Director – Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
Cast – Iván Massagué, Zorion Eguileor, Antonia San Juan, Emilio Buale Coka, Alexandra Masangkay
Part parable about the rotting of civilisation and part rallying cry for the heftier taxation of the rich, The Platform is the sort of movie that can perhaps do more to change your eating habits than that documentary on veganism you’ve been recommending to your friends.
It is a nasty piece of work for a nasty world — an unsubtle and unholy melding of Bong Joon-ho’s social criticism and the existentialism of Samuel Beckett.
Watch the Platform trailer here
Two men wake up in a prison cell. There is a large, rectangular opening in the middle of the floor, and an equally large one in the ceiling. One man, meant to be our surrogate in this world, doesn’t understand its rules. Conveniently, his cell-mate is a lifer.
The older man calls himself Trimagasi; he serves as both Goreng’s and our guide in the film’s surreal landscape. The cell exists inside a vertical prison, Trimagasi efficiently exposits in the opening minutes of the movie. Once a day, every day, a platform bearing food descends from the heavens and goes all the way down, through the opening in the floor. It is unclear how many levels there are in the prison, although Trimagasi is relieved that him and Goreng have woken up on level 48.
By the time the platform reaches the lower levels, Trimagasi continues with a deadness in his eyes, all the food has already been eaten by those up top, leaving those down below ravenous. On level 48, Trimagasi and Goreng can expect some leftovers, and perhaps even a sip or two of wine.
Prisoners are randomly reassigned levels at the end of every month, and once, Trimagasi says, he was sentenced to level 143. It is implied that during his month-long stint there, he was forced to kill and eat his cell-mate to survive.
The Platform exists, like Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, inside its own ecosystem. Like that film — in my opinion Bong’s finest work, better even than his similarly satirical Oscar-winner Parasite — The Platform is both a critique of class division and a raging manifesto for environmentalism.
The resources available to the prisoners are limited — an arbitrary but cruel decision made by the unseen Administration that has put them there — but if every individual were to consume rationally, there would be enough to go around. However, in a chain reaction of perceived misfortune, one person’s greed corrupts the entire population.
There is a relentlessness to The Platform. At around an hour-and-a-half long, barely a second is wasted by debutant director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia. Information in conveyed with crisp, almost clinical dispassion; twists unfold with regular frequency.
While Trimagasi and Goreng wait for the daily Smörgåsbord to descend from the heavenly top tiers of the prison, like characters from Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, your imagination immediately darts to what life would be like on the hellish lower levels.
Why do the lucky ones not feel the need to take care of the less fortunate? Why do they hoard all the food before it can be funnelled down? And what reason do the prisoners in the lower levels have to turn on each other? Whom do they blame for their predicament? Each other? The society they’ve been born into? The government that has put them there?
Those are a lot of questions, and The Platform doesn’t even begin to suggest that it has answers to any of them. But as a piece of exploitation cinema — violent, darkly humorous, and often jaw-droppingly wise — you could do much worse.
Despite its otherworldly tone, there’s a stark realism to the film that feels all too relevant, especially now, when it seems as if we are on the brink of societal and economic collapse.
There’s a reason that a third-act plot development turns the film’s dystopian dourness into something more hopeful. There’s a reason that Goreng, especially in the film’s final moments, begins to display an uncanny resemblance to Jesus Christ.
After having won the Midnight Madness prize at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival — an honour that went to Vasan Bala’s Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota in 2018 — The Platform arrives on Netflix, poised to become a breakout hit during a time when most of the world is locked inside their own prisons.