We say the same thing whenever a new dystopian vision is released: it couldn’t have come at a better time. It was said when Brazil bowed and again with Snowpiercer and High-Rise after. And now it’s director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia‘s turn as El hoyo [The Platform] hits the zeitgeist in the middle of a pandemic that’s revealed empires to be as naked as Hans Christian Andersen’s emperor. Will we band together in the face of widespread adversity and recognize—sometimes for the very first time—that we must protect the most vulnerable of us at all costs? Or do we fracture even further to become selfish animals willing to take and kill with impunity if it means surviving to endure another day in Hell? The answer is invariably depressing.
Just look at the state of America as it continues to be ruled by career politicians and sycophantic appointees carving out legislation that benefits themselves at the expense of the people on which the economy relies. This is the case no matter which party occupies the White House, but it’s obviously been made worse with a narcissistically apathetic opportunist in charge. Whether it’s Donald Trump slow-walking a COVID-19 response to save a buck or slow-walking it further to make one (not to mention the case of him trying to extort the makers of a vaccine so he could monopolize it as a US-only cure), every move made is done to protect businesses and the wealthy elite. Socialistic processes are embraced for corporations and rejected for desperate, impoverished individuals.
The idea is this: businesses run the economy. You give them carte blanch to receive tax breaks while also allowing them to avoid paying taxes because you assume that they will do right by their employees. But that’s not what happens. They pump those added resources into the executives’ paychecks while retaining a stranglehold on the actual workers because they’ve enacted a system of oppression they’ve called free market capitalism. That’s why a guy like Jeff Bezos can be worth billions while his warehouse workers pee in bottles so as not to get fired for taking a government-mandated bathroom break. And it’s why half the country says he has a right to do so because he’s giving them jobs. They owe him. He owes them nothing.
We therefore want to become him. That’s the American Dream. Anyone can come from nothing and have everything (and subsequently exploit those who don’t to hoard it). That’s possibly the worst trait humanity has to offer and what Spanish screenwriters David Desola and Pedro Rivero channel when their two characters wake in a concrete room with a square hole in the center. Goreng (Ivan Massagué) is confused because he thought he was volunteering six months of his life to the “Administration” in order to receive the peace and quiet necessary to quit smoking and read Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor) explains how wrong he is by introducing “the platform”—a table with food that descends daily through those holes of an unknown number of levels.
Because they’re on level forty-eight, only forty-seven other levels (ninety-four people) have eaten from the table thus far. That means some starches remain, maybe a little wine, and perhaps an untouched apple. For two minutes they must consume what they can because the moment the platform begins descending, any food left triggers a mortal punishment. Ever an optimist, the scholarly Goreng quickly decides to yell to the level above and the one below so everyone can get on the same page. He relays how rationing should keep them all fed no matter which level they’re currently on (it changes monthly). If everyone works together, they can all survive. The question remains, however, whether that’s the goal. Does the “Administration” want cooperation or violence? Entitlement proves a vicious drug.
End up below fifty and you might not receive a scrap. Somehow live through it to wake on a single-digit floor and you’ll surely scarf more than needed because you can’t know whether you’ll ever be there again. You also can’t trust that following Goreng’s hypothesis will do anything but make you hungrier when the time to endure famine, psychosis, and the prospect of eating your companion arrives. It only takes one self-centered participant to ruin everything and only one person going hungry to ensure the scales are tipped later in response. Here’s the metaphor for social distancing during the age of COVID-19. By breaking quarantine once, you could become infected and spread it to everyone else in isolation. Suddenly your safe space is the virus’ breeding ground.
With Desola and Rivero’s starkly minimalist setting, Gaztelu-Urrutia must retain our intrigue as days pass. That means relying on an excellent cast willing to unearth the humor of futility while also succumbing to its depths of despair and coaxing out the kinetic energy of his static spaces. Violence is key because it’s the sole inevitability when a group of people is confined together and assigned unequal positions within a jealousy-fueled hierarchy. Maybe it’s born from the mute Miharu (Alexandra Masangkay) who jumps on the platform and kills whomever tries to prevent her search for her stolen child. Maybe it’s the pragmatic Trimagasi, the naïve Imoguiri (Antonia San Juan), or the ambitious Baharat (Emilio Buale) opening Goreng’s eyes to mankind’s depravity by becoming perpetrators and victims alike.
Will he become no better than the animals taking their thirty days in the sun as permission to wreak havoc on the less fortunate? Will he retain his moral code and die due to an inability to go to the dark places necessary to take his next breath? Or will he force the issue and drive a sense of community and compassion down everyone else’s throats? The latter choice is obviously risky since getting his compatriots to fall in line one day hardly confirms they’ll do it again tomorrow, so Goreng must think bigger. He’ll have to do something that will make the “Administration” take notice because it’s all about one person there too. If outsiders are ignorant to what’s happening, a message just might spark a change.
courtesy of Netflix