by Kristin Grady
The Vertical Self-Management Center in The Platform (2020) is a prison structured to be a microcosm where survival depends on the goodwill of those above, which eventually forces the middle class to revolt. Protagonist Goreng (a Malay/Indonesian word meaning “fried”, which he almost was when he tried to save that apple) gets slowly stripped of his humanity, but never loses his innate sense of solidarity. During the fascist Franco regime in Spain, Basque nationalists eventually rose to the point of committing domestic terrorism in the name of social change. The Platform aligns with this swift glide into barbarism by showing the flaws in “trickle-down” economics and how human nature can throw a monkey wrench in socialism/communism. When all the food comes from the top, people at the bottom start eating each other.
The Basque Influence
Born in Bilbao, the de facto capital of Basque country, director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s heritage heavily influences the plot and Goreng’s character. The structure of the VSC ties into the vertical flow of authority under fascism and Goreng is the educated, middle-class revolutionary challenging autocratic powers. Like Goreng and Baharat descending on the platform, armed with steel bedposts, Basque revolutionaries took up arms to defend themselves and keep people from starving. Unfortunately, radical social change can easily tip over into the murderous mindset of the very powers they are resisting.
Francoist policies intended to exert control over communist influences included arrests, torture, state-sanctioned rape, and trial-less executions. Non-Spanish languages and nationalities were repressed, not only in impoverished regions, but also more affluent nations like Basque. Resistance to Franco gave rise to a political organization similar to Ireland’s IRA, the ETA (acronym for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna “Basque Homeland and Liberty” or “Basque Country and Freedom”) Despite the ETA’s integration of communist politics, Franco’s facist human rights violations were resisted eventually by violent forces.
The Basque people are linguistically and culturally one of the oldest civilizations on the planet, possibly related to cro-magnon hominids who painted on cave walls in the region. Goreng sports the shaggy hair and goatee of a Spanish conquistador, giving him an old-world look, as if he’s cosplaying Don Quixote. As the hole feeds on him, Goreng becomes more gaunt and hollow, resembling Jesus in the Passion of the Christ by the last scene. Unlike Jesus, both Goreng and the ETA inflicted barbaric violence out of desperation and refusal to be a sacrifice.
The echelons of society have been determined by various factors throughout history. Wealth has kept more people in their places than religion or nationality, but none of those matter in the VSC. Everyone is mixed together, indiscriminate of race or class, because they’re all below the Administration. People are free to descend because there’s nowhere to go but a blank void anyway. It takes an act of revolution to rise above.
Trimagasi, an Italian-sounding name that cheekily foreshadows his attempt to trim a piece of Goreng’s flesh, represents the older generation who grew up during the height of fascist Spain. His complacency aligns with the Spanish-born lower-middle class under Franco, who didn’t give a shit about Basque problems. One of Trimagassi’s first accusatory questions: “Are you a communist?” As if he’s inherently afraid to be associated with one, even by force. There are no communists in the hole because it’s structured to blame all the murder, rape, and starvation on the un-self-managable prisoners. Trimagassi lost all care for humanity before Goreng showed up, then slowly gained it back because Goreng still had life in him. The “snail purge”, horrific as it was, still showed Trimagasi wanted to inflict the least amount of pain rather than just stab him to death.
Imoguiri (the name of a royal Indonesian cemetery) is dead before she willingly sacrifices herself. For 25 years, she had seen the numbers, followed orders, and only found love in a little sausage dog named for a powerful Egyptian pharaoh. Cancer was eating her from the inside out, so she fed herself to the hole because she needed to see its vile entrails for herself. During the Nuremberg trials, middle-management Nazis whispered “I didn’t know…” Many of them should have also hanged themselves when they realized how deep it goes.
On level Zero, the montages of elegant food being prepared by a militaristic kitchen staff juxtapose the savage pit below. The Administration hovers above them, a dark cloud of authority, invisible to us, yet we sense its presence like a monster hiding in the shadows. As a lot of people are there on a voluntary basis, the VSC appears to be a medium-security prison, which brings up another question… What happens in maximum security? Are violent offenders simply executed? We don’t know and the lack of knowing is uncomfortable. If the middle class is willingly being put in the hole, then something even more horrifying must be happening to people below that.
Moor Lives Matter
Baharat (an Arabic spice) is so excited to be on level 6, but it’s immediately disturbing to see a black man holding a rope and expecting salvation from above. Historically, that has not worked out well. Since Trimagasi told Goreng not to talk to the people above or below, it has been clear there’s no inherent solidarity between levels, despite Imoguiri’s polite nagging. Goreng knows Baharat’s escape plan won’t work, just like the rest of us. Sure enough, a fat Saddam Hussein look-alike and his bitchy girlfriend trick Baharat into getting shat on and almost dying. Goreng has lost most of his humanity, but he gets it back because Baharat’s initial hope was infectious.
Staunchly anti-semetic Franco utilized “moors” (black Muslims) as troops who were ordered to rape Spanish women deemed “not Catholic enough”. This disgustingly convoluted acceptance into Spanish society was after centuries of repression, forcible conversion, torture, execution and/or exile of black Muslims from Spain, along with Jews. Since Goreng looks like Jesus, him teaming up with Baharat almost makes it seem like the Muslims and Jews are fighting back against tyranny.
Wheelchair-bound Senior Brambang (Indonesian word for shallot), serves as Baharat’s father figure, and an example of early civil rights leaders encouraging nonviolent resistance. Goreng thought of feeding everyone even before he thought of riding the platform back up. They could have just mercy-killed everyone on the way down, but they chose the right thing to do first, violence second… After a good talking-to by Senior Brambang. It is indeed noble to reach out with an open hand of peace, but the insatiable hunger of the hole ferelized its inhabitants. People can only take so much torture before animal instincts take over.
Only an extreme polyglot would be able to pronounce all of the names in The Platform, making the viewer feel like a foreigner no matter where they’re from. Several Indonesian references are heavily associated with the Cambodian genocide under Pol Pot, when millions starved. Most of the characters’ names are related to food, as they are morsels of humanity being digested by this beast. From the beginning, we are subversively told the elements each character adds to the story and a shadow of their motivation. The ending could be interpreted as rather bleak or hopeful depending on how you look at it. Are we doomed to cycles of fascism and violent revolutions or can we preserve that perfect panna cotta and save a child (who most certainly did not choose to be there)? From either angle, The Platform wraps it up thusly: If we make sure children are fed, perhaps, eventually, no one will go hungry.
Kristin Grady is a freelance writer, video editor, and graphic designer in Hollywood. Check out more content on imaginationforsale.blog!
More on The Platform: The Platform: Jesus, Don Quixote and Dante