TIFF19: The Platform


The Spanish film The Platform plays like Vincenzo Natali’s Cube repurposed as an invective on inequality. The concept itself is a grand metaphor for resource scarcity and class warfare: a massive prison holds and isolates prisoners on at least 150 levels. A giant platform descends each day through the middle of each level, carrying enough food for everyone in the prison: the catch is, this will only work if the people on the upper levels take only their fair share. This never happens, feeding resentment below and entitlement above. Each month, the prisoners change levels according to the whims of the administrators, making their situation even more precarious. The concept is an inspired way to get at the heart of class politics and how resentments are bred between different strata of society, but even if the metaphors hold no interest for you, The Platform is still a seriously entertaining science-fiction horror film.

The debut feature from Spanish filmmaker Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, The Platform is as much inspired by Spanish-Mexican icon Luis Bunuel as genre-stylists like Natali, giving it a more considered set of thematic interests than most genre fare. But Gaztelu-Urrutia is smart enough to keep entertainment at the core of the film’s purpose. Right off the top, we’re introduced to Goreng (Ivan Massagué), who we learn volunteered to spend six months in the prison known as the Pit in order to get some kind of diploma that’ll raise his lot in life. He meets his cellmate, Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor), a bourgeois older man who informs him about the rules of the Pit. They’re on Level 48, a good level Trimagasi tells him, and so when the platform comes down with some half-eaten morsels still on the lavish china, Trimagasi happily digs in. Goreng doesn’t, but he soon learns that the self-enforcing rules of the Pit are not possible to ignore if you want to survive.

The Platform centres on Goreng’s attempts to understand the Pit and his entanglements with a mysterious and violent woman (Alexandra Masangkay) who often rides the platform down in search of a daughter who may or may not exist. Like Cube, it ingeniously utilizes its restricted setting, with Goreng moving levels each month, learning the ins-and-outs of the Pit in the process, but the actual set of the film never changes aside from the number on the wall. The restricted setting gives the film its allegorical heft, more so than even similar films like Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, which also uses a high-concept metaphor to depict class warfare, but also feels the need to explicate the world outside the setting. In The Platform, we never see glimpses of the outer world aside from some flashback interviews between Goreng and administration officials as well as the chefs who painstakingly put together the food that descends on the platform.

This lack of context doesn’t rob the film of explanatory power. Instead, it enlivens it, playing as something of a delirious vision of life boiled down to its essentials, existing somewhere between a Dantean afterlife and a Beckettian style limbo. As well, the film is as ingeniously structured as the Pit. The regular appearance of the platform each day and the reassignment of levels at each month’s end gives Gaztelu-Urrutia a constant source of momentum that keeps the film moving at a quick pace. Unlike so many visions of dystopia, The Platform doesn’t waste time in sorrow or despair. Instead, it delights in some of the B-movie thrills that make films like this so exciting, from ghastly violence and cannibalism to wordplay and scatological humour.

Just don’t look to The Platform for nuance. That’s not how allegory works. Instead, look to it for materialist horror about a world where class, no matter how arbitrary, dictates all matters of life and death. As Goreng and fellow prisoners learn in the film, solidarity is necessary for justice to prevail, but it’s easier said than done. If that sounds at all too familiar in the world we live in, all the better, which is what gives The Platform its urgent heft in addition to its thrills. It’s a truly successful allegory, distilling its ideological themes into a package far more emotionally-compelling than pure theory can ever be. That it’s also a ludicrously entertaining genre film should mean that even viewers unswayed by its politics will find it satisfying as pure dystopian fantasy.

8 out of 10

The Platform (Spain, 2019)

Directed by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia; written by David Desola and Pedro Rivero; starring Ivan Massagué, Antonia San Juan, Zorion Eguileor, Emilio Buale, Alexandra Masangkay.