There are 3 kinds of people; the ones above, the ones below, and the ones who fall.– Goreng (The Platform)
With everybody staying at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people seem to be turning to Netflix and discovering obscure films that perhaps would have flown under radar before. One the films that the internet community is talking about is the 2019 Spanish film The Platform. I watched this film mainly because I was looking for a mindless low budget thriller and have a love for single set films. Little did I know that it would be the first entry in my new series Philosophy Through Film.
There is much more to the story outside of classism. The film explores themes such as the human condition and even Christianity, but the core message here is about classism, which is what what the focus of this article will be.
Directed by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, the film follows Goreng, a man who voluntarily admits himself into a high-tech vertical prison for 6 months with the plan to quit smoking. At the end of his 6 month sentence, he will be awarded with a degree. The concept behind the award of a degree upon release is never fully developed and seems to only exist as an external motivator for the main character, since the mere act of wanting to quit smoking would not be enough of a drive for the majority of the audience to accept (obviously).
The prison (or pit) is made up of levels, each consisting of two prisoners. In the middle of each level is a rectangular hole allowing the prisoners to see down into the other levels. Once a day, a platform full of food is lowered to each level, stopping for exactly 2 minutes before moving on to the next. During this 2 minutes, the prisoners are free to eat whatever is on that platform. The twist is that there is only enough food on the platform to feed each prisoner a small portion and because people are greedy motherfuckers and only looking out for their own interests, the people at the much lower levels are left with no food. In another twist of events, once a month the entire prison is gassed, putting the inmates to sleep and waking up on a different level at random. One month you could be on level 3 eating as much as you desire and the next month you could be on level 200 left to starve.
The platform is unapologetically a commentary on classism as it pertains to modern society. As the movie progresses, we see the inmates on the upper levels having this entitled attitude that because the month before they were starving at a lower level, that they deserve gorge themselves on food when the opportunity comes around. In an anything but subtle scene, the audience is explained that even if you try your hardest to escalate yourself to the top, there will always be someone above you, ready to shit in your face.
There is a fundamental problem with the film’s commentary on classism, however, and that problem is randomness. As I mentioned, once a month the prisoners are gassed and when they wake up, they are placed on different platforms in a random order. The entire commentary on classism is that your position in life is completely random.
I certainly will not argue that the family and country you were born into and the amount of money you start off at in life don’t play into a person’s success, because they obviously do. There are those entitled snobs that never worked a day in their life and are only successful because their parents built an empire that they inherited. One need only look at the Trump’s, Kennedy’s, or Walton’s examples of this.
With all that said, however, this random process with the inmate placements on the levels undermines the successes of the Howard Schultz’s and Ralph Lauren’s of the world who came from nothing and became huge success stories. Of course those examples are few and fare between. What about your everyday person that isn’t educated or intelligent enough to become a successful billionaire? Don’t worry, that concept is explored, too.
The movie makes the implication that the lowest level is the lowest a person can get in life (obviously). For the purpose of this example, we’ll say this level is the equivalent to being jobless and homeless. Now let’s say a level above that is jobless, but having shelter, and the next level above that is having a minimum wage job and shelter. The movie pushes this idea that the mere success of having a thankless minimum wage job is not only random, but you could go from minimum wage to rich and entitled at the snap of a finger. Not only does it minimize the successes of people of all different classes, but it makes the unsubstantiated claim that if you’re slightly better off than somebody, that you view yourself to be superior to them.
What the movie should have done was make the platform you’re on be based on your character and work ethic. Chores are a normal part of prison life and it would have been rather simple to fit that into the narrative. It would have made the the successes and failures of the characters mean more. They could have also included the twist that every so often, some of the prisoners are selected at random to either rapidly ascend or descend the levels of the pit. A plot structure like this would have have grounded the social commentary in the film more with reality, instead of the overly simplified propaganda that crumbles apart when the slightest bit of logic is thrown at it.
At it’s heart, The Platform means well and exaggerates the actions of the people within the story to tell a message, which makes it no different from 99% of the films out there. Despite the simplistic logic behind the message, the story is quite engaging and the concept is rather interesting. I suggest giving it a watch if you think you can handle seeing the absolute worst in society; just take the core message with a grain of salt (obviously).