The Platform: Jesus, Don Quixote and Dante
By Brian Robert Oliver
Who the hell would bring a book here? That’s the ultimate question Imoguiri asks our hero, Goreng in the second act. In a social experiment resembling a prison with two to a cell inside a giant brutalist tower containing hundreds of floors, director Galder Gaztula-Urritia forces us to make obvious parallels to the modern day power structures formed by capitalism. The lower the floors the deeper the carnage; murder, starvation, cannibalism. The higher the floors the fuller the bellies. The Platform is a masterpiece, but many felt the ending was too vague. Did Goreng die? How is the child the message and what is the message? When you sequentially lay out its source references along with the narrative, the ending becomes far less ambiguous.
The Platform is as deeply layered as its brutalist setting, especially when you dig past its obvious overarching metaphor for capitalism. Skipping the Jesus archetype in favor of the real thing, we find ourselves enveloped inside the narrative of a gentle, idealistic man who is driven from out of his passive sanity and into the depths of hell. if Jesus was to assume the role of Don Quixote and travel through hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy then you’d end up with The Platform. Let’s start with the film’s base layer and go from there:
Jesus is perhaps the most recognizable figure in western culture. He is God in human form. Born of a virgin and sent here by the unknowable to save us from ourselves. The correlation made between Goreng and Jesus Christ isn’t realized until late in the second act, but writers David Desola and Pedro Rivero make sure to introduce this narrative from the first moment we meet Goreng. He is tall and thin. His hair is light brown, a little on the longer side, and he wears a slight beard. Though it is partially hidden, it’s not hard to see the physical similarities between Goreng and the white, western incarnation of Jesus Christ. As the movie progresses, it becomes more and more obvious.
Much like Jesus’ heavenly father, the one’s controlling the hole are a mystery, known only as the Vertical Self-Management Center, or VSC. They fill the hole every month with fresh bodies, only to have the lot of them kill and eat each other for survival, occasionally rising to the top so they can stuff their faces while everyone else starves. For Goreng to save the hapless prisoners of the hole, he must first realize who he is.
The Betrayal and The Body of Christ
What you bring to the hole says everything about you. You have no idea what goes on in inside. Trimagasi brings a self-sharpening knife, so what does that say about him? He hates everyone above him as well as everyone below. Trimagasi can accept a place like the VSC. It’s simple. The rules are black and white; eat, starve, or jump. He doesn’t question why this is happening to him, and he doesn’t question who is doing this to him. Trimagasi is willing to kill if he has to; he’ll eat human flesh if it means his survival.
Trimagasi represents the status quo of the everyday man, who, as luck would have it, is also a victim of circumstance. He has no power over his level in the hole, but he takes it in stride. His only gripes are what the pigs above him have left him to eat, and what Goreng was offered that was not offered to him as well. Seemingly trivial, Trimagasi shows true disdain when he finds that Goreng, someone on his level, was given the chance for an accredited diploma, but not him. Tiny squabbles aside, Trimagasi’s spirits are lifted by the jovial, ethical Goreng. Goreng is a man of morals and a man of ideas. Trimagasi decides that a man like that will not survive this brutal world, so he betrays Goreng so that he can slowly eat him, ensuring his own survival.
Then there is Miharu, the lady of the platform. Trimagasi tells Goreng that Miharu rides the platform every month to be reunited with her son. Of course, this is a misleading. Miharu kills people and eats them. She’s a survivor. While she may not be great mother material, she is the perfect mother for Goreng. Miharu = Mary. The son she is searching for in the hole is not a child, but a savior, and like a mother hawk, she gives Goreng the tools to survive in this hell pit. Sent from above, Miharu conceives Goreng’s purpose not through original sin, but from murder and cannibalism; the true way of the hole.
Original sin is a theme introduced in the first act when Goreng refuses to eat from the Platform. He eventually takes an apple, but never eats it.
Miharu’s terrible lesson to Goreng is that Trimagasi was right. If you want to survive, you have to eat, but it is not Goreng’s body that is sacrificed, it is Trimagasi’s.
The story is about a Spanish nobleman who loses his mind after reading books of chivalry past, and convinces his servant to join him on a quest to restore chivalry and save Spain. Don Quixote is often described as the first modern novel, and considered one of the greatest novels ever written in any language. This is the one item Goreng brings with him to the hole. Like the novel’s namesake, Goreng is a simple man with a noble heart, but driven insane by the brutal realities of man’s animalistic nature. Just as Jesus today is armed with a book, so is Goreng, and that book’s dangerous ideas makes him believe he can actually change this horrible experiment.
An Old Shield, a Nag and a Racing Dog
Imoguiri, our only link to the mysteries of the VSC, believes the key to the deadly experiment is not self-preservation, but altruism. She chooses Goreng as a cellmate for two reasons. One, she believes that together, they can save the people of the hole by convincing everyone to ration their food so everyone can eat. Two, a man who brings a book to the hole would be less likely to kill and eat her. Imoguiri brings her wiener dog as her one possession, which seems almost as useless as bringing a book until you realize you that can’t eat a book for survival. Soon, Imoguiri realizes her naïveté and when she and Goreng arrive on a painfully low level, she sacrifices herself so that the messiah, as she calls Goreng, can live on.
