“The Platform”: A Tough-to-Watch Allegory of Social Inequality, in the Vein of Terry Gilliam

“The Platform”: A Tough-to-Watch Allegory of Social Inequality, in the Vein of Terry Gilliam March 29, 2020

The Platform is a brilliant film, but I’ll be content never to watch it again.  It’s an impressive feature debut for Spanish director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, with a cohesive unity of ideas, visuals, and sound.  But in its allegory of social and economic inequality, it doesn’t go easy on the blood, intestines, saliva, feces, and urine.

If you can stomach all of that, and if you’re a fan of Terry Gilliam’s dystopian tales – 12 Monkeys, Brazil, The Zero Theorem – then The Platform is just the movie for you.  (By curious coincidence, Gaztelu-Urrutia also shares Gilliam’s fixation on Don Quixote.)

 The Platform is one of those films where the fewer specifics you know going in, the better, so I’ll shy away from big plot reveals.  It begins with our protagonist Goreng (Ivan Massagué) awakening foggy-headedly on Level 48 of “the Hole,” a cramped rectangular slab with a rectangular opening in its center.

Ivan Massagué is Goreng, in “The Platform”

Everyone in the Hole has a cellmate.  Goreng’s is a callous pragmatist named Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor), who’s been in the Hole for a while.  Impatiently, he fills his new roomie in on the basics:  every level has two residents, with Trimagasi speculating that there are about 200 floors.  The hole in the Hole is for a food-containing platform that descends from Level 0 to the bottom once daily, stopping briefly at each floor.  What starts as a gorgeous, bountiful feast at the top – escargots, panna cotta, fine wine, multi-layered cakes – has been trampled upon and laid waste to, by the time it halts for them.

Each person is the Hole resides there for six months, with a random assignment to a new level monthly.  Some are sentenced to the Hole, some go voluntarily for social advancement.  As Goreng awakens, he remembers he signed on the dotted line to obtain a diploma.  He also recalls that each person was permitted to bring one item with them; Goreng chose Cervantes’ classic saga, while the peculiar Trimagasi brought a prized self-sharpening kitchen knife, purchased on a home-shopping network.

The visual design of The Platform matches the dread oddity of Gaztela-Urrutia’s storyline.  The dark brown concrete and the lighter brown of the cellmate’s uniforms is only offset by the bright remnants of the feast.  Likewise, the application center for the Hole, seen in Goreng’s flashbacks, is a dim, dull vision of administrative hell, only the numbers changing on the walls of its unending alcoves.

Looking down on Goreng and the feast remnants, in “The Platform”

The musical accompaniment by composer Aránzazu Calleja just as unsettling.  Its rhythmic metallic hammering and ticking underscore the impersonal, ghastly nature of the machine in which Goreng is trapped.

Massagué, the actor playing Goreng, is best known in Spain for his comedic roles.  His expressive elasticity is a perfect fit for The Platform, as he conveys the bewilderment, terror, or resolve that each sequence demands.  He has a suitably idealistic Everyman look to him; picking up on this, one character tells him, “This isn’t a great place for someone who likes books.”

Of course, the Hole and its descending platform of food is an allegory for the failure of trickle-down capitalism.  In one scene, an administrator informs Goreng that there’s enough food for everyone on the platform, if each person merely took what they need.  Yet those on lower levels are left with broken glass and empty plates.

As in our capitalist society, those with higher numbers are there by pure chance, not by dint of personal virtue.  And the fifteen-foot gap between floors makes ascent impossible, the downward direction of the platform permitting only descent.

Scenes of the upper denizens tearing into and demolishing the fastidiously-prepared banquet are an apt representation of the desecration of our planet by the wealthiest.  Yet instead of putting their heads together to topple the unequal system, the lower levels expend their energy battling each other.

The intelligent script by David Desola and Pedro Rivero provocatively raises the question of whether structural change can occur by persuasion, or if coercion is necessary.  The Platform is so stuffed with ideas on race, religion, and dehumanizing language that I wasn’t surprised to read its first life was as a stage play by Desola.

The Platform’s most glaring flaw is that the solution proposed by its ending is too glib, too sanguine.  I was left feeling the writers and director got swept away by Don Quixote’s delusional optimism, his faith that “one luck and one fortune you shall share.”


(The Platform is now available for viewing on Netflix.)


(Image credit for star rating: Yasir72.multan CC BY-SA 3.0 )

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