What the Film “The Platform” Loudly Says About Social Change
“The Platform” is a Spanish film that has rightfully been hailed by critics as horrifying, topical, and gruesomely riveting. The atmosphere is claustrophobic, clinical, and the performances on screen shows the wide range of human emotion that comes with suffering, from dark humor to tortured anguish to blood-boiling fury.
The film focuses around 5 characters: Goreng, the main character and idealist to a fault. Trimagasi, the experienced prison survivor about to finish his tenure at the prison. Imoguiri, the naive screener that ensured Goreng was fit to survive his own stay. Baharat, a man hellbent on escaping the prison however he can. And lastly, Miharu, a silent woman that travels up and down the prison on the food table in search of her missing child.
The reason for me writing this is that it is, as I said, topical. The film makes absolutely no mistake: this is a film about capitalism. It isn’t so much about the horrors of capitalism, it isn’t about how one system is better than another. It is is a simple cry from a human being to an uncertain, cold, unfeeling system:
Please just let me eat.
The film itself centers around an almost unfathomably large vertical prison. The cells are industrial-looking, with two cots, one sink, a toilet, and a mirror. Oh, and a 10-foot square hole in the center of the room that allows for inmates to look both up, and down, for seemingly ever.
Spoiler alert: this is obviously going to include spoilers. It’s a film analysis, ya’ll.
It’s not really my goal to summarize the film, and instead I would strongly recommend you just watch it. I’d rather dive right into the plot elements, symbolism, and structure of the film. So, to begin:
1. The Prison as Unfettered Capitalism
The first thing we get from the film is an immediate lack of control. There is no choosing who you are with, what level you are on, what you may wear or what you will do. The tower prison has no doors and no explanation for how prisoners are put between floors at random as they are.
The Economy of Food
Immediately, the symbolism of the tower itself is a call-out to Reagan-era trickle-down economics. At the very top, there is no limit to the excesses that the prisoners may enjoy. When we look to the kitchen that makes the food, we don’t see greasy cooks sweating over fryers and plastic-wrapped pre-fabricated meats. No, sir.
We see a full brigade system in effect, with a head chef, multiple chefs-de-parties and commis running around between saucier, poissonier, and garde manger stations. We see what is not so much a general manager as an extremely regimented and disciplined hotel manager.
The luxury, the attention, and the anger that the manager feels when he discovers a hair in the food is more like a Parisian experience than that of prison. The cannibalism we see on level 171 is a far cry from what is available.
This is clearly a call-out to the randomness of the current system. Look at the global markets of today. You don’t choose your birthplace, your company, or your status in society.
Upward mobility is nice, downward is fatal
While it could be argued that the system in “The Platform” are symbolic of one’s ability to climb and descend the social latter, it is more likely referencing the lethal nature of an unrestricted economy that leaves those at the bottom at the mercy of those above.
And this is referenced directly by Imoguiri, the woman that screened Goreng before he entered the prison, when she states that the goal was for everyone to simply ration their food and unite to support each other.
If you’ve seen the movie, you know that she maybe put a little too much faith in the human race right there.
2. The Personal Items
Every prisoner is allowed to bring one personal item. Goreng brings with him a book, Don Quixote. Trigamasi brought a self-sharpening knife that can cut through stone.
Goreng’s personal item denotes him as a scholar, an idealist, and a man that draws from loftier ideas from literature and culture. This is coupled with his constant refusal to accept the system at face value and to refrain from the darker acts committed within the prison. He’s also the leader, and shows mercy to others whenever he can.
Trigamasi is the pragmatist. He accepts his position in the system, and he does within it what it takes to survive. This includes murder, cannibalism, eating gluttonously what he can and spitting on those below him. The chef’s knife represents that he went into the prison not only prepared for the culinary experience from hell, but to kill and butcher others.
In the end, the symbolism becomes muddled and mixed. Through a series of events best witnessed than read about, Goreng comes into possession of the knife, and ends up eating pages from his book for sustenance.
Duality in an “fair” system
This looks to be an argument that ideals are important for inspiration, but the fight for change in the system has to come from action, leadership, and command of fellowship. It isn’t until Goreng has actually suffered through the system that he gains an understanding of it, which serves to both separate the symbols of scholarly knowledge and lethal utilitarianism, and unify the ideas that perhaps both are correct in some way.
Looking at the current affairs of the world, this is important. Not all of us have experienced the “lower levels” of the system, and not all of our ideas make sense to apply towards fixing it. Even the screener, Imoguiri, didn’t understand the nature of the prison she worked for before entering it, which ultimately led to her… well, watch the movie.
3. The Table
This sort of seems obvious, but there is plenty to notice here. From the escargots that Goreng requested as his specialty item, to the trampling of food, to how some people graciously accept their position and eat with manners: the table is more than the capital of society being passed down less and less through the levels.
First, the escargots stood out to me as being particularly important. Goreng, as part of his screener, was asked his favorite food so that the chefs could prepare it for him. He said escargot. Sure enough, escargot was on the table, but he only saw it for the first time in his last month at the prison, and very near the final end of his stay.
Winning at a snail’s pace
To me, this is the idea that if you work hard enough to get something in this system, you technically can. He fought hard to stay alive, and he went through unspeakable torment to get it, to include being partially cannibalized. But like in the system, the statistics are strongly against you. If all of his dreams weren’t eaten up by the higher levels, his compatriots on the lower would kill him to get it first.
The wine stood out as well. No one ever was left wine; it was always consumed immediately on the higher levels. This has higher than “we have it so we use it.” No, the platform only stays at each level for two minutes, and if you take anything to keep for yourself, the cell heats or cools to lethal temperatures.
At a point, life itself becomes a luxury in a trickle-down system
This means that the higher levels literally have time to kill. They have so much available that spending precious seconds of their time to consume whole bottles of alcohol when you only get two minutes a day to eat that to them, it just doesn’t matter. They have nothing at risk while they’re there.
Lastly, the table moves. Nothing else moves, and it is the only way to climb or descend the system by choice. But in order to climb all the way to the top, you first have to go all the way to the bottom. I believe this is representative of two beliefs: one, that if you control the food, you control the system.
This is something that whole manners of analysts agree on with food scarcity and welfare programs. But two, it represents the powerless of a system when you simply avoid a key rule… you can technically choose not to stay in your assigned place, though you might die in the process.
What about the other symbols?!
Well, this movie is really one giant machine of moving symbols. The whole film is comprised of very important imagery, cultural icons, and nods (the two main characters are played by Spanish comedians, but you likely would not have ever guessed that, would you?”
These are simply the 3 I thought were most poignant to serve the bulk of the story’s purpose. The social ladder, the randomness, the method of change versus complacency, and the luxury of drawing breath seem to be largely encapsulated by the messages of those few symbols, in my opinion.
Disagree? Have something to add? Do so below!