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Presumably, the Snowpiercer drove in a circular pattern since it had been running for 17 years prior to the events in the movie. At one point, the creepy woman with glasses who seemed to be at least partially in charge mentioned that the nose of the train, when breaking through ice laying on the tracks, turned that pure snow to water, which was needed for the passengers. However, surely there would have been a safer way to collect water than risk a derailment by plowing through an ice-covered track.

Was any other reason given for why the train had to stay in motion?

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Just a guess as I haven't seen it, but so it wouldn't freeze solid (along with all of the people inside)? –  Paulster2 Jul 10 at 18:27

4 Answers 4

The big deal about the 'miracle of the train' was that it was perpetual motion engine: if it were to stop, it would no longer be contributing the momentum necessary to maintain its forward velocity...

As for Why the train needed to keep moving in the first place: the entire film is a parable about society, from a dystopian perspective. In the event of a global crisis, an ultra-efficient system is created in microcosm of the society it was spawned from. With each noseward carriage the revolution passes through, the higher standard of living and thus class they experience.

The train must keep moving to keep this system in place: if it were to stop, there would be a problem with the current status-quo, and thus an examination and potential change of situation, which would not suit those currently at the front of the train/ruling class.

Sorry its such a short answer, but this is kinda covered within the film itself.

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It doesn't look like you paid much attention to the film, or perhaps watched a different version?!? That IS the narrative of the film, its nothing to do with opinion, it's all explained throughout the movie: particularily the classroom scene... it's kind of hard to miss. Are you a non-english speaker? Could you have possibly seen the movie with badly translated subtitles? I'm not trying to be condescending, its just that this is literally the central conceit of the movie. –  John Smith Optional Jul 11 at 16:59
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Nope, native English speaker. I'm still confused on how stopping the train would change the status quo. You could keep the train stationary and still keep the classes separate, the fact that the train is moving has nothing to do with who stays where. The doors control that, as does the threat of violence against them if they try to move forward. If it was really that cold, no one would try to go outside (lest they end up as those 7 who froze on the mountain), but the train really doesn't need to move in order to reinforce that. –  Johnny Bones Jul 11 at 17:17
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So its an allegory: the train has to keep moving otherwise it stops, the ruling classes want the train to keep moving because it's always been moving, that is the state of affairs they are accustomed to and they're happy with things as they are because* they remain in power*. They brainwash, indoctrinate and propagandize the train's citizens that things have to remain as they are otherwise ( in your best teacher/Alison Pill voice) "everybody dies!" –  John Smith Optional Jul 11 at 17:47
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The train has to keep moving because that is its purpose: its a metaphor for progress... but the film is saying this progress is an illusion that secretly only upholds the status quo, leaving 'the 99%' to suffer, believing they are contributing to a benevolent cause. They believe the train must keep running because they think there is no other way: Minsoo, conversely, believes there IS another way, outside of the train/societal system. If the train stopped, there would be no sense of purpose to keep everyone in their place.. –  John Smith Optional Jul 11 at 17:52
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@John - he's asking from a true physical sense, not an, "I'm letting the movie teach me a societal lesson" sense. –  JoshDM Aug 5 at 19:57

To add to John Smith's answer on the symbolic aspect of the movie, it can be noted that in the comics, the train actually can stop!

More precisely, there is a second train in the second and third tome. Larger and more comfortable than the first one, the autocratic central government keeps the power using the fear of a collision with the first train. The train regularly slows down as an emergency training to prepare the situation where the first train would be in sight. We learn at the end of the second volume that the first training was actually not a training and the government decided to harpoon the fisrt train, in order to get a second locomotive. The second train had to stop a few hour in order to load the loco. In the third volume, the train has to leave the tracks for a short time and to do so, it has to stop a couple of hours to prepare the train to move off-tracks.

For a review of the two first volumes of the comics. For French readers, this is a way better review.

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If anything, it is explained that train produces water through the snow and ice picked up from the nose of the train. It would presumably need to keep moving to continue to produce water, also I believe it probably has something to do with producing power / electricity on the train

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Why did the train need to keep moving?

From a physical sense, the reason it needed to keep moving was that the train itself, as explained in the videos the children watch, was intended to be self-sufficient; from that, one must surmise that the train derives some unexplained benefit by being constantly in motion; perhaps this motion is necessary to somehow enable other, lesser, train functions, such as maintaining the conditions (channeling the heat from friction, perhaps?) for the interior of the train.

Note that, again from the videos, the train was not built with global freezing in mind; it was built as a luxury experience. Considering your example of the ice-breaking generating water, we can guess that if rain existed (as it does not in the film since everything is ice), the train would gather the rain in the same way it gathers ice, to replenish water supplies.

If the train didn't keep moving, whatever unexplained benefit it might be deriving from moving would be lost, and based on exterior conditions, the train might be frozen in place, rendered incapable of moving to re-derive any lost benefits. This dangerous and unpredictable scenario cannot be chanced, lest all of what is left of humanity be put at risk (from whatever environmental conditions might endanger the train; eg. an avalanche), so the train must keep moving.

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