The Collegian
Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Film Fridays | If "Parasite" is timeless, then "The Platform" is timely

<p><em>Graphic by Carissa Gurgul</em></p>

Graphic by Carissa Gurgul

Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers. The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.

“You know what kind of plan never fails?” said Ki Taek, played by Song Kang-ho. “No plan. No plan at all. You know why? Because life cannot be planned.”

“Parasite” made history at this year’s Academy Awards by being the first non-English-language film to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Directed by Bong Joon-ho and written by Bong and Jin Won-han, “Parasite” follows the story of Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), the son of the poor Kim family.

After Ki-woo earns a tutoring job at the house of the wealthy Park family with a forged college certificate, his sister, father and mother also bluff their way into the privileged lives and luxurious house of the Parks.

“Parasite” is a black comedy thriller with witty social commentary about class, greed, materialism and aspiration. Bong uses space and elements like stairs and windows as metaphors of class structure and world perception.

Characters descend or ascend stairs as they move through the social class ladder. Thus, we watch the wealthy Park family mainly ascending stairs and the poor Kim family descending them until they ascend into the Parks’ house. At the end of the day, the Kims still descend back into their semi-basement apartment.

Windows symbolize the way characters view the world and thus, themselves in it. From their semi-basement, the Kims view one of Seoul’s backstreets filled with drunks and street fumigators. But they also see some hope. 

They can peek into the real world and aspire for a better life, while the Parks block that world out for their serenity and safety with vegetation, which is the only thing seen through their gigantic living room window.

The first half of the movie is only a warm-up. The real deal comes in the second half when the Kims’ newfound comfort is threatened and a savage battle for dominance breaks out. 

“There are three kinds of people: the ones above, the ones below and the ones who fall,” said Goreng, played by Ivan Massagué. This could have easily been a quote from “Parasite,” but it’s from “The Platform.”

Similar to “Parasite,” “The Platform” is a twisted social allegory about mankind, class, inequality and survival. But as film critic Alissa Wilkinson wrote, “If … ‘Parasite’ could be described socially conscious horror … then ‘The Platform’ might be termed a social nightmare.” 

Directed by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia and written by David Desola and Pedro Rivero, “The Platform” follows Goreng as he wakes up on the 48th level of “The Hole,” a building consisting of hundreds of levels, with two people living on each level.  

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“The Hole” looks like a vertical prison, and some residents are indeed imprisoned there. But some, like Goreng, entered the facility voluntarily. Goreng entered “The Hole” for six months in exchange for an accredited diploma.   

“The Hole” has a few features which intelligently symbolize the social norms and structure of a capitalist society. 

The first of these features is its platform that carries food daily to the residents, starting from level one, the top level, and descending until it reaches the bottom level. Basically, the residents in lower levels eat the leftovers of those in upper levels. 

In theory, the platform has enough food for all the residents. But when human greed and gluttony come into play, there comes a point where the platform runs out of food. You may wonder how the residents on the lowest levels survive without receiving food for a month. Well, some don’t. Those who do survive resort to violence and cannibalism to do so. 

It’s better to avoid movie snacks while watching “The Platform.”

Another intriguing feature is that at the end of each month, the residents wake up to a new level. So, one could be at level five for a month, then suddenly wake up at level 102 the following month, and vice versa. Just like in real life, you could reach a peak at a certain time, then hit rock bottom, then climb back up again.  

Even when the movie introduces new characters briefly, Desola and Rivero use clever metaphors to help us understand each character’s personality and mentality better.

When entering “The Hole,” residents were asked to bring only one item with them. Some brought weapons or random objects like an inflatable pool. However, the idealist Goreng, who puzzles over people’s apathy, brought a book: “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes. 

The choice of de Cervantes’ 1605 Spanish novel is not accidental, as “Don Quixote” traces the seemingly-hopeless quest of a man who becomes a knight-errant to revive chivalry. It’s a quest that resembles that of Goreng, who wants to convince people to show solidarity and rebel against the insensitive social norms that dominate “The Hole.”

In both movies, class levels of society correspond to literal levels in a building. People at the top levels have a more comfortable life, compared with those at the bottom levels, whom the former despise. Chance, opportunity and the way that capitalist societies are structured, rather than hard work or intelligence, determine who gets to the top and who remains at the bottom. 

Another fascinating thing featured in both movies is that when people from the lower level make it to the top, or at least the middle, you would think that they would show more compassion, having known what it’s like to be at the bottom. Instead, they are equally cruel to people from lower levels and their greed remains. Human nature doesn’t change.

Both movies had me wondering, “Are humans able to turn the system around?”

“Parasite” gives a realistic answer: there’s always going to be someone on the top, someone in the middle and someone on the bottom. Humans are replaceable. The class structure and system are not.

“The Platform” gives us no answer, following a more optimistic approach. Perhaps people can turn the system around, perhaps not. But perhaps it is at least worth trying. 

“Parasite” questions how people thrive. “The Platform” questions how people can survive.

Bong seems to have the answer figured out, and perfectly captures it in “Parasite” with brutal honesty. For simply being born in the wrong family, for not having the right connections, people may not be able to succeed in life no matter how skillful, educated, intelligent or determined they are.

The filmmakers of “The Platform” are still in search of answers to their own question, and they include their audience in this search. “The Platform” wants us to step into the shoes of the characters, asking us what we would do in their situation.

How would you act if you woke up in level three or level 103? Would you only care about your own survival, whatever that costs to others? Would you help others without incentive or threat? Would you try convincing people to follow you in overturning the system through dialogue or threat?

While our world is currently experiencing this pandemic that daily tests humans’ empathy, reflecting on how we choose to respond and treat each other in trying times is crucial and meaningful.

“Parasite” is a cinematic masterpiece, no other words needed. “The Platform” is based on a brilliant and creative concept that I will remember for years. If you have the guts to go through it, it is a very impactful and thought-provoking movie.

Are these movies for everyone? No. They have an eccentric approach to conceiving society and a violent way of portraying it in film which does not appeal to everyone’s tastes.

Although we’re challenged by this world pandemic, remember to treat each other with kindness and don’t give into panic-buying. Make sure the person next to you gets their share, too.

“Parasite” is now available to watch on Hulu, and “The Platform” is available on Netflix.

IMDb rating: 8.6/10 “Parasite.” 7/10 “The Platform.”

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 99% (critic) 90% (audience) “Parasite.” 82% (critic) 70% (audience) “The Platform.”

My personal rating: 9/10 “Parasite.” 8/10 “The Platform.”

This is my final article for “Film Fridays,” so I’d like to thank all of you who have read my movie reviews and recommendations over the past few months. Writing for “Film Fridays” has been one of the highlights of my senior year. If you’ve watched even one movie out of all that I have featured in my articles and affected you in some way, it was worth sharing them with y’all!

The world of cinema is immense and is magical! Keep exploring it!

Contact contributor Myrsini Manou-Georgila at myrsini.manougeorgila@richmond.edu. 

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