‘The Platform’ pairs cannibalism with capitalism in stomach-churning satire

Sunday, March 22, 2020 - 5:45pm

NOSELL

Netflix

“The Platform” has a thing or two to say about trickle-down theory. Setting his film in a near-future prison-tower in which food is distributed to different levels by way of a descending stone slab, director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia (“The House On The Lake”) takes a steep plunge into madness and delivers a searing criticism of economic inequalities in class-based societies.

A number of elements came into alignment to allow the Spanish sci-fi satire “The Platform” to deliver its message to the maximum effect. For one, many of us currently find ourselves confined to the oppressive walls of our homes, something that marries well with the cramped setting of “The Platform.” It also happens to follow the recent success of Oscar champion “Parasite,” which shares similar themes of class strife and made domestic audiences hungry for foreign films. And finally, it was snapped up by Netflix after its 2019 Toronto International Film Festival premiere (where it won the People’s Choice Award for Midnight Madness, an apt accolade indeed), allowing it to be streamed to millions.

With the world throttled by a pandemic, dystopian and apocalyptic stories of all types have become vested with an extra air of authority. “The Platform” isn’t about pestilence or social isolation, but with global circumstances exposing systemic flaws in our society left and right, its blunt indictment of the inequities wrought by class and capitalism — and its matching encouragement of solidarity and kindness — comes extremely apropos.

“The Platform” has something to say and cuts right to it, eschewing subtlety or finesse. The concept is simple, probably best put as a vertical version of Bong Joon-ho’s “Snowpiercer” (which is also on Netflix, by the way). In “Snowpiercer,” humanity is locked in a life-saving locomotive where caboose-dwellers live in squalor and engine-goers dine like monarchs. “The Platform” takes this and rotates it 90 degrees, setting its characters in a narrow prison hundreds of stories tall known as the Vertical Self-Management Center, or VSMC. Provided each person takes only their fair share, the eponymous platform bears a bounteous cornucopia of foodstuffs capable of feeding everyone. 

But the inhabitants of the VSMC have another name for the prison: the Hole. The Hole is much more accurate nomenclature — the place is a shithole, a hell-pit. While the top levels gorge themselves, the lower levels eat scraps … or otherwise feast on a very different sort of meal. When everyman Goreng (Ivan Massagué, “Pan’s Labyrinth”) wakes up alongside his cellmate Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor, “Txarriboda”), he quickly learns that a belief in decency and the copy of “Don Quixote” he brought as his one personal item won’t take him far.

I applied discretion in describing the cuisine of the Hole, but “The Platform” does not: this movie is not for the squeamish. Montages of lip-smacking and noisome finger-licking abound, interrupted by bouts of stomach-churning cannibalism and disgustingly literal episodes of that “shithole” comment. The action is as graphic and to-the-point as its set design is brutalist: no frills, no flair, simple and nauseatingly efficient.

Like Chris Evans’ Curtis in “Snowpiercer,” Goreng soon decides that something needs to change, as protagonists often do. But while there’s plenty of flesh-eating, the popular “eat the rich” rallying cry holds little ground here. “The Platform” is not simply a criticism of the inequities inherent in a class-based, capitalist society; it takes aim at human nature itself, with all its greedy and gluttonous proclivities. As one prisoner notes, any solidarity is “solidarity covered in shit.” People from the bottom vying for their fair share are more than happy to wolfishly consume once they get to the top. While there is some amount of hope, the question looms of whether the system can be changed before it changes you.

The vision “The Platform” has of humanity is an ugly one. But it’s this unflinching gaze (something I certainly did not possess while watching this film) that lends the film its gravitas, as the concept that it stares at so intently is all it has; the movie embodies its theme completely. For the most part, it does so well, keeping one engaged by way of being horrified, and baking in a number of satisfying twists as they learn more about the grim reality of the Hole. It’s only as the film crosses the 60-minute mark that its fumes run low and it ventures into increasingly uneven and abstract territory. 

There are other films that have done better and more evocatively what “The Platform” does. “Snowpiercer” applies many of the same themes with much more panache (and less revulsion), so if you’re looking for a truly beautiful and keenly critical flick to stream on Netflix, “Snowpiercer” is your bet. But let’s face it: you’re (hopefully) not going anywhere anytime soon. So, after getting done with “Snowpiercer,” “The Platform” offers an excellent and delightfully disturbing distraction from staring out the window quietly, playing online Scrabble for the seventeenth time or whatever other acts of banality pandemic-induced free time has inspired.