there was ever a time for movies about people locked in confined spaces slowly
going nuts, it’s surely now. Or maybe it isn’t; escapist fantasy might be the
order of the day when you literally can’t (or shouldn’t – stay the fuck home,
for crying out loud) escape. Which would be a shame, because if you’re sticking
strictly to lighter fare, you’ll miss out on The Platform, an
allegorical Spanish sci-fi that’s short on subtlety but big on style and brio.
The gist is
this: there’s a towering prison, one cell to a floor, two people to a cell.
Every day an elevator descends from the top floor laden with delicious food,
and if everyone just takes what they need, there’s enough for all. Thing is,
people are people, and so the lower down you are the less you get, because the
inmates above you are gorging themselves. It’s self-defeating – every month
you’re randomly assigned to another floor, and so you too will be subject to
starvation if you pull a big number (the floors are numbered in descending
order from the top), but that doesn’t seem to be much of a check on short-term
thinking in this scenario.
grim milieu is thrust the idealistic Goreng (Ivan Massagué), who has taken a
six month stretch on the promise of a diploma waiting for him at the end of his
sentence. He’s a humanist and an intellectual – allowed to take any one item
with him into the prison, he’s chosen a copy of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. His
cell mate, the sour, cynical Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor) is much more pragmatic
– he’s got a chef’s knife that never needs sharpening. Goreng tries to appeal
to both those above and below him in the tower to act sensibly; Trimagasi
simply plans for the inevitable famine that awaits them when they are assigned
to a lower cell, and the horrible choices they will have to grapple with. Will
the irresistible force of Goreng’s personal philosophy splatter against the
immovable object of the entrenched system he’s found himself in? And when’s
that knife coming into play?
The Platform’s cinematic antecedents are easy to track. There’s a lot of Terry Gilliam in it, with its cast of fascinating grotesques and merciless bureaucracy; a bit of Cube-era Vincenzo Natali in the way it repurposes one set over and over again to good effect; even a touch of current kine king Bong Joon-ho – after all, The Platform is, more or less, Snowpiercer stuck on its end. It’s more than the sum of its parts, though; its metaphors are not so much obvious as clear, and it tests its theses in interesting and dramatic ways. His pleas for reason falling on deaf ears, Goreng eventually turns to force, and the film spends a fair whack of time ruminating on what it means when we use abhorrent tools such as violence in service to what we believe is a higher moral authority.
violence, the film is surprisingly gory, not to mention earthy; a lot of blood
gets spilled in the course of the exercise, as well as various other bodily
fluids. Food rots on polished silver plates, bones are gnawed by feverishly
hungry inmates, sexual violence is an ever-present possibility (and certainly
happens offscreen) – it’s a feverish, fecund, primal nightmare – animalistic
humans caged in cold concrete, rutting and feasting and killing within the tiny
sphere of freedom allowed by the uncaring structure, physical and conceptual,
they are bound within.
essentially the best Heavy Metal movie ever made,
with its combination of high philosophisin’, low exploitation, and striking
visuals, and I have no doubt that director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia and
screenwriters David Desola and Pedro Rivero are familiar with the venerable comics
anthology, or at least the “mature” European comics it reprints for Anglophone
audiences. Watching The Platform feels very much like thumbing through
one of this thick, square-bound semi-taboo issues as a teenager; like you’re
experiencing something not quite forbidden but certainly transgressive, and dancing
across the line of acceptable taste. That line shifts from viewer to viewer, of
course, so there’s no guarantee that the film stays on the right side for you
personally. It did for me, but I’m on old hand at this sort of thing.
As is often
the way with such exercises, The Platform
doesn’t quite stick the landing, perhaps taking one conceptual jump too many
for the average viewer, but that slight stumble in the final stretch doesn’t
undo all the bold and provocative work that precedes it. Currently on Netflix
and definitely worth your time.
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