Snowpiercer, currently in theaters

Any chance that anybody has seen Snowpiercer?

I would love to talk through some of the choices that would go into storyforming it.

Haven’t heard of it – worth checking out I assume?

It has lots of wonderful elements, but the story unfolds in a way that I find feels a bit like “filling time” – the way a story about going from LA to NYC would have lots of filler while the characters are driving in the car. I think this is a personal peeve of mine. Leaving the theater people seemed to really like it.

The critics really like it, too. But the New Yorker review totally misses the meaning of the movie, which is why I want to nail the storyform. (Though I can skewer the review without it.)

I just saw it and loved it (my kind of movie). Very dark and visually dynamic. Cool effects too, plus several of unexpected cameos by actors I like.


The cast was great. So was the design. Overall, I think it was good except, like I said, I think it did some things that I specifically don’t like.

Here are my storyforming questions:
The Goal of the Protagonist (Chris Evans) as far as I could see was to “take the engine.”
Then he gets to the engine and he doesn’t even need to take it: it’s being handed to him.
However he rejects it because he learns and believes that the kinds of manipulation that is being perpetrated by Wilfred is necessary. So he can no longer “take the engine” without becoming the person he hates: Wilfred. He rejects this, decides to blow open the door (following the security specialist, who I’m calling the Contagonist in my head).

I was annoyed at first that the writers were taking an easy way out: neither side of the main argument was “right” so they just destroy everything. Then I remembered what you said about Sunset Boulevard, and how it leads to insanity. This struck me as the same: the protagonist gets what he wants, realizes that what he has to offer as the new leader will not work, but still refuses to do the thing that will work: both options are bad. So: insanity, this time in the form of destruction.

Is this a Success/Bad? Failure/Good? I can’t sort it out. Or does it “break” the model?

@chuntley: Not sure if you’re busy or weren’t alerted to the above post. Growing pains with the new set-up.


This is what comes from thrillers and mysteries – one can scratch ones head trying to figure out what is REALLY going on.


So, if we un-weave and decode the storytelling to recover the plot, a number of events become clear:

  • Curtis (Chris Evans) is not the player but the one being played by the antagonist, Willford (Ed Harris)
  • Curtis appears to be the protagonist with a goal of changing the status quo.
  • The OS appears to be a Situation – everyone is stuck on a train going around in circles through a frozen environment and within the train everyone is defined by the part of the train they are in – an end-of-the-world class system
  • Curtis is also the MC and is most likely in the Activity domain and a
  • It is clearly an optionlock – there are only so many cars in the train, though it is treated more like a road picture (back to front) than a specific number of cars.
  • I think the Story Goal is to try and return to the world as it was – The Past – with its freedoms and humanity. Curtis’ efforts to reach – and finally get to – the front of the train is what brings the story to a crisis point. (That’s why the movie wasn’t over once he reached the front of the train).
  • My guess is that Curtis is also Female Mental Sex (holistic problem-solving). This is evident in a number of ‘strange’ decisions he makes – such as sacrificing Edgar (Jamie Bell) to continue on. It also may reflect the Korean origins of the film, I suspect.
  • I think Willford – and Gilliam (John Hurt) working with Willford –
    is the Influence Character. He’s the one goading Curtis on, as well
    as forcing Curtis to determine where his personal priorities lie,
    i.e. what is Curtis willing to sacrifice to find out what is really
    going on (MC Concern: Understanding). This is a great counter to the IC’s Concern of Conceptualizing (Developing a Plan) in the Psychology (Manipulation) domain.
  • The relationship throughline is then a clash of ideologies, which Mason (Tilda Swinton) voices as Willford’s mouthpiece, and then in the direct confrontation with Willford in the train’s engine room.
  • With a story goal of trying to rebalance the situation within the train to a fairer equilibrium (as things were supposedly in the past - before the calamity), it clearly seems to be an Outcome of Failure – no matter whose side you’re looking at it from.
  • This is consistent with a Consequence of Memories, as evidenced by Curtis’ recounting of his early years on the train and his memories of Gillford and Edgar at the end of the film.
  • I suspect it is also supposed to be Judgment Bad (Curtis certainly is not in a good place, nor is most anyone in the story). But there is the Dividend of Understanding, which I think is illustrated by Yona’s escape from the train with the boy with the understanding that the killing freeze is over, the world is warming, and that life has survived outside through the disaster (as evidenced by the polar bear).

How does that parse for you, Mike?

This seems pretty good, but I have some remaining questions. Admittedly, most of what I have seems flimsy, which is why I came here to ask some questions.

