Social Commentary in The Platform

Is it prison? Is it a game? What the fuck is going on, Netflix?

How does the platform move like a really shitty elevator on the way down, but like a speeding bullet on the way up? What science is this?!

If you haven’t heard of Netflix’s Platform by now, I wonder what social media you’ve been glued to during The Great Coronavirus Quarantine. Twitter dash going off, Facebook mentions off the charts, and Insta stories full of that screaming Edvard Munch-esque emoji. After a sedate day of lamenting the state of the economy, the stock market, and my life, I whipped up a batch of almond flour cookies using ingredients after a spark of Chopped-fueled frenzy and settled in for a viewing of the Spanish-language film on Netflix. I got a D in Spanish while I was in college, so I recommend the subtitles for anyone woefully inept at languages other than English.

At surface level, The Platform is horror-tinged sci-fi centered around a compound that (must be?) shaped like a tower or skyscraper (or cave system?) and rigged with a floating platform that passes each floor of the tower twice a day. The platform carries a literal gourmet feast as it passes each floor, starting at floor 0 (presumably the top floor where the kitchens are), and ending hundreds of floors later. Each floor contains two people who are each allowed to take a single item with them into the compound. The main character, Goreng, brings a paper copy of Don Quixote, and we see various other items taken by the participants (surfboard, dog, knife, rope). As the platform passes, each floor’s inhabitants are allowed to partake of the feast… until the food runs out. As the viewers comprehend the extent to which the tower descends–132? 150? 200? and onward–they realize floors exist so far below the threshold of human restraint that, for thirty days, people on the lower floors receive no food at all.

But that doesn’t mean those people do not eat.

The idea of this platform compound alone is chilling, and the social commentary the film brings up is also deeply unsettling. “Spontaneous solidarity,” a concept that goodwill, self-sacrifice, and teamwork will spontaneously generate among masses in times of trial and uncertainty (hello, Coronavirus) utterly fails as each consequent floor is unwilling to abstain or share the feast. From threatening people to share the feast (hello again, Coronavirus) to actively defending the feast from hungry people… The Platform explores them all.

The deeper layers of meaning in the film explore social hierarchy, but only to an extent: every thirty days, the people are moved to different floors. Goreng and his batshit insane cellmate start on floor 48, where there are still ample scraps for sustenance, before, thirty days later, awakening on floor 171 where empty plates and glasses are all that remain. So the heiracrchical standards are only in play for those thirty days: eat what you can, and the higher your level, the more like a king you can consume. The commentary here is one of the ephermerality of social class–how quickly one achieves it, how there is no reason for this achievement and no chance to sustain or secure your position, and how quickly that societal distinction can disappear. I’m reminded of a lecture during a college Sociology class where the professor claimed that it only takes two years for a person to become destitute, but it takes an average of five years to climb out of that hole of homelessness and hunger.

Class conflict comes into play early on when Goreng’s cellmate tells him not to talk to those on the floor below, and later, after threatening to defecate on the food before it reaches the floor below if they don’t share, Goreng explains that the floor above won’t listen to him because he “can’t shit upwards.” Ain’t it the fucking truth. One may argue with those in their own class, demean and impose upon those below, but there is no vertical climb of dialogue or action, whether constructive or otherwise.

Drawing upon the theory of Baudrillard’s hyperreality, there is a claim to make that The Platform isn’t just a sci-fi romp in a morally gray world where this game with no rules and no winner is just a crazy, thought-provoking film. Indeed, one could claim that this is already the system in place, especially in America where we all function as if there is no tower and no platform, when reality is that we are in a tower and every achievement we believe we earn is just the endless descent and ascent of the platform, diminishing at each layer of class until it reaches the bottom (our homeless, our hungry, our immigrants) and nothing is left.

Two-Cent Critical Analysis:

  • Relevance of Don Quixote as it relates to themes in The Platform.
  • The Christological narrative presented both by Goreng and the child. Is Goreng or the child the Jesus figure? Notice the child is found on (SPOILER) floor 333, a clear reference to the Christian trinity. In a case for the child: it appears the force of the rising platform causes the child to bleed out as a result of the G-force, thus a sacrificial lamb on a platform not unlike Christ on a cross.
  • Cross-readings of The Platform with The Hunger Games including support from historical gladiator spectacles at the Colosseum.

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