The Platform, a Spanish dystopian thriller on Netflix, offers biting social commentary best appreciated in solitude

Pradeep Menon

Mar 31, 2020 08:01:33 IST

In debutante director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s Netflix film The Platform, the world is nothing, and the world is everything.

An ingenious setup - perfectly in tune with the current times of pandemic and social distancing - propels a thriller that comments on everything wrong with human society in its approximately 90-minute runtime.

The questions raised by the film are of the existential kind that everyone has asked themselves at some point in their life; but there’s nothing like watching and vicariously experiencing this confined dystopia during an extended period of self-isolation, to make you deeply ponder over the sheer simplicity and obviousness of the solutions to the most complex capitalism-inflicted problems facing our world.

 The Platform, a Spanish dystopian thriller on Netflix, offers biting social commentary best appreciated in solitude

A still from Netflix's The Platform.

Entirely set within a mysterious building that seems to be part-prison, part-microcosm of humankind, the world of The Platform is both, its story and its core message. Every level of the ‘hole’, as the inmates of the structure call it, is a sparse space shared by two people. Everyone occupying a level in this structure is at the mercy of this system, yet the ones at the top are privileged in the most basic way imaginable.

Once a day, every day, a platform loaded with piles of delicious food begins its journey from the top, through an open central duct, lowering itself from level to level. As one can imagine, the ones at the top indiscriminately consume as much as they can, with scant regard for the needs of those below. At every level, you can see who’s above you and who’s below. Interestingly, inmates spends exactly one month at any particular level. The next month, they randomly find themselves on another level. If you’re lucky, you wake up at a higher level, with more food to choose from for that month.

This intriguing world is thus the stage for a grotesque story of a wannabe saviour and his attempt to fight and break this system run by a faceless, omnipotent Administration during his time there. Make no mistake, the commentary in the film is rudimentary. It has the same message at its heart that Bong Joon-Ho has gloriously packaged for us with high quality cinema over multiple films, including The Host, Snowpiercer and Parasite. In The Platform, the messaging is bit more ‘obvious’ (a word you’ll encounter multiple times in the film), and a lot more grotesque.

The characters that our protagonist Goreng meets all fill in a little bit of the jigsaw puzzle. So, there’s his first partner, an old man who, in many ways, seems like an older version of Goreng or the kind of man he’s likely to turn into. There’s the woman who was once a part of the Administration, sending people to the Hole. Now, though, she’s herself in there because her life took a turn that led to a profound sense of guilt. And there’s the black man who finds himself at a sufficiently high level one day but is still shit on - literally - by those ‘above’ him.

A still from Netflix's The Platform.

What it lacks in nuance, The Platformˆ more than makes up for with a relentless barrage of social commentary, obvious symbolism and gruesome visuals of what happens when the humanity in a human is broken down by a system that’s designed to make us constantly aspire to get to a better place, but is also designed to make most of us fail. In these times of enforced solitude, The Platform would make for a great ‘spot the message’ drinking game, with various rules of the construct and frequent lines in the film attempting to make a biting statement.

Take for instance, the fact that the ones at the top, after satisfying their gluttony every day, have nothing to look forward to or think about, often driving them insane enough to just jump off from their level. Or for that matter, when another character tells Goreng that the only way to survive a lower level is to eat or be eaten. It’s a truth of life that would make one shudder, if one were to ever experience this reality at its barest.

The symbolism in the film is often in your face. For example, with every inmate of the hole allowed exactly one personal belonging to carry into the hole with them, Goreng, who fancies himself a saviour, carries with him a copy of Miguel de Cervantes’ The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha. It’s obvious why.

Perhaps the great victory of the film is how it manages to make you almost feel the time that the characters spend in the hole. Goreng, played with sincerity by Iván Massagué channeling his inner Machinist-era Christian Bale, spends six months turning up at higher and lower levels in the hellhole. Through a series of sharp montages, combined with the dreary monotony in the design of every level, you almost feel like you’ve spent as much time in there as Goreng.

Every once in a while, the film cuts to stunning close-ups of culinary delights being prepared, to remind you of the sensory pleasures the world has to offer, only to be rudely snatched away, bringing you back to confront the increasing oppression the lower down the food chain you go.

What would you do if you’ve been starving for days or even weeks, and a dead human body was around, its flesh tempting you? What if a person around you is alive, but you know you’re strong enough to take that person on and kill them? These are questions that we can never truthfully answer in the comfort of our own homes, with access to most of what we need. What we do know is that human depravity can make people desperate enough to do unthinkable. And the more oppressed you are, the more desperate you get.

There’s a lot to unpack in the film, and luckily, almost everything to unpack can be done in real time, as you watch the film. It’s only towards the end, when the story starts moving towards its climax, that things get a little muddled, when you start wondering what, really, is the message of the film. Indeed, the characters themselves start discussing the ‘message’ they want to send the Administration, when they finally decide that some action must be taken to break the oppressive system.

What you must not do is expect a clear resolution to the story. Instead, it’s the journey towards the almost abrupt end that contains the meat of the film, pun completely unintended. There’s a certain urgency to proceedings, a certain perverse engagement you’ll find with the film, because the questions The Platform raises are those that need to be addressed in the real world as soon as we can. As far as the point of the film is concerned, like life itself, the real message of the story is hope and the possibility of a better world for those that will come to inhabit it in the future.

Updated Date: Mar 31, 2020 08:01:33 IST

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