Even if I wasn’t under home quarantine for the current pandemic, chances are that The Platform, a high-concept, Spanish horror film on Netflix, would have caught my eye anyway. That kind of thing is just up my alley, and the same might be true for you as well, if you can stomach it.
As it turns out, as here in the US congress debates about how much money should be given to multibillion dollar corporations during the pandemic as opposed to how much goes to average citizens, The Platform is especially relevant for this exact moment in history.
The “high” concept being pitched here is quite literal, a jail that is a large, single room tower. There are two prisoners per windowless floor, and a giant, square hole in the middle where you can see dozens of floors of other prisoner pairs below you and above you.
Every day, a giant, hovering slab of stone comes down through the hole in the center of the cell (don’t ask, it just hovers). At the very top, the highest levels 1-10 or so, on top of the tablle is a gourmet feast. But as the table slides downward, it becomes leftovers (levels 10-50), then scraps (50-100), then nothing at all (100+). Each pair only has a minute or so to eat what they can before the table moves on. Spoilers follow.
Our lead, Goreng, is not a prisoner, but signed up for the program voluntarily to earn an accredited degree. But he didn’t understand what he was getting into, and is soon mentored by a man who teaches him how to scramble for food on a midlevel floor, but then threatens to eat him when after a month (your floor rotates every month) they end up on a 100+ level floor and it’s only shattered plates and empty glasses that make their way down.
The metaphor is bludgeoning, but effective. It’s a sharp critique of wealth inequality and capitalism where those at the top get an excess and those at the bottom starve. Goreng is quickly told that it’s best to pretend that those below you don’t exist, and those above you will never listen to anything you have to say.
The idea is that this is some sort of social experiment where, in theory, if everyone only took as much food as they needed, everyone would have enough. At one point, a woman (who used to work for those who run the prison) tries to start a movement so that everyone rations, but it fails to take off as everyone is too self-interested. Goreng speculates the goal is not to encourage cooperation, but if cooperation is discovered, find a way to stamp it out for application in the “real world” (which we never get to see).
There are logistical problems with all of this if you think about it too much. Sometimes people ride down the table (one woman looking for her lost child) and sometimes people try to climb up with ropes. But the film doesn’t really answer the obvious question of what would happen if you simply rode the table all the way back up to the top when it retracts for the day. I guess you’re just not really supposed to think about it too hard.
The climax of the film is when Gorang and his third cellmate (the first two have died) arm themselves with metal poles, force the first 50 levels to skip a day’s meal, then start rationing out food for those below it, a metaphor for a violent revolution to spark change, I suppose. Pretty much every scene, every character in this film is a metaphor for something, though I’m too dense to sort through every single comparison.
The “revolution” finale is where things get even more bleak. Gorang was told by the administrator there are 200 levels, and they account for that much food in their rationing. But once they hit 200, it keeps going. And going. And going. Not stopping until 333 and everyone has been cannibalized or dead for dozens of levels.
The film tries to end on a mildly hopeful note (at the bottom level, they find a child who they feed with a dessert they’ve saved, and send her back to the top), but there’s so much darkness before it that it doesn’t really accomplish much. The ultimate message seems to be rather nihilistic. Capitalism is the problem, but armed rebellion to encourage socialism or communism doesn’t really work out either. But the overall points of greed and self-interest obviously still stand.
It’s a harrowing, thought-provoking film, and one that will stay with me. It feels quite a bit like Snowpiercer, though perhaps not quite as good. But in this current climate, it’s worth watching all the same.
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