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The Platform (2019): A Hunger for Economic Reform



The Platform is an unsubtle and disgusting film that confronts our acceptance of our toxic and abusive systems of power. It addresses in a terribly unsubtle way the false promises of trickle-down economics. And more importantly, leaves us with a hope for the future, one in which the children of tomorrow can break the system.


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The Platform (2019) (Spanish: El hoyo)

A vertical prison with one cell per level. Two people per cell. Only one food platform and two minutes per day to feed. An endless nightmare trapped in The Hole.

 

The Platform: This Unappetizing Allegory is Turning Our Stomachs by Gabe Castro


RED: Quotes, someone else's words.


The Platform is an unsubtle and disgusting film that confronts our acceptance of our toxic and abusive systems of power. The film, similar to Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite in message and dissimilar in it’s cinematic grace, challenges the efficacy of capitalism. Set in a vertical prison of an indiscernible number of floors. Each floor is a simple single room of concrete that houses two individuals. The rooms have two cement beds, a sink, a toilet, and a giant square hole in the center offering you a view up or down to the other rooms. Even more than our prison systems, privacy is terribly out of the question. Once a day, a perfectly fitting square slab floats down the prison, stopping at each floor for a short period before continuing it’s seemingly infinite descent. On the platform should be food, it certainly starts with a feast but by the time it reaches lower levels, 50+ there is little to no, or literally no food (levels 100+).


We are introduced to Goreng, a volunteer member of this prison who has agreed to a 6-month sentence in exchange for an accredited degree. This voluntary imprisonment for one’s own betterment brings to mind Margaret Atwood’s And the Heart Goes Last or Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You. Both featuring institutions housing vulnerable communities that, having been victims of our capitalistic machine, have found themselves without alternatives. You have to wonder at the condition of the world outside for a 6-month prison sentence to seem an acceptable answer to the problem of poverty. In Goreng’s case, he joins to quit smoking and to earn this degree. A degree that undoubtedly will be as meaningless as his kicked nicotine addiction. Signing up for voluntary incarceration to earn a diploma is a direct reflection of our current educational system. Starve for a piece of paper that does not guarantee success nor a way out of poverty.


Each month the residents of these stone rooms are knocked out (via gas) and moved to a new level. The level designation appears to be entirely random, no amount of good behaviour impacts your status and at any moment, you can earn or lose privilege. This seemingly random system changes it’s message from one overtly about classism. Where in Parasite, the levels between the different classes is potent and harmful, in the Platform, we are all in this together. That fear of not knowing where you’ll be next, the instability of your station does little to alieve the stress of the lower levels nor provide an atmosphere of security when you are on the higher levels. This frequent change and the understanding that those above are also acting out of those same pressures generates a cyclical pattern of desperation, anxiety, and selfishness.


Goreng first wakes up on level 43 with his roommate, Trimagasi, a nasty old man (I dubbed him Viejo Malo) who corrupts Goreng’s experience. When Goreng suggests that they take only what they need, he replies gruffly, “Are you a communist?” And when he continues explaining that it’d be fairer to ration the food, Trimagasi responds that, “Up there, they won’t heed a communist.”


The answer seems obvious, though we don’t know how many floors there are it would stand to reason that those in charge of el hoyo would have provided enough food for everyone, had they only taken their share. This is confirmed when later, Goreng finds himself with a new roommate. An administrator who’d interviewed him for his place in the prison. She hypothesizes that “if everyone ate only what they needed, the food would reach the lowest levels.” Her naivety and understanding of the facility she is responsible for sending people to ultimately brings about her end. In an interview with the director for Collider, they explain the reasoning behind ‘administration’ holding interviews at all, saying, “Goreng is meat from the Platform. They'll accept him no matter what, but that way of approaching the interview by the administration, makes it that access to The Platform it’s shown as a great opportunity, as a luxury to aspire, when it is actually your perdition. I'm sure we've all been through some job interview like this.”


The film is an obvious commentary about our current systems and society’s instinct to find excuses instead of making the sacrifices necessary to make the changes that would benefit not only those below, but themselves who at any time may find themselves on a lower level (of life.) It is out of fear and the threat of inconvenience that we don’t make those changes even now. We have every means, in this world, to feed every being on the planet and feed them well. We do not have a scarcity problem. We have a selfish problem. A distribution problem that stems from a lack of desire to share. The truth is we can feed everyone if we only take what we need. But society is not about what we need but what we want, what we feel we deserve, are entitled to and what separates us from them, the haves from the havenots. But just as the Platform reveals, we are each one misstep away from finding ourselves, awakened in the cold room with a horrifying number 132 on the wall.


In that same interview, when asked what the administration was trying to accomplish, Director Gaztelu-Urrutia diminishes their power and motive, reducing this unseen force to nothing but something to point at and blame while we continue the same mistakes. He says, “That's a minor issue. What matters is what each of us do with the cards that we got. This happens at the level at which we are at. Of course we have to protest and report injustice but are we going to keep shielding ourselves so that others – people or power structures - do it wrongly so that we don’t do what we have to do? As I said before, this is a social self-criticism. I don't feel authorized at all to tell anyone what to do. The film only aspires to expose, not to indoctrinate or to lecture. And, of course, there are many who do what they have to do, but most of us spent the day looking for excuses.”