In the first act, Goreng reads Don Quixote aloud to Trimagasi of a nobleman with an old shield, a nag, and a racing dog. As Goreng’s wounds heal, and before her sacrifice, Imoguiri spends her days begging, or nagging the men below to ration their food. Every day she does this. Because of her incessant nagging, Goreng finally gives into that part of himself that he brought with him into the hole before Trimagasi’s terrible lesson. Upon Imoguiri’s demise, Goreng spends the next 30 days with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Like the Temptation of Christ, Goreng is torn between the earthly, selfish desires favored by Trimagasi, and the heavenly virtues that destroyed Imoguiri. Goreng advances to another level armed with a new motivation – to save the people of the hole from themselves. Like Don Quixote’s ill-informed journey to restore chivalry, Goreng realizes his nag, his racing wiener dog, and for his shield? The Platform. All he is missing now is his trusty sidekick to travel alongside.
Phlegyas and Sancho Panza
“I’m on fire!” exclaims Baharat. His item is a rope, and when we meet him he is trying to climb to the 5th level of the hole, but is denied. Like the keeper of the 5th circle of hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy, Baharat is enraged. Phelgyas was spurned by the gods and it is upon his vessel that Dante is able to cross the river Styx. Baharat’s item of choice proves to be as foolish as Goreng’s. He would have to rely on the goodness of others to advance each level. Baharat fears his death is inevitable in this place he refers to as hell, but he turns out to be the exact person Goreng needs to fulfill his fate. Like Sancho Panza, Baharat wholeheartedly agrees to accompany Goreng on his insane journey.
Ripping apart their bedding they use pieces of the frame as lances. Down they travel, the knight and his squire restoring chivalry to the lost souls of Dante’s inferno. They force everyone to ration their food so that everyone can eat. Their destination? The bottom. If anyone tries to eat more than their portion, Goreng and Baharat will beat them. They use brute force until they come upon a wise old man in a wheelchair. Like Virgil in Dante’s poem, he guides the two fools to their purpose. He tells them they need to send the VSC a message. They have to preserve the finest prepared dish so that when the platform returns to the very top, the VSC will realize their experiment is broken.
Further down Goreng and Baharat go, now protecting a flawless panna cotta dessert; their message to the unknown. They arrive on a lower level to find Miharu, Goreng’s spiritual mother, meeting her end at the hands of a large brute. Goreng tries to save her, but he is too late. This act results in grave injury to both he and Baharat, referencing a theme in Don Quixote where Sancho Panza continually pays for the mistakes of Don Quixote. Mortally wounded yet alive, the descent continues for both men. Goreng realizes there are far more levels than he previously thought. This means that the experiment isn’t broken, it’s just horribly cruel.
On the 333rd level they find a child – a little girl. Unable to expose the child to anymore cruelty, they feed their precious panna cotta to her. In a wounded fever dream, Baharat tells Goreng that the child is the message, not the panna cotta. Upon waking, Goreng finds that his brave friend Baharat has died during the night. So Goreng takes the child upon the platform and rides it all the way to the lowest level where a friend awaits them.
Judas at the Bottom of the Hole
In Dante’s Divine Comedy, at the lowest level in the lowest circle of hell sits Judas Iscariot. So who other than Trimagasi, Goreng’s own Judas, would be waiting to welcome Goreng at the bottom? A bloodied Goreng, looking evermore like Jesus, is escorted off the platform, leaving the sleeping child behind. Goreng plans to go with the child, but Trimagasi lets him know that he has already arrived at his destination. So both men watch as the platform rises from its lowest level, destined for its highest. They both mention that the child is the message before turning to walk into the darkest void of the lowest level.
People felt the ending was too vague and were left with two questions. One, is Goreng dead? Two, what does the child represent and what is the message to the VSC?
First, yes, Goreng is dead. Galder Gaztula-Urritia goes to great lengths to liken Goreng’s narrative to that of Jesus Christ. Goreng is our central character and this film is about his journey. Just like Jesus, Goreng is born of a virgin, betrayed by a friend, and sacrifices himself for the survival of every sinner in the hole, which is everyone. According to the bible, we are all guilty of original sin, so Jesus dies for all of us. Thus, to complete Goreng’s story, he dies. You might ask, “then why did he not ascend as Jesus did?” If you remember, during Goreng’s “first temptation” while he was snacking on Trimagasi’s corpse, the ghost of Trimagasi tells Goreng that they are the same. In Catholic faith, worshipers eat the body of Christ to take in his purity, but Goreng eats the body of a sinner. Goreng also eats Imoguiri. This means that while Goreng does sacrifices himself, he is still guilty of the sins of the hole, and therefore unworthy of ascension. This leads us to the next answer.
Trimagasi believed that the point of the hole was simply to survive. Imoguiri believed that the point was to share so that everyone can survive. The child was proof that they were both wrong. We know that the child is not Miharu’s since Imoguiri explains to Goreng that Miharu came in alone. So that can only mean that the child was put there by the VSC, and therefore the key to the entire experiment. For someone to have found the child and send her back up alone means that they had to travel to the lowest level before the pit. Then they paid the ultimate sacrifice to accomplish that. The message is that humanity, in all its chaos, violence, and greed, is capable of making sacrifices to ensure the survival of the species. Basically, it means that at least one of us talking monkeys, on the rare occasion, is willing to not be a selfish pig. How’s that for fantasy?