My procedurally generated Netflix description read; “A slab of food descends floor by floor in a prison. The inmates above eat heartily, leaving those below starving and desperate. A rebellion is imminent.“
As Netflix’s captions tend to do, my initial conception of The Platform was reduced to that of an early 2010s YA thriller, reeking with a thinly veiled allegory of capitalism and a hearty serving of ‘eat the rich’ on the side. Director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia has so much more to say than that.
The film follows our protagonist, Goreng, who has volunteered himself for a six-month stint in a prison clearly designed by whoever they hired to do Derwent College, in exchange for a diploma. His cellmate is the deviously entertaining Trimagasi, a man who was thrown into the hole as an alternative to psychiatric hospital. The building coldly designated the “Vertical Self-Management Centre”, sends a meticulously prepared banquet of food down the chasm in the floor and ceilings of each cell, stopping at each floor for a short time to allow each cell’s two inhabitants to take their share. Built into this system is a mechanism to prevent hoarding; if the inmate keeps food on their floor the temperature rises or falls until the food is disposed of back down the hole. As per Netflix’s description above, there is a catch. By the time it has reached Goreng, on level 48, the Michelin-starred masterpiece has decayed into how the food-service area looks when you go down to Derwent Dining at around 7pm. Goreng and Trimagasi feast on the putrid leftovers of the ninety-four above them. The tales of the floors below are far worse. Around floor 100 there’s no food left at all.
The systemic inequality critiques capitalism – obviously. Like the architecture, the message of The Platform is not always subtle, nor does the director intend it to be. Instead, this subtlety is invested in the intricate world building, despite the audience being given minimal information about each individual or wider society outside of the “Vertical Self-Management Centre”. Some viewers have criticised the amount of questions the story leaves, however I believe over-explanation of the world, in the form of an exposition dump or otherwise, would do the film a great disservice and there are enough crumbs sprinkled throughout for the viewer to fill in the blanks. The mystery of the world pays dividends.
Beyond capitalism, Gaztelu-Urrutia pivots to critique socialism and takes a deeper dive into human nature, pitting naïve idealism against realism. It is no secret which category our protagonist falls into. Every inmate is allowed to bring one item; some bring knives, crossbows, katanas, yet Goreng brings a book – Don Quixote (a novel which happens to foreshadow his own story). From the outset, Goreng attempts to persuade those above and below the benefits of sharing only to be met with an icy response and an accusation of being a communist by his cellmate. “The people below us are below us”, he sneers. It’s an arbitrary division made more so by the fact each month the prisoners are randomly re-assigned to a different floor, but in this tragedy of the commons, selfishness is hard coded into human nature.
Despite his Hannibal-eqsue demeanour and actions, given the circumstances, it can be interpreted that Trimagasi isn’t necessarily a villain. At the dawn of the new month, Goreng and Trimagasi find themselves on floor 171. The screams of people waking to find what floor they are on act as an alarm clock. This low down there is no hope of food. As of this point, Trimagasi had survived 11 months inside and thoroughly understands the unamendable and inherent selfishness of the people above. Goreng certainly sees some of Trimagasi’s acts as psychotic but in such a situation it is eat or be eaten – the system rewards realism and unwavering idealists are consistently punished. At this point the system has achieved its goal of sowing division, with Goreng spitting that he holds Trimagasi responsible for his acts, “not the people above or the administration”. The situational horror of the ordeal causes Goreng’s physical decay with actor Ivan Massagué losing nearly two stone to fulfil the role.
Becoming disillusioned, Goreng starts to realise a change of tactics may be in order with the initially espoused line of a peaceful protest movement being promptly ignored. The noble goal lies at heart but in attempting to achieve it Goreng hurts many of those he set out to help. Haunted by temptations of nepotism – a classic trap that corrupts the supposed equal nature of socialist movements – and clouded vision from fanaticism leaves sight of the original goal lost in the haze. In the end, our protagonist is reduced to muttering the refrain; “the message is important”.
‘Christ in Limbo’ by Hieronymus Bosch. Image sourced from Indianapolis Museum of Art
A ride down through the levels is a montage of hellish violence and debauchery resembling a Hieronymus Bosch painting. The platform’s final destination is level 333. Halfway to Hell; level 333 gets neither hot nor cold when food is kept. A physical descent down the tower parallels a moral descent, leaving the men and women inside hopelessly corrupted by the system. The Platform makes for gripping viewing from the outset and its tight plot keeps the audience hooked until the end. It’s certainly worth a watch, re-watch, or four.
While brilliant, the film has a couple of minor flaws. The thankfully short scenes with Goreng’s hallucinations added little to the plot that couldn’t have been conveyed by Massagué’s performance and seemed to serve only to hammer the audience with biblical metaphors, as if there weren’t already an abundance. Furthermore, the ending is frustratingly ambiguous. It manages this without detracting from the overall product Game of Thrones season eight style, however, the director has created a world so perfect he cannot possibly hope to give a solution to his own question. The final message that society is purgatory offers scant real hope. Gaztelu-Urrutia’s attempts strike a spark of hope by exhibiting that the youth, pure and uncorrupted, may be the key, but in the anarchic and realist world he has created, it’s hard to see how the youth wouldn’t collapse into the same horrific cycle. Sorry for another downer. Happy 2020 everyone.
Featured Image by Netflix