A story borrowing elements from another piece of work is not new. Writers like William Shakespeare and Homer have seen their stories reworked into new material numerous times, so it should be no surprise other authors have their stories and themes reworked as well. Although it’s never been confirmed that Snowpiercer was inspired by Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, there are elements of both stories too coincidental to ignore. Both films center around a group of people making their way through a fantastic structure, where one person makes it to the end. They also deal with class structure, children, food, sacrifice, free will, and destiny.
Food is an essential element in these films. In Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Wonka (Gene Wilder) produces and experiments with different types of candy like the Wonka Bar and Everlasting Gobstopper, as well as exploding gum and food gum as a meal replacement. In Snowpiercer, the protein bars given to back car passengers look a lot like chocolate candy bars and are laid out like bricks of chocolate. The characters lament about wanting steak and not remembering what it tastes like, but more importantly, not wanting to remember in order to forget the pre-crisis era. Both films also hide messages in the food. Wonka hid the golden ticket inside the wrappers of five random Wonka bars, and rebellion leader Curtis (Chris Evans) received several messages inside the protein bars, as well as an egg.
Wonka even shares a first initial with the Snowpiercer’s creator Wilford (Ed Harris), with both being wealthy industrialists who like to display their brand over their inventions. Wonka prints his name in giant lights down one of the towers of his factory and across the front gate. On his different modes of transportation, a giant ‘W’ can be seen. Similarly, Wilford has branded his ‘W’ all over the train, his invention of an experimental mode of transportation. Near the end of their films, the two men similarly address characters as “dear boy,” with Wonka referring to Charlie (Peter Ostrum), and Wilford referring to Curtis.
While in the factory and on the train, characters are constantly entering different rooms along the journey, always staring in awe at the contents of each room they enter. Wonka has a juicing room, fizzy lifting drinks room, inventing room, testing room, television, and a room that contains the glass elevator. Snowpiercer, by comparison, has 60 cars and, while not all were shown in the movie, the ones that the revolutionaries go through include the tail section, prison, an empty car with beds, food production, water recycling, greenhouse, aquarium, meat locker, classroom, special services (library, dentist, tailor, etc.), hair salon, swimming pools, sauna, engineering, and the engine room. The farther they travel, both groups lose a member after each room until one person is left.
According to Mason (Tilda Swinton), Wilford likes children, and Wonka’s contest was intended for five children. Yet the factory and train exist as closed, self-sustaining ecosystems with no need or reason for the outside world. When Charlie and the ticket winners are in the factory, they are essentially trapped, their existence completely in Wonka’s control. Likewise, the classroom scene in Snowpiercer describes the revolt of seven passengers who escaped Wilford’s train, only for the the train passes by their bodies frozen in the running position, emphasizing that everyone, while safe inside, are trapped. Those who rebel end up trapped even further inside, the survivors proving even more dependent on the industrial owner for guidance.
Most notably, Wilford’s train runs on a darker version of Wonka’s Oompa Loompa concept, using back car children to keep it going because certain parts went extinct years ago. We see this idea play out earlier in the food production room when the operator needs to run and jump to make the equipment work manually. For the other parts in need of maintenance, small children (under five) are taken to crawl in small spaces of the train to keep the parts in working order. In Snowpiercer, the lower classes literally give their bodies to keep the upper class in a state of oblivious luxury.
There’s also the revelation of these characters having spies working for them; Wonka has Mr. Slugworth, while Wilford has Gilliam (John Hurt). Slugworth originally presents himself to the children as a test for Wonka, questioning whether they would betray Wonka by giving the Everlasting Gobstopper recipe to his supposed enemy. In a similar twist, Wilford reveals that the elderly Gilliam was his ally, feeling that the tail and the front cars needed to work together. Gilliam presented himself as being on the side of the revolution, but, in the end, we learn he was doing so to keep the proper percentages balanced.
The other naughty ticket holders bear passing resemblance to members of Snowpiercer’s upper class. Mason bears a striking resemblance to Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole), as both have a terrible temper, insult people around them, wear fur coats, and use their wealth status to get what they want. Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen) displays an obsession with TV and guns, much like how Franco the Elder (Vlad Ivanov) completed his first kill on the television screen. Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner) has impulse control in his endless eating habits, resembling the child catcher Claude (Emma Levie) who eats her own blood when she gets hit. And finally Violet Beauregarde Denise Nickerson) obsessively boasts about her accomplishments as a gum-chewer, her rhetoric resembling the upper class teacher’s(Alison Pill) indoctrination speeches.
By the end of their respective films, Charlie and Curtis emerge as the remaining members of their parties. Each “winner” is offered to become the industrialist’s successor, but only after making a sacrifice. For Charlie, he must give up the Everlasting Gobstopper, proving his loyalty to Wonka. For Curtis, the sacrifice is his arm to get young Timmy out of the engine room. This is the film’s biggest deviation from Willy Wonka, rejecting a continuation of Wilford’s twisted ecosystem in favor of giving humanity a chance- no matter how slim- in the outside world.
Life is a dice roll whether you end up a golden ticket winner, born in the tail section, or head section of life. Having character and a little help from fate, like Charlie and Curtis gets you to the end. Both films end with a hug, hope, and that children are now in charge of the future. We can take action now before our children have to clean up our mess in snowy tundra, eating cockroach protein and possibly each other. And before we learn what exactly is a snozzberry.