Nothing reflects modern-day societies more in art than speculative fiction. Whether it is through films, books, or comics, artists are able to examine serious issues that range from a personal to systematic lens within the realm of fiction. One such example is the recent release of Spanish-Basque movie El Hoyo – “The Hole” or, as it is known in the United States, The Platform.
In this sci-fi and horror film, writers David Desola and Pedro Rivero, along with director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, bring together a phenomenal prison tale that touches upon human circumstances and nature, in relation to authoritative systems.
The story begins with our protagonist, Goreng, played by Iván Massagué, checking himself into a prison in order to overcome his smoking addiction. He later mysteriously awakes to find himself with his copy of Don Quixote – since prisoners are allowed one item – and his roommate, an old man named Trimagasi, played by Zorion Eguileor.
Goreng quickly learns that he is in a tower with multiple levels and that the prisoners are fed once a day by a giant platform that inexplicably floats through a giant square gap (the hole), containing an array of food. Trimagasi explains that they are lucky being on floor 48 – supposed a mid-tier level – where they can enjoy some leftovers, while others below them aren’t so lucky.
The essence of the story is based on the distribution of food.
This is a wonderful allegory that the filmmakers choose to explore because it explains how wealth is generally distributed throughout most societies, regardless of their economic systems. However, the parallels between the film and capitalism are striking.
The food is prepared on floor 0 by what appears to be a cohort of chefs that belong in an upscale restaurant – the bourgeoisie if you will – who then send down to the lower levels with no real instructions.
As we see in the movie, by the time the platform reaches our protagonist, the food is essentially finished. Trimagasi explains how they are lucky to be at that level as starvation becomes a real issue for those below them.
Goreng becomes friendly with his floormate, and he learns that Trimagasi is spending a year in the platform prison for accidental manslaughter and that his one item is a self-sharpening knife called the Samurai Plus.
After establishing a daily routine making the experience more tolerable together, a month finishes up and they find themselves reassigned to level 171. Goreng wakes up, after being gassed by the prison authoritarians (who remain unseen), to find himself tied to his bed by Trimagasi.
His older roommate explains that he’ll do the best not to resort to cannibalism but caves in after a few days, slicing off strips of Goreng to feed them both. Before Trimagasi is able to do much damage, another character – named Miharu (played by Alexandra Masangkay) – travels down the platform and saves Goreng by killing Trimigasu.
Although difficult to watch, it is interesting to show how easily humans can resort to primal (and disgusting) instincts while placed under extreme conditions, in this case, starvation.
Human characterization, nature, and interaction are heavily explored in this film.
Goreng is a representation of the idealist academic. He enters the platform prison with high hopes of becoming healthier and a book – both of which are criticized by multiple characters throughout the film. The fact that he ends up (almost) being a victim of Trimagasi’s depravity is also an interesting metaphor for how society continuously attacks educational institutions and academics.
However, Goreng isn’t the only idealist within the story. After Trimagasi’s death, Goreng eventually gets reassigned to floor 33 with a new roommate, Imoguiri (played by Antonia San Juan), who ends up being the same administrator that checked Goreng in the platform prison.
Imoguiri explains to Goreng that she checked herself in, with her dog, because she wanted to inspect the facility and address any issues within the prison. Her character is essentially the idealist bureaucrat that has faith in the system and is futilely intent on showing the inmates that there is supposed to be enough food for everyone to share if they only stuck to their portion.
This is interesting because the divvying up the food portions isn’t really discussed throughout the film – only slightly hinted at – and shows the naivete that people would just naturally recognize that altruism is important under extreme circumstances.
Another character that exemplifies a revolutionary idealist is Baharat, played by Emilio Buale Coka. Baharat is another floormate of Goreng, who is looking to climb up to the top of the tower with his rope.
After literally getting shit on from above, a visceral representation of how the upper class tends to poo-poo on the lower classes, he and Goreng play off of Imoguiri’s idea of food rationing among the inmates and deciding to take matters into their own hands.
The last character I want to talk about is Miharu. I don’t want to get too much into her storyline, but her character is constantly looking around for her missing child, which constantly gets questioned throughout the film. What is really important about her; however, is the “parental instinct” or rather “tribal mentality” that is innate in humans under extreme conditions.
The movie visually reflects its theme in every shot.
As a viewer, I appreciate it when productions focus on every aspect on the movie, without having to rely on just the script or just the acting.
For example, within the movie, most of the action that the characters face occur around the center of the prison – the hole – where the platform moves vertically once a day. Its metaphorical illustration adds a resonance throughout the entirety of the film that this prison is filled with never-ending hopelessness with glimmers of hope floating through from time to time.
The cinematography achieves a sense of being cramped up in tight spaces, almost limiting what is seen so that there is no choice but to focus on the characters themselves. Each actor breathes a duality into each character – one aspect on hope and another on darkness.
The movie isn’t afraid of portraying uncomfortable scenes. There are instances of extreme violence, especially with cannibalism, that will definitely leave the viewer uncomfortable. There are also subtler scenes that capture terrible reactions the different inmates have during their stay – especially with the food.
There are also positives scenes sprinkled within the movie. The filmmakers make a point of showing that anyone can resist primal and terrible urges when there is enough communication and goals toward a bigger picture that can help people. This is wonderfully exemplified in the end, which I won’t spoil in this article!
Overall, this is a fantastic movie to watch. It’s filled with enough thrills and metaphors to keep your mind guessing and thinking about until the end. There is enough gore and horror in it to make one queasy, so it’s not for the faint of heart. I give this movie a solid A!
You can watch The Platform on Netflix.