There are some movies that subvert expectations, while others hit as hard as a sledgehammer and with just about the same amount of grace. Sitting firmly in the latter camp, The Platform (known as El hoyo in Spanish and directed by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia) is an entertaining, sci-fi-flavored take on horror, featuring strong cast performances. The ending, however, petered out, which can be attributed to the movie’s core themes failing to come to significant fruition.
[Slight spoilers below]
Protagonist Goreng (Iván Massagué) awakens to find himself in a concrete cell with one other person, an unnerving elderly man by the name of Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor). Their cell is only one: a hole in the center of the room reveals a number of cells going as far down as the eye can see, one cell, with two inmates, per floor. Each prisoner is allowed to bring a single item with them: Goreng brings a copy of Don Quixote, whereas his roommate has an uncomfortably sharp knife. A platform laden with rich food begins at the top floor, allowing each resident to eat for two minutes a day. Rumors circulate as to how many floors there actually are, but no one knows for certain. The farther down the platform goes, the less food there is to eat—a nightmare waiting to happen.
To say that the messaging and symbolism in The Platform is indelicate would be an understatement. But with the world we find ourselves in now—whatever the new normal shakes out to be—a narrative that hits as hard as a sledgehammer may be just what the doctor ordered. Many of us are operating in a fugue of depression, fear, and anxiety, and sometimes the best way to breach the fog is to be grabbed by the shirt, an all-too-familiar face suddenly screaming in ours, demanding that we pay attention. One of the film’s strengths is that, at its core, this is a popcorn flick—an entertaining, fast-paced descent into a dire reality that leaves the viewer struggling to gain emotional purchase. The dynamic between Goreng and Trimagasi is, at times, as sharp as the latter’s own object of choice. (Fans of Pan’s Labyrinth will also immediately recognize Massagué as the hunter’s son from Pan’s Labyrinth).
Much of the story relies on the power of symbol; how, even in the most dire of circumstances, acts of solidarity can give rise to a symbol that inspires others to act in the same spirit. The way this messaging bears out, however, feels more like a simple mention, rather than critical engagement through dialogue and scene. (Consumption of the pages of Don Quixote is a good step in this direction, however).
Call this my love for Pan’s Labyrinth peeking out, but the sound direction in The Platform rings out eerily similar. The sharp ting of the knife as Trimagasi brings it out into the open rings very similarly to other objects in Pan’s Labyrinth (Ofelia’s key, for example). This adds a level of visceral discomfort and threat that stayed with me for a handful of days after watching.
In retrospect, I was struck that, in terms of story structure, The Platform is nearly functionally a fairy tale (though how one would define “happy ending” would have to be more of a Grimm Brothers’ take). And given that Don Quixote is almost functionally a supporting character on its own, I wouldn’t be surprised if the writers had fairy tales in mind during development.
As the film moved toward its conclusion, I was hoping the focus on symbol would be given more narrative space. The Platform proposes that belief in symbols can change our lives and our circumstances, and paired with the focus on Don Quixote as a lens through which to interpret the film, that seemed to me, at first glance, a surefire recipe for a compelling ending. What I feel happened, though, was that in the end there was too much focus on form over function. These ideas are mentioned, but something fell short for me in terms of engagement.
I genuinely think, at its core and despite an ending that fell somewhat flat, The Platform is meant to be a call for something better—for us, for our children, for our planet. The gears of nonessential industry have effectively ground to a halt. All of our worlds have become much smaller. And like the protagonists trapped in The Platform’s prison, we may fall to the strictures of hunger and fear, but we may also dream a better way out. This film is an entertaining doorway—designed to galvanize mass audiences into seriously interrogating the status quo.
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