The Platform: With a Hook Like This, Who Needs Subtlety?
Cinema is no stranger to tales of capitalist society run amok, with the most recent high-profile example, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, winning Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. While The Platform — a Spanish film from director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, scooped up by Netflix after premiering at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival — lacks the insidious nuance of Parasite, it makes up for it with a deviously twisted premise and sheer visceral grotesquery. The Platform instead draws inspiration from another Bong Joon-ho film, taking the central hook of Snowpiercer and turning it a literal 90 degrees, replacing a hurtling train with a skyscraper made up of a seemingly endless number of prison cells, stacked one on top of the other, with a large rectangular hole in the middle of each. Every level is home to two people, each of whom have their reasons for being there, in many cases voluntarily — or as voluntarily as it can be when you’re exchanging your freedom for the promise of a life worth living once you get back outside. Once per day, a massive table is lowered through the hole running down the center of the tower, stopping for two minutes on each floor for the respective pairs to eat their fill before the table moves on. For those on the top floors, the meal is decadent; for those on the bottom, non-existent. But fortunes can change in a hurry — you’ll be switched to a new floor once a month and that shift can happen in either direction. Everyone knows the system, logic should dictate rationing by the higher floors to ensure everyone has at least a little something — after all, you might not be so lucky next month, wouldn’t you want to be shown the same courtesy? But, alas, if logic prevailed The Platform would be a very short movie indeed. Gaztelu-Urrutia instead takes a glass-half-empty view of humanity and our baser instincts to depict a future where the socio-economic divide has been made abundantly literal and socialist tendencies are abandoned entirely. Into this world he and writers David Desola and Pedro Rivero drop a protagonist, Goreng (Iván Massagué), who is simply trying his best to survive a situation beyond normal comprehension. Massagué gives an engrossing performance as a man who the film — without much subtlety — presents as an amalgam of Don Quixote and Christ himself. Though neither he nor his supporting cast (including standouts Zorion Equileor and Antonia San Juan) have too much depth, they nail the unrestrained tenor the story calls for. Fortunately, Gaztelu-Urrutia commits to the over-the-top nature of the premise, milking plenty of anxiety, revulsion, and black humor from the clear and concise rules the film wisely establishes early on. With the help of his collaborators — particularly Azegiñe Urigoitia’s brilliantly simple production design and Aránzazu Calleja’s unnervingly jangly score — the director continuously ups the ante, culminating in an absurd yet inevitable finale that drives the story’s themes home one last time. And though the metaphors may feel overly heavy-handed by the film’s climax, in the end it’s hard to roll your eyes too much when you can’t peel them away from the screen.