  • I like how this explains why reaching the front of the train, and a host of other things.

  • I was reluctant to take the gimme of OS Situation because the real issue seemed to be

  • people are suffering because of the class divide; or,

  • people are dying because of the attempt to revolt

  • The train, per se, wasn’t necessarily the OS because – had Curtis gotten his way – they’d still be on the train at the end.

  • I have trouble with The Past and Understanding because I didn’t really see that they were trying to get back to the way things were, nor can I really see that Curtis was motivated to understand anything. He seemed very motivated to get to the front come hell or high water, and it’s not then until I felt understanding kick in.

  • I saw Curtis as a be-er, who had to come to terms that he was worthy of being a leader (Issue: closure, getting over his past failure)

  • I ended up with an OS Activity, Problem of Control and a solution of Freedom/Unconrolled.

  • This leaves an Issue of Self-interest (which seems obvious) vs. Morality (“The class divide is the only way we all survive.”)

  • Willford and Gilliam are Situation/The Future (They are old and going to die) and an RS of Manipulation – converting Curtis to their side.

  • My idea leads to some difficulty in the details. An MC Critical Flaw of Responsibilty?

I am still struggling with what I see as the most interesting part of the story: that Curtis “wins” but sees that what he has to provide is going to be worse for everybody involved. (Talk about a concern of Understanding! – your storyform). This leaves him with no good choice, so he destroys everything and provides us with some nice Adam & Eve imagery, which includes the bonus statement of “No white people” (because they got us here in the first place).

I should add this: @chuntley.

Also, equity as a solution over uncontrolled is a lot better

My own understanding is sinking in: The overall story has to do with the Inequity on the Train (Situation) created by when people were locked into their class when they bought their tickets (The Past). The IC(s) are Conceptualizing their own particular solution (reducing the herd) by manipulating Curtis.

OS Issue, I’m seeing

  • Interdiction (trying to change the way things were divided when the tickets were purchased)
  • vs. Prediction (Willford sees how things are going to play out as too many people are born)

OS symptom: Desire: people either want more (back of train) or have everything they want (front).
OS response: Ability: Going for the revolt.
But the solution is: Equity…

It’s interesting that you brought up letting Edgar get killed as an example of Holistic thinking. I saw this linearly: If I go back to save him, then the revolt is over. Plus, the ‘everyone in their place’ talk from Mason (and then Willford) felt very much to be about balance.

Curtis has to Understand the red notes and interpret them…

I think my own bias is showing: as an American, I believe there is a solution for everything, which isn’t necessarily so.

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Here’s a different read on the OS Concern of the Past (or Story Goal of the Past): The world within the Snowpiercer train is stuck in (and defined by) the past (Situation) and the goal is to break out of that past.

Curtis reaches the front of the train and gains a new understanding of the defining events in his life on the train, but also understands why the IC(s) did what they did, and with that understanding comes a realization that the world (on the train) has continued its dysfunction in order to maintain the status quo (OS & MC Problems of Inertia). The only solution is radical change, which is why he gives Yona the matches (MC Solution of Change, MC Resolve of Change).

Even though Curtis adopts Change as the MC solution, he is unable to implement Change in the OS except through destruction of the train, which doesn’t so much resolve the inequity as destroy the entire system. “Changing” the situation on the train seemed to be beyond possibility.

Long story short @MWolleager: I think that’s what you were/are feeling at the end after the big reveal by Willford to Curtis near the end of the film.

Finally saw it last night and loved it!

I thought for sure that Chaos would be the OS Symptom and Order would be the Response while watching, but after reading everything here, it does make more sense that the Influence Character would be driven by Order. It’s actually quite a brilliant interpretation of a storyform.

The only thing I might question is the Story Judgment of Bad. I didn’t get a feeling of Tragedy from this at all. I think if you take it as the Author’s Judgment of the Main Character’s Resolve, I think the message is Good, right? That it was a Good thing that he changed. I mean, he knows he’s going to die but I felt the Author’s Intent was to show that the MC’s decision to break free of his inertia was, on a personal level, cathartic.

I’ve reexamined my assessment of the MC Judgment as Bad by looking at the effect it had on the MC throughline signpost order.

When I change the MC Judgment to Good, it sets MC Signpost 4 to Learning, which doesn’t jive with what I remember. But when the MC Judgment is Bad, the MC Signpost 4 is Understanding, which is exactly the way I saw the last act for the MC.

So, I still prefer MC Judgment Bad.

