So, it’s come to this!
Due to the explosion of the online film community, there never seems to be a shortage of films with subtext for cinephiles to endlessly dissect. YouTube and online think-pieces have mined incredible mileage out of analyzing or over-analyzing the “hidden meaning” in bold auteur visions, or dire social commentaries. The Platform would fit the latter description, a film with a lot on his mind that has opted for the simplest visualization possible to present its subtext. While critics were frothing at the mouth to study The Platform as early as it’s trailer release, you don’t have to know the difference between ‘mise en scène’ and ‘montage’ in order to understand the premise here.
Goreng (Iván Massagué) wakes up in what appears to be a prison cell, and his inmate explains to him the cruel system they’re apart of. Every day, a table replete with food starts on the top cell and slowly makes it way down to the bottom cell. Prisoners on each floor have little time to gorge before the table descends. Naturally, those on the top greedily devour what they can, leaving scraps for those on the bottom. In an early bit of characterization, we see Goreng is compassionate as well as intelligent enough to try and preserve food. But this system punishes those who preserve in any way; you must eat beyond your needs, or risk death.
Meanwhile, Goreng is introduced to a young woman who has allegedly brought an unseen child into the prison with her. This development, along with the selfish nature of various inmates, makes it clear that survival is more imperative than Goreng previously estimated. But if one were to convince the bottom dwellers to work together in solidarity, wouldn’t this make survival more likely? If so, how would Goreng make such a thing a reality? We need solidarity not just against the fat cats, but against the ordinary people that cling to the status quo.
The most obvious comparison that can be made here is Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer (2013), another film centered around a visually-blunt metaphor for class. It seems social thrillers like The Platform and Snowpiercer have become more ubiquitous, and they’re starting to share many similarities within this sub-genre. The biggest similarity is how these stories are never depicted as a black-and-white, good vs evil tale. Alternatively, the ‘poor’ are often just as flawed as the rich we’re supposed to be rallying against.
In The Platform, we find that the rich are not actually the main adversary, as the protagonists find it futile to even negotiate with the wealthy. Rather, it’s Goreng’s cellmates or the prisoners around him that actually provide the biggest obstacle. Many of the characters on the lower levels are either selfishly cruel or too committed to the status quo to initiate change. This is not dissimilar to another of Bong Joon-ho’s social thrillers, 2019 Best Picture winner Parasite. At a key point in that film, a character has an opportunity to choose solidarity with their social class but refuses due to delusion. The fallout from that decision is pure chaos.
However, solidarity is the goal in The Platform. Goreng’s mission soon becomes shaking the apathy out of the lower classes, to convince them that their “I have to get mine!” approach to life is just as destructive as greed displayed at the top. Director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia smartly proposes that we need solidarity not just against the fat cats, but against the ordinary people that cling to the status quo. But for as gritty and realistic the film’s depiction of human incentives are, the solution to the conflict is overly hopeful and saccharine. Abandoning the realism and practical ideas in its first hour, The Platform makes a U-turn and heads toward a more ‘Hollywood’ conclusion, with lip service paid to how the children of the world will lead to a better tomorrow.
The problem isn’t that children can’t grow up to affect change – anyone who has ever elicited change was once a child. The problem lies in the film’s depiction of this solution, which comes off as blind hope rather than something you can rely on. Sending the young out into the terror dome known as the world will likely not garner the results you want without guidance. Simply, the current generation has to show the possibility of change in order for the next generation to take that example and improve upon it. The adult characters in the film either lack the power to set that example or aren’t around long enough for their contributions to have a lasting impact. The Platform is too simplistic in its conclusion, and it upends the entire film. For most of the runtime, the film is incredibly bleak and violent, then there’s a pivot to wish-fulfillment that feels jarring. There’s plenty of smart and effective social commentary here, but it leads to solutions that feel divorced from that intelligence.
It is understandable to position the youth as the symbol of revolution – but eventually they will grow up and become adults. Eventually, the world will spit in their face, and some will even take part in the depravity. What’s our plan for that? When the adults of today have their moral evolution stunted, we leave children with a problem and no clues for what the solution could be. A Super Child can’t save the world. We have to try to grow too in order for our children to learn anything, and it’s from what they’ve learned that will actually lead to change.