The Platform is a disgusting examination of our own selfishness. It reduces us to the most basic of needs, to survive. Each prisoner brings with them an item and throughout their experience discover how meaningless it all is ultimately. In the dog-eat-dog or cellmate-eat-cellmate world of el hoyo, nothing matters. The film does leave us with a complicated ending that could be interpreted as hopeful. A sequel to the film has been announced and so perhaps we’ll get an update on the effects of the actions taken at the end of the film.


I do want to explore the ending and so spoilers ahead for this next section. After a truly harrowing and heartbreaking journey through several levels and roommates who now haunt him, Goreng wakes up on level 6 with Baharat, a Black man with strong beliefs. Baharat believes he can climb to the top, if only the others above him would help. Now on level 6, the top so close, he is energized “on fire” and pleads his case to level 5 to help. He quickly discovers how cruel and disgusting humans can be, their racism and depravity snuffs out his fire quickly. No longer content with simply surviving, Goreng desires to break the system and to send a message to those up top, not to the administration that certainly does not care nor will listen but at least to get a message to level 0. Level 0 may have people close enough to the issues to listen. He and Baharat decide to climb upon the platform and distribute the food evenly so that food makes it all the way to the bottom. Goreng explains that the top 50 levels will always have enough food and so they can handle a day of fasting, for the cause. When they are met with resistance, Baharat beats them into submission. As they continue the journey down, they are told that simply making it to the bottom with food is not message enough that they must also send back up an untouched meal. They choose a beautiful panna cotta dish and protect the meal with their bodies. Goreng had estimated 250 levels based on the rate of descent of the platform. Only, they quickly find that if a room has no living humans (meaning they’ve met some untimely end), the platform knowingly zooms past. Before they know it, they find themselves on level 333. Meaning there are 666 prisoners en el hoyo.


On level 333, they encounter a young girl. Throughout the film, there has been a woman traveling via the platform looking for her son. Though we are told later that not only are there no children under 16 allowed in the hole but that she doesn’t have a son. She signed up to be in the hole, so that she could be famous, presumably with the goal of losing weight. However, this young girl is here. And so Baharat and Goreng come to the conclusion that the panna cotta is not the message they need but rather that the girl is. She is the future, the hope, the next generation’s burden to shoulder. They can break the mold and the system, raising us out of the hole.

 

The Harmful Contradiction of Trickle-Down Economics by Kat Kushin


RED: Quotes, someone else's words.


I am a baby and could not finish this movie, I got exactly 30 minutes in. Similarly to the MIST this is a scenario that I don't think I’d wanna survive, which is ironic sort of because the film is meant to mirror society and its real horrors. This film is gruesome, rightly so because it is mirroring a society that is just as gruesome. One that pits people against one another and does harm with the excuse of “They would do it, so I must do so first. They do not care for me, so I will take it because they will take it when they take my place. Anyone below would do the same harm to me, and anyone above already has done that harm”. The second they woke up on the 171st platform I said NOPE aloud and turned the movie off cause I KNEW exactly what was going to take place, googled it and read it instead. If you are also very sensitive to gore, especially when it comes to “eating things” that you would not want to watch someone eating, humans, or food that has been…altered, then I would not recommend this movie to you…but if you have a stronger stomach than me, I think the concept of the film was interesting, and Gabe would attest to the fact it’s not that bad.


This film acts as a reflection on the failings of capitalism and more specifically, trickle down economics in practice long term. It also poses the ethical questions of what you’re willing to sacrifice in exchange for wealth, or even more ambiguous, the “opportunity” without guarantee for wealth. If you’re like me and didn’t know the ins and outs of trickle down economics I’m going to cover the basics. The film does this also in a very on the nose representation that Gabe covered at length. In an article on gizmodo.com titled In The Platform Trailer, Trickle-Down Economics Turns Into a Literal Feeding Frenzy By: Beth Elderkin they confirm the intent of the film being to critique capitalism and trickle-down economics.

“The film looks to be a social allegory for classism and capitalism, particularly of theories like trickle-down economics. Proponents of these theories believe that what’s good for the rich is good for society in general, because eventually the surplus of benefits will “trickle down” to everyone else. However, as we see in this dark, unsettling dystopia, all it means is that a vast majority of people will suffer at the hands of the few who reap the greatest rewards.”


Trickle Down Economics in theory acts as a contradiction in my opinion to the general principles of capitalism. If trickle down success is dependent upon rich kindness and generosity, but the principles of capitalism and wealth acquisition are motivated by individualism, self interest, and survival of the fittest- expecting the latter to facilitate generosity is illogical. To build excesses of wealth, a person has to be selfish, and has to manipulate the system in their favor at the expense of others. To expect kindness from people who achieved their wealth through being unkind…seems pretty nonsensical. Again in my opinion. But let’s discuss what Trickle-Down Economics is. Thanks to a MasterClass on the subject titled: Trickle-Down Economics: The Basics of Trickle-Down Theory they outline the basics.