Interestingly, Understanding is also the Story Dividends, which is where I think the positive sense of the ending is, even though the Consequences of Memories (the re-contextualizing of the protagonist’s best memories into phases of his manipulation by the antagonist(s)) clearly win out over the Story Goal of the Past (Rescuing or Reviving Humanity’s Past as identified in the microcosm of the Snowpiercer train and its inhabitants) indicating the Story Outcome Failure.

Here are the story engine settings I have for the storyform I put together (but have not fully vetted):


IC RESOLVE: Steadfast

DRIVER: Action
LIMIT: Optionlock
OUTCOME: Failure

(Stuck on a train with an intolerable class system)
DOMAIN: Situation
ISSUE: Prediction vs. Interdiction
PROBLEM: Inertia
SYMPTOM: Actuality
RESPONSE: Perception
BENCHMARK: The Present
SIGNPOST 1: The Present
SIGNPOST 2: How Things are Changing
SIGNPOST 3: The Future
SIGNPOST 4: The Past

DOMAIN: Manipulation
CONCERN: Developing a Plan
ISSUE: Sense of Self vs. State of Being
SYMPTOM: Actuality
RESPONSE: Perception
BENCHMARK: Conceiving an Idea
SIGNPOST 1: Developing a Plan
SIGNPOST 2: Playing a Role
SIGNPOST 3: Changing One’s Nature
SIGNPOST 4: Conceiving an Idea

DOMAIN: Activity
CONCERN: Understanding
ISSUE: Conditioning vs. Instinct
PROBLEM: Inertia
SYMPTOM: Projection
RESPONSE: Speculation
UNIQUE ABILITY: Conditioning
CRITICAL FLAW: State of Being
BENCHMARK: Gathering Information
SIGNPOST 2: Obtaining
SIGNPOST 3: Gathering Information
SIGNPOST 4: Understanding

(Overlords/Unknowing Protoge)
DOMAIN: Fixed Attitude
CONCERN: Memories
ISSUE: Evidence vs. Suspicion
PROBLEM: Inertia
CATALYST: Falsehood
BENCHMARK: Contemplation
SIGNPOST 1: Memories
SIGNPOST 2: Impulsive Responses
SIGNPOST 3: Innermost Desires
SIGNPOST 4: Contemplation


GOAL: The Past
COST: Developing a Plan
DIVIDEND: Understanding

PREREQUISITE: Contemplation
PRECONDITION: Conceiving an Idea
FOREWARNINGS: Gathering Information

I’m sold! The Signpost thing pretty much nails it and the Dividends–which I usually never pay attention to–make sense in this context.

I moved a post to a new topic: Showing Character Choices in Snowpiercer

This is now playing on Netflix. Watched it last night - don’t have anything to add!

So then I’ll ask… am I the only one who felt frustrated by the end of the movie? Like it was… how did I put it earlier… the Protagonist just freaks out and then does what the Contagonist wanted all along, even though it was a terrible idea?

There’s definitely a lot of machiavellianism going on, but yeah - I can see where it’s a bit frustrating because it’s somewhat nihilistic: we’ve invested a lot into this character’s journey only to have him make the choice he does, yet even approach gets muddied by what the polar bear implies. Had he made the decision with at least some inkling of the possibility of life sustaining outside the train, I think his actions would have had more meaning (at least with regards to sacrifice).

It’s a terrible idea because it suggests the only way to break the cycle of despair via a society’s political and social institutions being so bad that they should be destroyed. That’s nihilism and nihilism ultimately equates to meaninglessness - but here he’s not just destroying the political and social institutions, he’s ultimately destroying humanity (surely he’s aware of the consequences, which he must think to be worse if he doesn’t take the action he does.)

I finally saw it today.I am probably repeating what someone else said but… The protagonist, Curtis, feels guilty for not sacrificing an arm or his issue is he never was able to sacrifice an arm. He was not worthy material for leadership. In the end he almost gives in to take Willford’s place but discover’s the little boy trapped as part of the machinery. (I was confused as to how the children were like zombies, though I get the symbolism) Once Curtis discover’s the boy in the engine he sacrifices his arm for the good of the boy. The destruction of the train is not part of his doing. I would say it was a cheat ending. It should have been an outcome of Failure with what felt like a Good judgement but sacrificing his arm was response of speculation (cheating off CHuntley’s storyform) and didn’t change his inertia (so Bad) Then they add the ‘cheat’ of life finding a way to survive. I couldn’t help but believe that humanity will just keep repeating this story between the Haves and the Have-nots

You summed up how I feel about the movie exactly.