Netflix Now: The Platform (2020)-Reviewed

Sometimes a film comes along that is so of its time that you wonder if the filmmaker can see into the future. The thing about Netflix's latest release, The Platform, is that despite feeling like it could only come out now, it's filled with an anger that can only be the result of decades of class warfare. The fact that it's been released in the midst of a global pandemic makes its punch even harder. You can try to view the film in a vacuum but it's impossible. The rage from director Galder Gaztelu-Urritia and writers David Desola & Pedro Rivero is palpable. The things they're fighting against are unsubtle. However in a time of uncertainty, social unrest and flat out terror, subtlety is the last thing we need.

Set in a prison called "The Pit", sometime in the future, prisoners are assigned a level and cellmate. Some people are there because they've committed a crime and their choices were either this with a reduced sentence or traditional prison. Some people, like our lead Goreng (Ivan Massagué) are here voluntarily. Goreng wants to quit smoking so he volunteers to come to The Pit with only a book as you're allowed one item, any item. His decision to bring a book mixed with his decision to come on his own free will is instantly, horrifyingly baffling when he opens his eyes on day one.

In The Pit, you see, life may be structured simply but the ramifications of this structure are anything but. In the center of every level is a rectangular hole and once a day, a concrete table descends to each level, feeding the prisoners. A decadent, multi-course meal is prepared at the top and once it descends, the prisoners eat from it. One level at a time. All of this is on a timer so the prisoners have to gorge themselves as quickly as possible, eating whatever they can. As the table goes lower and lower, the food becomes less and less. Because it's their only source of sustenance, the prisoners in the lower levels can do nothing but eat the leftovers. It doesn't matter if it's been chewed up and spit out. It doesn't matter if all that's left is crumbs. You can try to hold out, out of disgust as Goreng initially does but that way of life is untenable as his cellmate Trimagasi (a literal scene-chewing Zorion Eguileor) points out. You die without food and whatever preconceived notions you have about society or manners or way of life are quickly thrown out the window in The Pit. 

The Platform wears its fury over class disparity well on its sleeve and it's the driving force of the film. When we meet Goreng and Trimagasi, they're on level 48 which seems awful at first until you realize the levels go much, much deeper. Their disgusting array of food is a glorious banquet compared to the people below them. Goreng realizes this and tries to spark a chain of cooperation between levels. If the level above saves a little food for the level below, maybe life in here can be a little easier to navigate. Trimagasi quickly dispels that notion. 

Trimagasi's insistence of looking out for one's self is an obvious parallel to real life. He's been here much longer than Goreng and he's seen this from every angle. You and your cellmate move every month so Trimagasi has been higher and he's been lower. Much lower. This may be a Spanish film but its core conflict is one that resonates everywhere, especially in America. America doesn't like to talk about class. People in power will tell the poorest person that as long as they look out for themselves and work hard that they'll move up. Follow the arbitrary rules that are put in place and you'll succeed. They say this all while changing the rules to suit themselves. So that poor person may move up a bit but because a capitalistic society has taught them to look out for themselves, the minute they're up one level, the person below them is meaningless. "Forget that a month ago I was where that person was, but now I'm not! And it's all because I've looked out for myself and followed the rules!" When all you've know is poverty, it's easy to lose sight of where you've come from when given the smallest of reprieve.

It's a harrowing way to look at the world but it's what we're taught at a young age and The Platform nails this. A capitalistic society is built to fail because once one attains wealth and power, their gut instinct is to keep it. They worked hard for this. Why shouldn't they? Why should they bother helping someone that might be in the exact same position they were in just last month? Trimagasi's thinks this way but his wealth and power is essentially nonexistent. All he's attained in his time in the Pit is the understanding that whether you're at the top, the middle or near the bottom, you never want to be at the bottom. His flaw is not taking into serious enough account that the people on top are always going to be above him. To them, he's as forgotten as the people below him and the people below them.

We're seeing this happen now in very real and terrifying ways. The people in power are telling us to stay strong and telling us that they're with us. But who are the people getting the tests for the virus? Who are the people losing no money while out of work? Watching The Platform in the midst of this nightmare, it's hard to not understand Trimagasi's point of view. But therein lies the brilliance of the film. As Goreng descends into madness and begins to fall more and more in line with his cellmate's way of thinking, he meets Miharu (Alexandra Massangkay). Miharu periodically rides up and down the platform searching for her child. Through her and violent set of circumstances that if explained would spoil the film, Goreng begins to realize that there may be hope in all of this despite his increasing despair. Perhaps his early pacifism was wrong but his desire to help people wasn't. Perhaps the only way to get through to the people at the top is through violent revolution.

The Platform asks a lot of questions and not a single one can be met with an easy answer. Is it advocating for violence? Not necessarily. It is a metaphor after all. However, it's easy to see a world in which what it presupposes isn't that far off. Not so much the Pit or eating each other's leftovers. But the increasing desire to default to "me first" in uncertain times and the violence that comes with that. It's a scary proposition. But despite its bleak overtones and the blunt force in which it delivers its message, its offering of hope may be what pushes the The Platform from a mean, nasty and compelling horror film of its moment to an essential text on how to get through our perpetual nightmare of class disparity. Some of this gets a bit muddled and the repetitive nature of the film causes it to lose some of its bite but all of the pieces are there to help one another. You just have to wade through the shit, compost and chewed up remains to find it.

Again, it's all metaphor though. Right?

-Brandon Streussnig