** TW: Discussions of cannibalism **
Set in a dimly lit, concrete complex of bare prison cells that appears to have no end, Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s sci-fi thriller The Platform introduces us to a world governed by inequality, uncertainty, and suspicion. In the film, we meet protagonist Goreng, who voluntarily enters what seems to be literal Hell-on-Earth, armed with nothing but a copy of Don Quixote to defend himself against the horrific trials and corruption he is yet to encounter. We quickly learn that the prison operates on a system whereby a dining-table-like platform of luxurious foods is lowered down throughout the complex, temporarily halting at every cell to allow each pair of occupants to eat. Subsequently, those on the higher levels take it upon themselves to self-indulge, leaving nothing for those below them.
Gaztelu-Urrutia’s film is didactic, sharing many traits with several other dystopian motion pictures, such as a bleak, futuristic alternate reality, a mysterious and tyrannical regime, and the ninety-nine percent who are struggling for survival under its thumb. Most importantly, it bears the message that if capitalist organisations do not change their selfish and oppressive ways, the ninety-nine percent will eventually revolt. However, what sets The Platform apart from other films from this genre is its illumination of other dire social issues. While Gaztelu’s-Urrutia’s central focus is on challenging capitalism, secondary themes such as corruption, class, privilege, and the ‘every-man-for-himself’ philosophy also emerge during the film, which are hard to ignore – especially given their relevance to our current socio-economic climate.
“I hold you responsible for my death – not the people above”
What first caught my attention when I watched The Platform was the director’s discourse on holding those higher up the social ladder accountable for the adversity of the people below. This is presented through the vulgar, disturbed Trimagasi, an old man tainted by his time in the prison. When asked how he found himself in the complex, he blames an advertising company for tricking him into buying a knife sharpener after they convinced him that it would “make his life complete”. However, when the company later advertised a self-sharpening knife, he claims this pushed him to throw his TV set out of a window, subsequently killing a passer-by.
Trimagasi is a brutal example of the evils of consumerism, but what is more concerning about his character is that he refuses to accept responsibility for his actions. Instead, he points the finger at those above him: the Administration, the advertising company, and those with the greatest sway over the mechanics of society. Through characters like Trimagasi, Gaztelu-Urrutia calls attention to the problem of individuals rejecting their criminality due to maltreatment from ‘society’. Those like Trimagasi, who see their suffering at the hands of ‘society’ as a valid excuse for their wrongdoings, may stand as evidence of a poisoned social system. However, they also pose a separate problem, as they actively choose to take their contempt out on those who play little to no part in their strife. They lash out on innocent people for the same reason that societal giants manipulate them – because they can.
Thus, Gaztelu-Urrutia exposes us to a vicious domino effect of power exploitation against the weaker members of society, which manifests in the setting of the levelled prison complex. And, like other polluted parts of society, Gaztelu-Urrutia wants to challenge it, which he does by utilising Goreng to voice his rebuke of this venomous food-chain-like cycle. This becomes evident when Goreng says to Trimagasi: “I hold you responsible for my death – not the people above”, stressing that Trimagasi chose to carry out his atrocities, and no one drove him to do so.
“You are one of those who thinks the administration does everything wrong”
An intriguing debate that The Platform elicits is one surrounding conceptions of privilege. Whilst other dystopian films, such as The Hunger Games and The Purge, also heavily address this theme, The Platform interrogates it far more closely. This is presented in the interactions between Goreng and Imoguiri, a former Administration official who interviews those entering the prison. Imoguiri reveals that she voluntarily came into the prison after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis, with the hope to make amends for participating in the capitalist scheme by trying to help those inside the facility.
However, according to Goreng, she comes from such a privileged position that she has no real understanding of what this place does to people. To him, she represents a naïve, sheltered member of the middle-class, whose philanthropic efforts to help others, while perhaps genuine, are useless against the system. We see this in her futile preparations of regulated portions of food for the prisoners below, as well as her persistent attempts to talk them out of simply gorging on the rest. She thinks she can ignite “spontaneous solidarity” amongst the prisoners – a notion that is laughable to not only Goreng, but at this point, the audience too.
Eventually, Imoguiri recognises that the harsh conditions prisoners live in outweigh her motivational intentions and that they have lived in fear and squalor for so long that, as Goreng points out, they respond better to “crap” than “spontaneous solidarity”. However, while she sees the suffering in the environment around her, she is still defensive of the Administration who created it. Goreng attacks her and those like her for their role in the deaths of the prisoners, but she retorts mockingly that he is “one of those who think the Administration does everything wrong”. Despite everything, she is still a member of a protected class who fails to see that bodies like the Administration are the cause of these problems. Gaztelu-Urrutia underlines that it takes bringing such people down off their ivory towers and into the dirt for them to open their eyes.
“You and I are murderers, but I am more civilised”
If there is one theme that resonates throughout the grey-walled levels of the vast eternal complex, it is that of self-preservation. Gaztelu-Urrutia makes it clear that survival is, inherently, a top priority for human beings. That being said, the director also interrogates the extent to which certain acts are out of protecting oneself and challenges some warped definitions. For example, Trimagasi claims that he has no intention of killing Goreng for food, only harvesting small parts of Goreng’s flesh for them both to eat. Trimagasi believes that he is being polite to and considerate of Goreng, as he does not feel that he must go as far as killing him. But Goreng remains unconvinced of his intentions, to the point where paranoia and fear set in, leading him to stab Trimagasi to death. For the rest of the film, Trimagasi’s spirit haunts Goreng, telling him that he took measures too far out of fear for his own life – that it was not self-preservation, but excessive murder. He tells Goreng that they are now both murderers, “but I am more civilised”.
Accompanying the themes of overconsumption and selfishness, Gaztelu-Urrutia interestingly suggests that it is possible to take self-preservation too far to survive. This is presented through the prisoners, as they gluttonously feast upon the platform’s goods. They do not need as much as they consume to survive, and yet they continue to do so when given the chance. Gaztelu-Urrutia wants us to recognise that self-protection is often just a veil for fear, greed, and vanity, and that we should set those attributes aside in exchange for reason and selflessness. Therefore, the director includes moments of self-sacrifice, such as Imoguiri’s system of allowing herself to eat one day and her dog the next and her suicide, which ultimately enables Goreng’s survival as he eats her flesh when he is starving on Level 222. Gaztelu-Urrutia illuminates that self-preservation is important, but sometimes it should not be prioritised.
Gaztelu-Urrutia’s The Platform has a lot to say about the machinery of our society. Its themes, although displaced onto cannibalism, brutality, and gore, are not so far from home. Ultimately, The Platform is a vessel of warnings against an equally dark and unpleasant future.
– Claudia McGettigan
Featured Image Source: Still via THE PLATFORM Official Trailer (2020), ONE Media // YouTube