How Does Trickle-Down Economics Work?

Trickle-down economics combines ample amounts of both deregulation and tax cutting. Here’s how it works in theory:

  • Cutting corporate taxes: Proponents of trickle-down economics believe lowering the corporate tax rate is an innately positive public policy. For instance, Arthur Laffer, an economist from the Reagan administration, insisted lower taxes spur growth almost as a law of nature. He depicted this in his Laffer curve diagram, which is a source of contention between rival schools of economists.

  • Deregulating industries: Alongside ample tax breaks for corporations, supply-side economists advocate for vast deregulation of industry in general. They believe this spurs innovation, increases prosperity, and affords the middle class a greater range of products to choose from as consumers.

  • Reducing income tax rates: Trickle-down economists believe top marginal tax rates should be as low as possible. This means very low taxes for millionaires and billionaires, as well as reduced capital gains taxes and estate taxes (which predominantly pull in money from the wealthiest individuals in society.)

  • Spurring economic growth: From the vantage point of trickle-down economics, higher taxes stifle the economy while lower taxes make it prosper. The stated goal of this approach is to increase government revenue and overall GDP (gross domestic product) through tax cuts and deregulation. In turn, this should—at least in theory—lead to an improvement in living standards for everyday people as much as the wealthy. Policymakers of this ilk also try to influence the Federal Reserve to set interest rates advantageous to greater investment.

Additionally there are impacts other than wealth inequity, that have lasting impact on our world. Deregulation of industries leads to increased harm not only to our general health, but also to the health of the planet. We have seen the results of the most recent trickle-down deregulation of industries in the uptick of industry based climate disasters. Two of which happened somewhat recently, including the spill that impacted Philly water, and the East Palestine train derailment. We’ve also seen an entire generation of millennials be promised economic prosperity or at the very least stability with the pursuit of degrees that did not deliver. Our debt increased, with our vulnerability to wealthy corporations and exploitation at the hands of the rich. The pandemic shined a light on how vast the wealth gap has expanded, as well as the damage the 1% has caused to the 99% despite all the tax breaks and deregulation. Our current reality is a testament to the fact that trickle down economics fails because of corporate and industry greed. The majority of these trickle-down economic policies have been passed in the last 50 years, so we’ve been living the impact, and I don’t know about anyone else, but my personal experience with it hasn’t been good.


4 Examples of Trickle-Down Economic Policies

Many different presidents have passed some form of trickle-down economic legislation during their tenure in office. Here are four examples of such policies from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries:

  1. The Bush tax cuts: In the early 2000s, President George W. Bush made widespread tax reform one of his administrative pillars. The trickle-down economic theory served as the basis for these tax cuts. He reduced both the estate (or inheritance) tax and income taxes for the wealthy, as well as for the middle class, with help from Congress.

  2. Hoover’s Great Depression stimulus: After the Crash of 1929, President Herbert Hoover believed the best remedy to the ensuing depression was to provide vast degrees of relief to corporations and industry titans. His attempts at doing so were unsuccessful, leading to widespread public backlash. This culminated in the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who ran on an opposing economic platform known as the New Deal.

  3. Reaganomics: President Ronald Reagan is almost synonymous with trickle-down or supply-side economics. His administration worked with Congress to pass two tax reform bills during the 1980s. These brought the top tax rate down by almost fifty percentage points for high-income earners, from 73 percent to 28 percent. While he was pursuing his regulatory and tax policies in the United States of America, the UK’s prime minister Margaret Thatcher was pursuing similar economic reforms across the pond.

  4. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017: President Donald Trump worked alongside congressional Republicans to pass a sweeping series of tax cuts for high-income earners and wealthy corporations in the first year of his presidency. He lowered the top marginal tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent and the top corporate tax rate from 39 percent to 21 percent. No Democrats voted for the bill, highlighting the disparity of viewpoints on the efficacy of trickle-down policies between conservatives and liberals.

Limitations of Trickle-Down Economics:

Economic analysis has shown the strengths and weaknesses of trickle-down economics when it comes to crafting real-world policy. While it might increase tax revenue and help spur growth, it also comes with these limitations:

  • Exacerbating income inequality: High-income earners use their vast amounts of extra income to purchase more assets to further grow their wealth. Middle-class and lower-class people have far fewer resources to grow their own personal wealth in the same manner. This allows the wealthy to accrue more capital as the middle and lower classes lose out on their own slices of the economic pie.

  • Incentivizing greedy behavior: Many wealthy corporations do not reinvest the money they receive into R & D (research and development) or labor improvements. Instead, they retain the money in the forms of executive bonuses, stock buybacks, and corporate savings. This negates the notion that cutting corporate taxes would lead to boons for everyday workers.

  • Preventing course corrections: Policymakers might also have a hard time reversing course if they find trickle-down economic policies don’t live up to expectations. To do so, raising taxes would be essential. This is a political nonstarter for most parties as they believe it will result in widespread electoral backlash. Certain politicians insist this would not be the case so long as these increases targeted the same wealthy taxpayers the initial cuts did.

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