What ‘The Platform’ Has To Say About Capitalism


The following article contains spoilers for ‘The Platform.’

The Platform is a Spanish film directed by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, starring Ivan Massague and Antonia San Juan. The film is about a futuristic “Vertical Self-Management Center” in which a huge platform of ornate food is sent successively down (at least) 200 platforms of ‘residents’. Those at the top levels get to eat whatever they want, and as the platform travels down, those on lower levels are forced to eat the leftovers of whatever has already been eaten, and those at the bottom are left with nothing. Apart from eating, existence in this place consists of nothing more than one object you were allowed to bring in. At the end of every month, the residents (everyone has only one cellmate) are randomly re-sorted and wake up on another level, so while you may have been on level 33, now you must spend a month on level 180 or perhaps on level 6. Inevitably, these conditions lead to conflict and cause the film to become full of gore, violence, and some of the darkest aspects of human nature. The film was released to Netflix in March of 2020 and was originally based on a theatre script by David Desola and Pedro Rivero.

The film quickly and successfully grabs you by the ankle and slides you through the mud. It is a nightmare-ish, experiential crash course into the horrors and depravity of capitalism and class warfare. It makes you feel primally, within your own bones, how the very essence and root of these structures tear us apart. It drills into your skull how competitive systems lead us to our worst instincts and calls us to our primal, least human nature. It illustrates how random it is what we are born into and how these systems do nothing to pull ourselves towards one another or reach toward our own compassion for each other. Instead, these systems isolate us and make us fight tooth and nail (or blood and flesh) against one another for what can only ever be a finite source of resources.

Visceral and stomach-churning is an understatement. This is class warfare at its most literal and poetic interpretation. This is Waiting for Godot meets late-stage predatory capitalism. The physical separation of this concrete jungle keeps everyone both physically isolated, as well as psychologically tortured and quite literally incapable of communicating with other levels in an effective or productive way. The eerie reminiscence of our own shattered ways of communicating with one another even inside of our world of global connectivity is clear. The inability to form a clear vision of how to work together through clear communication is devastating, both in the film and in reality.

There is no subtlety here – the film nearly knocks you sideways with its literalism – and yet it doesn’t feel crass or overly simplistic. The premise is clear after 5 minutes, and yet somehow the film carries you breathlessly for another 85 minutes, continually twisting and turning, yet never losing sight of a clear message and vibrant storytelling. The economy of words leaves nothing to be desired in terms of screenwriting. The cinematography is flawless and the lighting fills the space in a way that compliments and harkens to its theatrical origins. The choice to have classically comedic actors fill these intensely dramatic roles also proves to be a brilliant choice.

The film ultimately lays bare several questions – how do we solve this? How do we break out of this concrete infrastructure which clearly is not working? Who is to blame, how do we collapse this beast and truly, what are our basest instincts? It becomes obvious that we must find a way to redistribute resources (wealth) – but how do we? There is a fair and honest critique of both capitalism and socialism as an overly simplistic answer to any of these questions. It seems a new answer must be achieved, as a synthesis and a new imagining.

The arc of our protagonist Goreng also seems to illustrate that perhaps humans’ most brutal and competitive instincts are not our innate nature, as we are so often told, but are pulled out of us as a result of trying to survive inside of this system. Goreng’s willpower to find a way to break the system itself, even when given the privilege of being on level 6, also speaks to the light of compassion and humanity which burns inside of us as well. The assertion that we are all our worst instincts is an oversimplification and self-fulfilling prophecy of a system that needs to keep squeezing our worst aspects from us in order to keep spinning.

Ultimately, Goreng and his level 6 cellmate Baharat decide a message must be sent to those at the top (the platform itself is always sent all the way back to the top at the end of each day in order for the cooks to refill it with food for the next day). But this message will not be for those running the system, rather, for the cooks cooking the food – that they might be awakened to the horrors that are going on below them that they do not even conceive of. In this way, they self-sacrifice by riding the platform all the way down the hole in an attempt to salvage a dish of food, so that when it is sent back up, those at the top will see a disrupt to the system in the form of social cohesion.

While it seems at first that this must be the answer, this will, in fact, show that there is a way to make this system work. On the contrary, this is desperately far from the truth. The true message that must be sent is a small child, found miraculously by Goreng and Baharat at the bottom-most level. By and large, people do not believe that this system would be brutal enough to submit children to it. Receiving this symbol might hopefully awaken those that serve the system unknowingly that it is much worse than it seems. This speaks to both child slave labor, starving children, child sex-trafficking, and of course, the symbolic resonance of an innocent child.

Sending a child up, as opposed to sending an untouched dish of food, serves not as a signal that the ‘game’ has been won – but that the game cannot and should not be won. That this system creates horrors that have not even been conceived of. That this system cannot and should not be reformed as it is. It speaks to the conclusion that those that do not know or do not care to know, need to be alerted and awakened to the horrors that they unknowingly perpetuate and prop up. And that perhaps the system itself must be reconsidered. And that perhaps only through truly and experientially understanding all aspects of this system, can we truly know it for what it is. To blindly keep fetishizing the beauty and riches at the top not only ignores trauma at the bottom levels but actually leads to death as well.

The child also speaks to the newness that must be sought – that we must imagine a new future, a new system, and that perhaps new voices are the ones to craft the new systems we must build. The child serves as both a halt to complicity in this torturous and murderous system, but also a herald towards the chance of creating something better.