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Though made in 2018, “The Platform” feels eerily prescient — a brilliant but hard to watch film perfectly in tune with this particular moment in time.

“There are three kinds of people: The ones at the top, the ones at the bottom, and the ones who fall.”  – The Platform

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced most of us to stay at home. During this time, binging movies on Netflix has become even more popular than ever. The streaming giant’s media library is vast, and choosing what to watch can be difficult. However, one movie that has surged in popularity over the last few weeks — for good reason — is the 2019 Spanish science-fiction, horror/thriller The Platform, directed by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia.

It’s the perfect film to watch right now, as it centers around the idea of containment and isolation from society, while exploring the dark side of human nature and the impact of selfishness, greed, and hoarding when others are in need.

The setting is a large, tower-style containment center, with two people in each cell. Some are there because they are guilty of a heinous crime. Others, like our protagonist, Goreng (Ivan Massagué), are there by choice — to gain some favor from the government upon release. Goreng has agreed to sacrifice six months of his life in the facility in exchange for an accredited diploma.

Each prisoner is allowed to bring only one personal belonging into the prison.

Goreng has chosen a book, Don Quixote, one he’s eager to spend his isolation reading for the first time, while also quitting his smoking habit. It’s an unusual choice, one the seasoned administrator for the facility screening process admits is a request she has never heard.

For many of us in forced isolation, we might consider our phones to be the one essential thing we couldn’t live without. It’s our phones that have given us a lifeline to the outside world, helping us feel connected and keeping us sane. Our phones allow us to access social media, to video chat with those we can’t see in person, and to ease boredom and the anxiety of the daily news cycle by watching movies and playing apps and live casino online games.

For Goreng and the other prisoners, however, there is no such lifeline.

The prison is what isolation might look like if we were truly and completely disconnected from the world we once knew. 

And, as you might expect, it’s not a comforting reality.

In this facility, there is a huge rectangular opening in the floor and ceiling of every cell, through which a platform descends every day with food. Properly rationed, there is more than enough for all the inmates. However, by the time the platform reaches the lower levels, the food and drink has already been depleted by greedy prisoners on higher floors, leaving the occupants below ravenous.

Prisoners are randomly reassigned to different levels every month. After being admitted to the facility, Goreng awakes in a concrete cell on level 48. His rather inhospitable roommate, Tramagasi (Zorion Eguileor), explains the rules of survival in this tower — assuring Goreng that he is lucky to have been placed on such a good floor.

Goreng is horrified as he comes to realize that those on lower levels are able to eat only what those at the top leave them, and they cannot hoard food (the cell is heated or cooled to fatal levels if food is kept). He’s also troubled by Tramagasi’s ominous description of life on lower levels and the mysterious thinning of the herd over month after month, not to mention Tramagasi’s chosen personal item: a self-sharpening knife he purchased from a late night infomercial.

Goreng spends the first month on level 48, which offers him enough food, though thoroughly picked over, and even some wine. However, the next month, he wakes up on level 171. At this point, we begin to fully understand the depths some people will go to survive when the selfishness of others leaves them desperate and afraid.

The Platform is an absolutely chilling look at a society torn apart by classism, greed, and man’s inhumanity to man.

Although there is enough for everyone to comfortably survive, people at the top take as much as they want, leaving little to nothing for those at the bottom. Thus, while some thrive in a world where their greatest concern is being driven mad by boredom, others struggle to get their basic human needs met.

What’s worse, those who have confronted the horror of life at the bottom quickly forget the plight of others less fortunate once they make it to a higher station.

Scenes of abject suffering in the facility, a literal manifestation of hell, are interspersed with those showing the meticulous preparation of food for the prisoners. Sumptuous dishes, including fine and exotic foods like escargot, are made with the same attention and quality you’d expect from a five star restaurant. The bountiful feast is exquisitely laid out on elegant tableware. We see the opulent banquet as it begins its journey at level zero, a physical representation of overindulgence and excess. We then see the grotesque remains of the feast as it becomes desecrated during its descent to the starving inmates on the lower levels.

The prison system serves as a bleak but powerful representation of the class divides in the world and the deeply inequitable division of resources among those classes.

It also makes a strong case for reducing consumption, while exploring the importance of individual initiative in driving wide-scale political change. Filmmaker Gaztelu-Urrutia said the film’s key message is that “…humanity will have to move towards the fair distribution of wealth.”

The director acknowledges that the film can be a difficult watch, but he believes it makes an important statement and will hopefully help generate much needed discussion and debate.

Though it contains scenes of tremendous brutality, including cannibalism, Gaztelu-Urrutia believes it’s not exploitation but rather a necessary aspect of authentic storytelling. He argues that the film “is a reflection of our society, [so] it couldn’t hide the violence. It had to show how we rip each other apart.”

Sadly, this unsettling and impactful slice of cinema has become even more relevant in the last couple of months.

We’ve become all too familiar with scenes of mass hoarding and greed at supermarkets all over the world. People are stocking up for the ‘end of the world’, as it were, without a care for their fellow humans. It’s enough to make you wonder, not if humanity can be saved, but should it be?

In The Platform, characters repeatedly try to appeal to their fellow inmates’ reason and their sense of ethics and fairness. However, their impassioned pleas do nothing to persuade the hungry from taking all they want, without any disregard for the suffering and death of those less fortunate.

The only thing they respond to is threat and the risk of losing their share. But only people on top have the power to take from those below them. Thus, the only form of influence in this cold and dehumanized Vertical Self-Management Center is from the top down.

Those less fortunate find themselves at the mercy of those in positions of privilege.

Their health, happiness, and survival is in the hands of a few at the top of the food chain.

Without the people in positions of power choosing to wield that power responsibly, those less fortunate must suffer the cruel consequences. It’s a morality tale for the ages, but it’s likely to pack a more powerful punch in these trying times.

The Platform picked up the coveted Midnight Madness prize at the International Toronto Film Festival last year during its World Premiere on September 6, 2019, followed by its US premiere at Austin’s Fantastic Fest on September 22, 2019. It arrived on Netflix on March 20, 2020, with a lot of critical acclaim behind it. I urge you to check it out. It’s a devastating but absolutely riveting watch.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies)

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