The Platform (2019)
Directed by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
Screenplay by David Desola & Pedro Rivero
Starring Ivan Massagué, Zorion Eguileor, Antonia San Juan, Emilio Buale, & Alexandra Masangkay.
Horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller
★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)
The Platform isn’t exactly what you’d call inconspicuous Marxist critique, the ideology at play is clear, but it’s even more nuanced than the story appears on the surface immediately. The story takes place in a futuristic prison, a tower called the Vertical Self-Management Center, inside which inmates are switched from floor to floor, and food is served on a platform that goes from top to bottom, giving those at the top the choice of fresh, untouched food and those at the bottom whatever’s left afterwards. When a man called Goreng (Iván Massagué) wakes up in his concrete cell he meets his current roommate, an older man by the name of Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor). He starts to learn the strange rules of the prison, and soon gets a crash course in the prison’s inherent ugliness that divides things between the classes to a murderous, even cannibalistic extent.
In Gaztelu-Urrutia’s film, capitalist society is envisioned like a contemporary, high-tech vision of Dante’s Inferno, or, rather, capitalist society takes its logical end form as a confusing, inescapable prison governed by the fickle logic of the marketplace. Goreng quickly starts to see how divided the prison is and it radicalises him, along with others, into attempting to change the system itself. But he and the others come up against all the difficulties of such a stratified existence, from in-fighting amongst the lower classes to the flawed logic of the whole system that cements people in their place. And soon, the fight to change the system becomes a fight just to send the message that we must work together for the sake of the next generation, and the generations after them.
The film posits that there are “Those at the top, those at the bottom, and those who fall.” This reveals how class is no longer innate the way it was perceived hundreds of years ago when kings and queens and other forms of nobility ruled, thus blood automatically meant upper or lower class from birth. Today there still exists kings and queens, but those who aren’t nobility can climb the class system ladder thanks to the social mobility afforded to people who have money or social capital in some form. Likewise, people who are at the top of the class system, in an age of money as opposed to the divine right of kings, can fall down the hierarchical ladder should they lose their wealth.
This is where Trimagasi and Goreng reading a copy of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes becomes a significant reference. To an extent, Goreng is a Don Quixote figure in The Platform. He willingly goes into the prison, effectively tossing his social position out for a learning experience, albeit a grim one, just as Quixote gives up his low nobility status to take on an identity as a knight errant, hoping to revive chivalry and do his nation proud through a series of knightly adventures. Goreng does become like a knight figure, as he starts to fight to topple the prison’s system like a romantic hero. Although, in the end, he may just be tilting at windmills like Quixote because—in spite of the idealism he and Baharat share in their journey to deliver their message—it may just be too difficult for a couple men to change the course of the entire capitalist system.
So many things in the film’s prison are symbolic of capitalism’s various processes. The way food’s dispersed in the prison from one floor to the next downward is a perfect way to capture the image and idiocy of trickle-down economics. We hear that “In the pit, everyone‘s free to decide what they want,” and this touches on how capitalist society creates the illusion of freedom, not actual freedom; those in the pit can only decide what they want from the options already given to them by the ruling class at the top. Even the way people are moved from cell to cell each month—not to mention it happens when they’re asleep—speaks to how there’s no rhyme nor reason to the prison’s conception of social mobility, it’s actually just a game of luck; sort of how people are born into rich or poor families, an existential lottery that births people into privilege or poverty. Some gender also makes its way into the film, creating an intersectional perspective on the class system. When the viewer first meets Miharu (Alexandra Masangkay) she appears on the table like another piece of food to be eaten, a brief commentary on how women are treated as objects—as food, as consumable commodities like any other in a capitalist system.
The Platform thoroughly digs into the class division created by a capitalist system. “It‘s better to eat than be eaten” is what Trimagasi tells Goreng. This quote sums up the supposed logic of capitalism, simultaneously exemplifying how capitalist logic turns those in the working class against each other; a by-product of capitalist consumerist competition. The dive into cannibalism in the film is an allegory for the barbarity of the marketplace on an individual scale. Division ultimately hurts nobody but ourselves since a divided working class can’t come together to take down those at the top, though thankfully not everybody feels like Trimagasi, who’s all but given his existence over to a cannibalistic capitalism.
Further than that, Trimagasi later tells Goreng that he does the awful things he does because: “The people above make me do it.” This is nothing more than a cop out and relieves a person from individual responsibility when they blame their terrible actions on capitalism and the ruling class. The ruling class may condition us to do certain things, and in a certain way, but they don’t force us to do it, it’s only our reliance on the system that forces us into doing it. Again, this is logic and rhetoric that traps us within the system and gives us a cop out to say, ‘This is how it is and nothing changes.’ It helps the ruling class when we give ourselves up to the idea that the system is inescapable and that its effects on us are preordained.
Although “The important thing is the message” holds a kernel of truth, it’s not safe from criticism in Gaztelu-Urrutia’s film, and rightfully so. Goreng and Baharat get somewhat lost in pursuit of delivering their message to the ruling class. As the two men try to execute their plan of dividing food amongst the levels, they wind up committing violence against others in the prison in order to do it. This is one of the points in the film where The Platform extends its critique to socialist systems that just become Capitalism Lite. Even in a socialist system, if power lies in the hands of few—as is the case with Goreng and Baharat deciding a new system for the prison on behalf of everybody (not quite democratic)—it will be abused, one way or another eventually. The way forward as a society is together, an equal distribution of not just wealth but also of decision and responsibility.
The best part about The Platform is that the story and its plot don’t just criticise capitalism, the film critiques all systems that create inequality between classes. Even if socialism is implemented in a democratic nation it will never succeed as long as it’s run like any other system, in which there are people at the top deemed as more important than those below. If there’s any single major point to all the hideousness and terror in The Platform it’s that collective solidarity and action are essential to the healthy existence of all in any system, and those who will suffer most for our division are the young people we force into a society’s system then expect to survive in a monstrous jungle.
At the end of the film, Goreng symbolically fades back into the collective of the lower class, understanding that “The message requires no bearer” and no one individual is above the other, leaving the child to go on towards the top of the prison by herself. The Platform ends as Goreng goes back into the system’s depths and the child goes on to serve as the message sent to the upper class. Yet the end doesn’t guarantee that the upper class will listen. Maybe Goregn’s efforts were all for nothing. Maybe the upper class will just put the child to work like everybody else, or, worse, serve her up in a casserole. Or maybe the cooks, fellow comrades in the working class, will deliver the child to freedom. One thing’s for sure: to combat a heartless system of ruthless class division, we must hold onto hope, not to mention have a strong stomach.
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