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Curtis, dear boy. The fact is that we are all stuck inside this blasted train. We are prisoners in this hunk of metal. And this train is a closed ecosystem. We must always strive for balance. Air, water, food supply, the population... must always be kept in balance.
~ Wilford

Wilford is the main antagonist of the 2014 film Snowpiercer. He is a genius inventor and the founder of his own corporation, Wilford Industries. He also masterminds the operations on the globe-trotting Snowpiercer locomotive, which carries the last remnant of humanity.

He was portrayed by Ed Harris, who is also known for his roles as Christof in The Truman Show, Carl Fogarty in A History of Violence, General Hummel in The Rock, US Secretary of State Leonard Dekkom in Geostorm, Blair Sullivan in Just Cause, Mitch Wilkinson in National Treasure: Book of Secrets, and The Man in Black in the HBO series Westworld

Biography

As a child, Wilford was always fascinated by trains, wanting to construct his own. Later in life, he developed the Snowpiercer, a train with a perpetual-motion engine which was meant to be a globe-spanning luxury liner that would sufficiently travel in any conditions.

After a global warming counteracting experiment failed, causing a second ice age and killing most life on Earth, the Snowpiercer became the only sanctuary for humanity, the wealthy residing in the original luxury cars while the poorer were sent to live in the train's tail, where they endure grueling and disgusting conditions of living and are treated extremely poorly by the guards running the back end of the train.

To control the population within the train and prevent overbreeding, Wilford incited riots within the oppressed tail passengers to fight for better lifestyles, effectively killing off a tail passenger, soldiers, and first-class passengers. 

As well, a vital part of Wilford's perpetual motion engine had worn out, but he did not have the resources to replace it. He solves this problem by taking children (around the age of five, as per their size) from the tail and placing them within the train's engine to have them function as the missing part. He also sets up schools within the train, featuring lessons and songs to inspire the people inside to not leave the train, despite the signs of the Earth becoming gradually more habitable. With his construction of the train and its status as a coincidental safe-haven, many people on the train laud Wilford as a god.

During the events of the film, a man by the name of Curtis receives messages in protein blocks (the tail residents' daily food rations) from an elderly tail resident: Gilliam. These messages, constructed by Wilford and delivered through Gilliam, are encouraging Curtis to lead the tail to the front of the Snowpiercer.

Leading the residents of the tail to revolt and fight their way to the front, many people die in the process, including guards, tail residents, and many first-class passengers. Because of the staggering number of casualties to the first class, Wilford has Gilliam executed and orders a mass killing of most of the tail passengers to compensate for the lives lost among the first-class. 

After realizing Wilford's intent (as well as finding several children of his comrades working the engine), Curtis and Namgoong, a prisoner who programmed the train's security system, manage to detonate a bomb made from Kronole. The resulting explosion causes an av
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Wilford's death.

alanche that throws most of the train's cars off a cliff and derails the engine and several other cars, effectively destroying the Snowpiercer for good. 

Although Wilford's fate as of the explosion is unconfirmed, since Yona and Timmy both survived, it is safe to assume that, much like the supposed fates of Curtis and Namgoong, Wilford likely was killed in the train's derailment.

Personality

Due to having the highest power on the train, he essentially controls the population of the entire human race, and is worshipped as a god-like figure for those reasons.

Alas, Wilford is also a controversial figure on the Snowpiercer. Due to being the train's proprietor, he represents the luxurious end on the spectrum of wealth inequality on the train, and is notorious for hoarding much of the train's wealth to himself and dispersing it to only the first-class cars. Among his subordinates, he is spoken highly of, and has amassed a fanatical cult following. His divine presence which has been well-established by the entire train's population is further enforced by propaganda promoted by his underlings, including Minister Mason. He is very polite, soft-spoken and has a genial way to talk to others. A very calm person, he never loses his temper or get angry about whatever. He is also very persuasive, intelligent and charismatic, being able to create his system of castes, organizing rebellion via his spy on the tail of the train, and nearly succeeding to convince Curtis to join his cause.

However, his reputation that he garnered amongst the lower-class population, on the other end of the spectrum, is that of the opposite. Wilford works under a totalitarian ideology to preserve humanity's future by slaughtering a vast majority of the train's population; the tail-end passengers frequently become the victims of massacres instigated by Wilford, which he later cited as revolutions and riots. He sees everyone either as useful to the Snowpiercer ecosystem or if they are a burden. To that end, Wilford is overall a selfish, megalomaniacal, sociopathic and callous man with a obvious God complex. He presents himself as the savior of humanity on the basis that train passengers must be held at a certain level in order to maintain what is left of humanity, but when his true nature comes to the light, it strongly suggests that he is more interested in maintaining power for himself and his own vision than actually helping the human race as a whole. He also abducts small children from the tail-end and uses them as a human workforce to continue the train's operations. Wilford's blatant disregard for the well-being and poor living conditions of the tail-end passengers is what ultimately leads the oppressed lower class to start a rebellion against him. When his creation is about to explode, he is resignated to that eventuality by simply saying : "Nice".

Trivia

  • Joon-ho Bong could never find the perfect actor for Wilford until Producer Chan-wook Park recommended Ed Harris.
  • Despite being the main antagonist, he only gets a brief amount of screentime during the climax.
  • According to ExtremeMovie, Wilford is bisexual. He has slept with Minister Mason, his assistant Claude, his assassin Egg-head, and the Teacher. Due to the latter being pregnant by the 18th New Year, when the movie takes place, it is heavily insinuated that Wilford is the father of her child, and thus the one who impregnated her.
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