A social experiment gone wrong
Today I am writing to talk to you about a film I only watched recently, The Platform. This was a very intense film and an interesting exploration of human nature, and the class system, it affected me more than I expected it to. The film came out on Netflix in 2019 and is Spanish, directed by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia.
It is described as a social science thriller.
Our main character, Goreng, who we experience the prison through, wakes in a concrete cell marked with the number 48. He has no memory of how he came there or any understanding of where he is. The situation is explained to him by his cell mate they are in a “Vertical Self-Management Centre”. It is later explained that Goreng volunteered to enter the prison, though others are incarcerated.
The ‘gimmick’ of this prison is that food, a veritable feast arrives on a platform that starts on the top floor and slowly moves down through the building. This means that the people at the top have access to all the food and the people below have less and less and less, those on lower floors will starve.
Goreng tries to hoard food and the cell becomes inhospitable and food has to be cast out. Gorengs cell mate tells him a story about how when he was on a lower floor, he and his then cellmate cannibalised another person who had fallen through the building.
On another day a woman comes down on the platform with the food, she is looking for her child. Cellmates are occasionally moved through the prison; they fall asleep in one cell and wake up in a different one on a different floor. This happens to Goreng, he and his cellmate wake up much further down than they were before and Gorengs cellmate ties him to the bed and says he will eat him, slowly until they are moved again. He does this for several days until the woman who rides the platform saves Goreng by killing his cellmate.
Goreng is moved again, this time much higher up, his new cell mate turns out to be the woman who interviewed him before he entered the prison. She constantly rations her food and tries to get those below to follow suit, but no one does. She also reveals that the woman who rides the platform entered the prison alone.
Goreng and his new cell mate are then moved again, this time very, very low down. His Cellmate kills herself and Goreng eats her. He is later moved again, this time almost to the top. His new cellmate tries to climb higher but fails. Together they agree to ride the platform and regulate the amount of food each floor gets, so as to ensure that all the floors get something. They also keep aside a fancy dessert that they want to return to those sending the platform as a message. As they descend, they see the woman who rides the platform being attacked, they try to help but cannot, she is killed, and they are badly hurt.
They reach the bottom and encounter the woman’s child, hiding under a bad. They step off the platform and feed her the fancy dessert they were saving. The platform leaves them.
Goreng then passes out due to his injuries, when he wakes his cellmate is dead and he hallucinates that his first cellmate is speaking to him telling him to save the child, that she is the message. Goreng places the girl on the platform, and it ascends while he remains behind.
Subtly is not this film strong point. It is about as subtle as a brick to the face with its messages. But that doesn’t make it bad. A little bit preachy perhaps, but not bad. I enjoyed the film, it is well acted, well written and the atmosphere is fantastic. The concept of the prison is a good one, it’s mysterious enough to be interesting but not too mysterious that it’s confusing.
It is commonly said that this film is about capitalism, but personally I find that a bit short sighted. This film could be applied to any political ideology, capitalism, communism, fascism, and that is because it is really a story about human nature and the selfishness of man. It is a study on human nature, and how we cope with injustice, the things we will do to survive when desperate and the actions we take when others are suffering.
The woman who worked as an administrator who claims not to know how bad the prison was is a stand in for supporters of policies/politics where those low on the chain suffer. She could be said to represent the wilful blindness of people, or the blasé nature people have towards injustice, they don’t perpetrate it, but they still support it, they allow it to happen. She isn’t the one starving people, but her work allowed the prison to function.
The people inside are either volunteers or criminals who volunteer to go inside in the hopes of having a harder but ultimately reduced sentence. They could represent people who think they can beat the system, people who know that they system is brutal and unjust but who think that they can somehow beat it.
We never see the people running the prison, they remain faceless throughout and again they could easily represent those who we think of as being in power, controlling the masses by forcing their hate onto each other. Everyone hates the people on the floors above them, no one seems to realise that they are all in the same storm, they spend so much energy fighting each other that it doesn’t occur to them to fight the people controlling the platform. To change the system, to address the cause of injustice.