Film Review – The Platform
The central allegory of the Spanish film, The Platform (201) is about as subtle as a punch to the face. It is a direct reference to the economic and social imbalance between the wealthy upper classes (that enjoy all the excesses of luxury) and the lower classes (that must scrape for the measly remains for themselves). This is a classic case of the “haves and have-nots.” If you think Parasite (2019) was obvious with its class warfare, this takes it to a whole different level. But maybe that’s what we need in times such as this, where ideology is expressed with the volume of a megaphone.
Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia makes his feature length debut as a director, managing a script by David Desola and Pedro Rivero. We immediately get a sense of the confidence of craftsmanship. The production design and art direction (Azegine Urigoitia) establishes an ingenious use of confined space. We’re brought into a prison unlike any we’ve seen before – a vertical tower encompassing hundreds of floors. Each floor holds two prisoners, and in the middle of each room is a large rectangular hole. Once a day, a platform containing a culinary feast magically descends from the top floor downwards, stopping at each level to allow the prisoners to eat before moving on.
The rules of the prison are established early. Prisoners are only allowed to eat whatever they can in two minutes – if they hide or store food their room will turn blisteringly hot of freezing cold until they get rid of what they have. Every thirty days, sleeping gas is let into the prison. When the prisoners awake, they will find themselves transported to a different level, sometimes with a different inmate. A prisoner may enjoy the comfort of eating whatever they want in the upper floors, only to be on the verge of starvation a month later.
This premise immediately demonstrates the evils of modern society. One could argue that if each prisoner rationed food based only on what they need to survive, enough food should last all the way to the bottom levels. Of course, that is not the case. Gaztelu-Urrutia’s film maintains that each member will act only in their best interest. The added element of switching levels each month also makes it difficult for prisoners to control what they take. If an inmate spends time on the brink of death at the bottom levels and then is brought all the way near the top, trying to convince them to ration their food would be near impossible. The bottom levels rarely see any type of nourishment and must rely on desperate measures to live. Given that this is classified as a sci-fi/horror film, you could imagine what those measures entail.
Our protagonist is Goreng (Ivan Massagué), a man who made a grave mistake of volunteering to enter the prison. Goreng believed by doing so, he would be taking a quick respite from his everyday life with the possibility of advancing his social status. Each prisoner is allowed to bring one personal item – many choose weapons, Goreng chooses a book. Reality hits Goreng like a ton of a bricks almost as soon as he enters his first level, and from that point on he must adapt to his environment or become a victim of it. Some of the ways he chooses to survive are brutal and extreme, the acts of which bear down on him physically and psychologically.
I spent a lot of time talking about the “rules” of the prison because the way it was created has a such a unique style. There is no explanation for how the platform moves in mid-air, it is just an accepted condition of this place. Looking up and down the hole, it appears that the prison ascends and descends into oblivion. There is a heaven/hell subtext at play, but how people move up and down the ladder feels arbitrary, like your ability to eat is as random as a role of the dice. The good are not rewarded and the bad are not punished – just how it often is in the real world.
Gaztelu-Urrutia and the rest of the production do not skimp out on the horrific elements. There is a ton of bloodshed here, with the violence taking on a realistic and hard edged quality. The further down we travel, the further into madness we fall. Some of the scarier bits involve characters resigned to the idea of being savages. It’s scary because of how understandable the predicament is. When one’s ability to live another day is called into question, people are capable of doing just about anything. Goreng represents humanity pushed to the very limit. His moral compass starts to shake when he is faced with the decision of either doing what is right or doing what he must to keep going.
Does The Platform offer solutions to the problems of class and distribution of wealth? No. In fact, the last third of the narrative is a little muddled with what it’s trying to say, but maybe that’s the point. If the answers were easy, we probably wouldn’t have films like this to begin with. But the intelligence of what Gaztelu-Urrutia does here – even though it is draped in the viscera of extreme gore – is having the vision to call out these differences in class and showing how the actions of one directly effects the well-being of the other. The best way to fix a problem is to first diagnose what is wrong – and I think that’s The Platform is trying to do.