Director: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
Stars: Ivan Massagué, Zorion Eguileor, Antonia San Juan
For the last two weeks here in the UK, maybe longer, we’ve been inundated with images of our supermarkets being ransacked as panic-buyers empty shelves in preparation for the End Times. The country is edging closer to lockdown as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, and what we’re exposed to most-often is evidence of our own selfishness, our own short-sightedness. It isn’t very flattering.
Now, along comes a grizzly new sci-fi horror from Spain to make us feel, well, even worse.
In an alternate now or near future, Goreng (Ivan Massagué) elects to enter The Hole; a ‘Vertical Self-Management Centre’. It consists of a series of cells stacked on top of one another with a square shaft running clear down the middle. Each cell has two inmates. Everyday, once a day, a platform of food is lowered down the floors of this vast jail. The higher up you are, the better your pickings. The nearer the bottom, the more likely you are to starve. It’s a blunt-force metaphor for capitalism and the lie of trickle-down economics.
Goreng has entered into this contract – a six month stay in a literal hell on Earth – in order to come out the other end with an accredited diploma; a shortcut to success without the need for the requisite skills. Still, he evidently has no idea of the true horror he’s letting himself in for. Waking on Level 48 with senior cellmate Trinagasi (Zorion Eguileor), he has next-to-no knowledge of his perilous circumstances, or the lengths others will go to for survival. His naivety is evidenced by his choice of item. Everyone who enters can pick one possession to bring with them. He has with him a copy of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. A book.
Trinagasi has a knife.
What follows is not pretty. With his relative youth, Goreng brings a sense of idealism to The Hole – a liberal outlook. Older and more experienced, Trinagasi is a shrewd, conservative presence. He mocks the hopefulness of his new comrade. The Platform feels like a mirror to this split in politics we’re seeing the world over, where the brightness of youth is seemingly being countered at the exit polls by the fearfulness of age. Time and experience will wear hard on Goreng as, in various ways, he is witness to the failures of humanity. He is, in a way, like Quixote himself; foolishly convinced of his own ability to stand for nobility in a world that has come to see the concept as antiquate, even cliché.
This is the misanthropic standpoint of Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s film; itself a kind of spiritual sequel to Vincenzo Natali’s Cube from 1998. Both films make ingenious use of a single boxy space, recycling it over and over again with mild variations to achieve their labyrinthine ends.
Once Goreng is hardened to life in The Hole, he encounters a new foil – hopeful social climber Baharat (Emilio Buale) – and between the two of them they form a plan to get out of their indignant situation, or to at least send a message to The Administration that cruelly perpetuates such suffering. And though this act of defiance and protest may itself be read as a form of hope and therefore light within the film, it is played fatalistically. A martyr’s errand. Like Natali before him, Gaztelu-Urrutia bathes his characters in blood and shit and everything else in between. The Platform may be a well-executed social metaphor, but it is a grueling endurance test of a movie, too.
Life isn’t easy at the moment. The Platform may resonate fiercely with the trappings of 2020 – confinement, downward trajectory, paranoia – but it doesn’t exactly make any of these things easier to stomach. It is worth a look if you have the capacity for it – there’s plenty to chew over ethically, philosophically, and as a political essay – but for your own well-being you might rather go hungry for now and approach it again when things aren’t actually quite so fucking horrendous.