Honors Program


Document Type


Date of this Version

Fall 11-2023


Thompson, T. (2023). Off the Rails: Cinematic Trains as Technological Controls of the Natural World. Undergraduate Honors Thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Copyright Trinity Thompson 2023.


Short train rail lines across the United States are seeing increased national funding to reduce toxic chemical spills caused by train derailments, the most notable of which happened in February 2023 in East Palestine, Ohio. A year prior, the film White Noise (2022) featured a similar toxic train derailment incident, taking place, too, in Eastern Ohio, and featuring actors from the town of East Palestine. In considering other films featuring trains, I identified a pattern of environmental conflict, leading me to question the relationship between trains and the natural environment as portrayed in popular cinema. To conduct my research, I identified, viewed, and studied the use of trains in twenty-four train films popular with American audiences. In my analysis, I find that cinematic trains represent technology in an ecological modernization framework, best understood by rhetorical psychoanalysis, rendering them incapable of enacting true control over the environments they seek to dominate via constraints of both psychoanalysis and ecological modernization theory.