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It’s Not the Train’s Fault


As a rail fan, I was pleased that Hollywood was made a movie about a train: Unstoppable. The trailers make it look like an action picture, and that curbed my enthusiasm. I prefer actual acting and cinematography to special effects. But every so often I can look past the explosions and enjoy the rest of it. So I planned on making one of my rare ventures into the world of first-run film for Unstoppable.

Not anymore:

True to the title, the train is unstoppable. It defies its brakes, it blasts through an RV, it flips over several police cars, it flips a train in front of it which then explodes with the blast of the Manhattan Project, ignores a SWAT team shooting assault rifles at it (really) and not only rides right over the Automatic Derailers, it shoots them off the tracks where they take out some more police cars.

That’s the kind of action-movie silliness that tests my patience. It is easier for me to suspend disbelief about angels and demons than about bombs and bullets. But that‘s the least of the problems:

whenever they apply personification to an object, then that object itself stands for something else that isn't a person. In this case the train, like zombies, is a metaphor for cold, uncaring, unstoppable, raging capitalism, and as soon as I say that the rest of the movie makes complete sense, i.e. makes no sense at all. The movie then gets retitled, Unwatchable.

Another metaphoric lecture on the unique evils of Western society. Oh, goody. Please, sir, may I have another.

This is what happens in the movie:

A dumb, fat, lazy white guy-- none of those are insults but deliberately highlighted aspects of the character-- made a series of errors: didn't follow protocol, didn't listen to his superiors, took shortcuts, all which lead to the train taking off at full throttle. Fattastic's immediate response is to chase it, on foot. Fail.

It hurtles towards a small town called Stanton, PA, home of All That Is Good In This World. Who can save this small town of hard working folk from the evils of capitalism? Not middle aged white guys, that's for sure, they got us into this mess.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

No surprise: they eventually stop the train.  But there's a completely unnecessary scene where they explain the plan.

The heroes/The Federal Reserve have a plan: chasing down Capitalism (from behind) in their engine, linking up, and then braking the whole thing to a halt.

A federal regulator, who at the beginning of the movie is ignored and marginalized, who only accidentally happens to be at HQ that day, disagrees:

INSPECTOR: I know the conventional wisdom is just link up and then throw the whole thing into reverse, but you'll get better traction if you alternate between braking and full throttle.

DENZEL: You sure about that?

INSPECTOR: Well, it's based on some preliminary calculations...

Get it? Capitalism can be saved by interspersing braking with stimulus!  Wow.

Maybe I am too old for this kind of childish make-believe. I’ll just save my eight dollars, stay home and read a book.