Surviving a Science Fictional Year: Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer definitely has that political message buried in it, but how can it not? Politics is like earthbound gnosticism: the kind of hypothetical cosmic dreaming that keeps you tethered to Earth instead of worrying about the fact that some day you will die. Correction: politics doesn’t keep you tethered to Earth (because that might be more “the paganism”), but the quasi-Earth it builds inside the Earth. Politics builds the illusion of human interaction as a separate level of interaction from the business of the planet (which is already at least semi-illusory) and traps you inside the illusion. It’s Philip K. Dicks Black Iron prison, William Blake’s Outer Ulro, Grant Morrison’s Outer Church, the non-realm of Chesed, the gaping hole in the chest of creation, on the Kabbalah in Tree of Life. But at the end of the movie, the construction of politics runs literally off the rails after the main character sees it as the ultimately destructive force. No matter how much good it does for how ever many, eventually all will be eaten.

The movie obviously has no respect for the political institutions of humans. The train is visually a kind of black iron prison for its occupants, its direction and motivation entirely out of their control: everything about it from its designer, to why it’s necessary, to where they’re headed. For some, the metaphor of a prison is more literal. The poorest occupants live further in the rear, and arguably in worse circumstances, than the literal prison, which is simply a series of metallic dressers where offenders are stored like luggage. Each car contains increasingly varied and bizarre worlds, the whole thing being piloted by an engineer more than once described as divine.

It’s from the lowest possible position that Curtis (likely an inversion of Christ) leads a rebellion. The Curtis Christ is that primal Christ figure, the human who, despite his disgusting terrestrial existence, has divine spark enough to rise from the mud and into the heavenly realms.  He moves his band of insurgents from the realm below the prisons up through the aeons of the pleroma: the layers of reality, each one more extravagant and bizarre than the last. The battle in the dark train car marks the passage from the terrestrial to the celestial world; a passage through darkness being the pitch black of space.  The forces of darkness are manned by the archon Mason – the name perhaps a reference to masonry or (if you want to go down this stupid path) the masons: either architects literally or metaphorical architects of reality – who commands, literally, forces of darkness: bodies enshrined in black, eyes invisible, mindless demonic automotons whose lives begin and end with the wishes of their archon master.

The train passes through a tunnel, the tunnel forming both the scariest moment of the movie, and the moment of greatest chaos, representative of the fear of passing from the womb of an old life. The syzygy of Namgoong and Yona, the burnt out imprisoned engineer drug addict engineer and his clairvoyant daughter, are the only two with hope of surviving this encounter. Yona is literally the only one able to see through the fight. Curtis the Kristos’ army gets slaughtered. In a moment of Promethean inspiration, he calls from the back of the train for the holy fire to sway the battle in his favor. And it works.

The syzygy, for a moment, is a celestial pairing of active male and passive female. Namgoong, imprisoned for addiction to a high inducing (that causes powerful hallucinations) industrial waste product, has intimate knowledge of the train because he was its chief engineer. Namgoong, it is perceived, wants to escape the world: he is paid in this industrial drug. His daughter, whom he wants to bring along for the ride simply for freedom’s sake, Yona (a Sophia character perhaps) sees through time, passively receives what’s on the other side of doors and sees key moments of action at the precise moment of necessity. They come from the divine realms but are imprisoned in the lower realms. Namgoong’s first conscious act is to give the small boy his left over matches, which become the key to victory through the passage from kenoma to pleroma. Well, the perceived pleroma. Namgoong, more than anyone else, is also capable of noticing changes in the world outside of the train.

This is also the moment that Curtis’ Peter figure, Edgar, is killed signalling Curtis’ total separation from the world of his birth and illusion.

The darkness of the train results in the apprehension of Mason, the highest of archons, which gives them safety through the rest of the train. The visions get more and more bizarre. The Kristos meets a succession of archons, each more invested than the last, in keeping him from reaching the demiurge, the divine engineer. He becomes hunted by a satanic figure, Franco the Elder, who in facts kills everyone left in the rebellion save for Curtis and his accompanying aeon guides.

The Kristos confronts the demiurge (Wilford, the creator and inspirator of the train). Meanwhile, the aeon Namgoong reveals the real purpose of the drug, the powerful hallucinogen for which he was imprisoned, is to blow open the only exit from the train. Perhaps his real crime this whole time was attempting to escape the train. Like Prometheus, he gives the humans fire, which proves to be their key to success. Now he needs the last of the fire to free himself and perhaps others. The Kristos confronts, and almost relents to the authority of, the demiurge, resisting at the last possible moment.

Nimgoong succeeds, and his explosive hallucinogen blows the door off its hinges creating a chain reaction avalanche, which derails the train potentially killing everyone on board. Almost. Yona escapes with an enslaved child signalling both the renewal of creation with a nearly prepubescent Adam and Eve, as well as perhaps the dawning of a new and final aeon. She is perhaps the least qualified of aeons to rule, but the one most capable of radical change.

The train, thought to be the totality of the pleroma, was merely itself a kenoma, or an incomplete universe. A single Polar Bear wanders in the distance indicating that, quite possibly, this terrifying and hostile universe might not be so hostile or terrifying.

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jh montgomery

I'm a guy with opinions. Some of those are about science fiction. Like a voice shouting into a hurricane of voices, I write about science fiction for Hush Comics. I grew up watching the original Star Trek with my mom in our basement. I have shockingly few memories of it, apart from the silver and gray grid covered VHS boxes old Star Trek tapes came in, but it left it's mark forever. My first memory of being in a movie theater was Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. A group entered dressed as the crew of Star Trek, acting the part (the man dressed in Vulcan robes addressing the man with a middle-aged lesbian perm as captain). I nearly lost my mind with the excitement of sharing a theater with Leonard Nimoy. No no, my mom would tell me: that's someone dressing up. Impossible. Later, I would walk in on my parents watching the wrong movie at the wrong moment and be mortally terrified of alien abductions from the age of eight to thirteen. This fear was so strong, I couldn't watch the X-Files until it came to Netflix. As a teenager, hearing the theme song coming from another room in the house would give me anxiety. Science fiction, at its best is the pursuit, and evolution, toward transcendance: cultural, technological, spiritual. Transcendance marked me early, and forever.

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