or whether it's those down train who want what those up train have, fuelling the fear that the people up train have for those down train. A constant tension exists which both keeps the train running and causes it to break down.
Which of course is what sparks the revolution in the first place. Layton, the main character, is all about wanting things to change. He wants to end the tension between the two halves of the train and bring about another kind of life. Hopefully what amounts to a better kind of life. And he's willing to go to pretty much any length to achieve that goal. Including marshalling those at the tail end of the train into starting a revolution and taking over the rest of it.
Just because you want something to happen, doesn't mean it will end up the way you envision. If you disrupt the current order, then you have to figure out a way to establish a new type of order. One that those who liked the old order and those that fought for the new order will both go along with. To get a little perspective on the difficulty of that, check out the recent piece on The 100's first season. It's all about establishing a new order when the old one goes away.
So in eliminating one kind of tension, you create another. You might begin a new cycle, but exactly how different is it from the old one? Will it actually end up being better than the old one? Because if it isn't, then what did the people who fought for change really achieve? What if you actually end up making it worse?
This is what makes Snowpiercer so interesting to watch.
The fundamental problem with revolutionary thinking is that it rarely if ever thinks about what comes after the revolution is over. Very few revolutionaries consider what comes next. What actually happens when you tear down the system you've been living with for so long. You know that the old order is bad, and more often than not it actually is. Change and adjustments are so often necessary when a system stops working for some people. There's nothing inherently wrong with change. It's an eternal reality of living.
A revolution however is different. It usually doesn't happen unless the system in place has so fundamentally stopped working that death is preferable to continuing to exist in the current system. That's obviously a terrible place to be. It's understandable why you would want to pull apart any system that creates so much suffering that death feels like a reasonable option. Why wouldn't you?
If you want to go ahead and do that, you have a real shot at no one actually surviving. In your desire to make the system better, you might not end up with any system at all. Or no one left to live within a system. For a system to function, there have to be people to be in it. But on the slim chance that there are survivors, they have to live within some kind of workable concept of a plan for the future. Someone has to be able to lead that new system, and usually it's the person who lead the revolution who is drafted to set up that system.
But if you're the one who is put in charge and you don't have a plan for what comes after, then people will turn on you. The revolutionaries will create a new revolution in order to deal with the failures of those they used to follow. That's what revolutionaries do. If they wouldn't, then they wouldn't be where they are in the first place.
Every revolution needs a leader though, and if the one who lead the last one has failed, they will find whoever they can to lead the next one. And that leader might not be as good as the last one. Anyone powerful enough to lead a revolution will have their own interests and their own ends. What they want might not be in the best interests of those looking for change.
Which is where someone like Wilfred comes in. He has his own ideas and designs for how the world he created should work. Most of the inhabitants of Snowpiercer were okay with the system he had set up. Going back to that type of system seems preferable to chaos and uncertainty that Layton has created in the wake of his revolution.
Except that can't be a solution either. The reason why Layton emerged in the first place is because of the system that Wilfred created. So going back to the original system will necessarily give rise to either Layton reemerging or for some new version of him to come about.
As a result, the wheels keep turning and the revolutions keep happening. The train keeps moving, 1,001 cars at a time.
Snowpiercer season 1 and season 2 is available on Netflix in its entirety.