“The panna cotta is the message.”
With mainstream Hollywood currently enamored with comic book adaptations, light sabres, and sequels of established blockbusters, it’s refreshing to see a gem like The Platform slip through.
Film – produced primarily by Spanish production company Basque Films – channels thematic elements of early Bunuel, but is a tad less cynical and a lot more violent (film has more death counts than a Dothraki wedding).
Filed under sci-fi horror, film – which is really a political commentary – is directed by Galder Gazetelu-Urrutia, who eschews subtletly and drops so many Marxist anvils anywhere, anybody passing by for a glimpse would be hit with a bump in the noggin in the shape of Lenin. Yup. The Platform is THAT heavy-handed in its message – there was even a part in the film where characters had to resort to violence against anybody who refuses to share resources (hello Bolsheviks!) but I’m getting ahead of the story.
Filmis centered around the main character Goreng (played by Ivan Massague, looking like a more tortured John Turturro) who woke up one day inside a cell of what one character calls as a Vertical Self-Management Center. It is in reality a tower with countless floors – the number of floors varies throughout the story – where a platform laden with food descends at specific periods of time.
Goreng is initially paired with Trimagasi (Zorion Egileor), a hardened veteran who took no time briefing our hero on the rules in the tower: a platform laden with food descends periodically. Residents of each floor – two per cell – are expected to eat all that they can (for a short period) before platform descends to feed the lower floors. This implies that those in the upper floors have the liberty to eat all they want, leaving the lower floors starving. Hoarding food could lead to two things: a biting cold that could freeze occupants to death, or unbearable heat intense enough to slough off the occupants’ flesh.
Each resident was given a single object to bring with them to the tower – for Goreng, it was a copy of Don Quixote; for the pragmatist Trimagasi, it was a dagger.
One day, a disheveled woman named Miharu drops in – literally – ostensibly to look for her lost child. Whether or not the child exists becomes one of the focal points of the story.
Film is chockful of symbolism and Marxist themes, it was a wonder no character was named Trotsky or Engels. There was for instance a character named Imoguiri, representing the well-meaning bureaucrat who believes that the system can be changed from within through active non-violence (sort of). There’s Baharat whose character development and enlightenment mirrors those of the masses who eventually mistrusted the system (shitty way to go for him – sorry for the bad pun). And then there’s – SPOILER ALERT – the child, whose ultimate role in the morality play implies that change comes not from hardened veterans who merely paved the way with blood, but from the idealistic youth still untainted by ideological cynicism.
Rounding them all up is Goreng, and we see his character develop as he refuses to get eaten up by the system, even enlisting the help of Baharat in the quixotic quest for change, in distributing resources equally, even outright murdering people who resist his ideal of equally distributing food per level.
Stripped of its message, The Platform can be enjoyed as straight-up horror film. Strength lies on main conceit which explores our fear of starving, of lengths people are willing to go through to survive. Solid acting from everyone: Egileor as the morally ambiguous Trimagasi lends just enough menace to the role that in a lesser film could have been the villain, and Massague adds the right of amount of pathos to a role that starts incredibly passive until his development into a jaded Messianic murderous anti-hero.
Gazetelu-Urrutia direction borders on surrealism, and many times the camera work and edits make certain scenes appear utterly dreamlike.
Be prepared to be astounded, disgusted, surprised, and shocked in equal parts. Film does not flinch even when showing really disturbing scenes, and there the final 20 minutes is definitely not for the squeamish.
Is it heavy-handed? Yes. Film is, after all, basically a history lesson of socialist states – Russia, China, Cuba – and how even the most noble of quests are tainted with violence. It’s a cautionary tale of the path to political Utopia, of becoming what you abhor (hello Pol Pot!), of the excesses found in both sides of the ideological spectrum.
But it ultimate ends with a hopeful note.
And as one entirely different film says: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”