A feast for the lucky few. Official screenshot from the press kit for The Platform / El Hoyo.

Netflix’s “The Platform” Explains How Life is Arbitrary

Or: why nationalism and racism makes no sense.

We humans are bizarre, fascinating creatures, aren’t we? We have come up with a plethora of ideologies, each more creative than the last. There are two ideologies in particular that have always captivated me. Not because I am into them, but because I am fascinated by their very existence. They’re called nationalism and racism, and I’ve been meaning to share my thoughts on them for quite some time. Make no mistake — I usually do not write on politics, and I do not intend to make a habit of doing so, but allow me to briefly enter this space as I share one of the powerful metaphors of The Platform, or, as you may know it by its original Spanish title, El Hoyo.

It’s arbitrary

One of my two big passions in life is traveling. I am often on the move (though I’ve been standing still these last few months, obvio), constantly trying to get my fix of discovering another perspective, a new belief, another story that will broaden my mind. Yet while the world is fantastically diverse, there are some things that stay the same no matter where you go.

Paradoxically, there is no ideology as international as nationalism. Let me write that one more time for emphasis: nationalism is more international than any other ideology. Every single nation in the world has a rather substantial amount of people who consider their nation to be superior to everyone else’s. Which, of course, is a mathematical impossibility, but more interesting is the inevitable racism that this idea devolves into. Anywhere you go in the world, you will find people who consider other races and other ethnicities to be inferior. In many ways, nationalism and racism are connected; the latter is an evolution of the former. Not every nationalist is a racist — far from it — but every racist is a nationalist.

I find these ideologies as fascinating as I find them scary. These two ideologies don’t make any rational sense. See, life is arbitrary. You cannot choose your parents, your country of birth, your skin color, your ethnicity. All of these decisions are made for you. They’re all random. It’s just luck. And how can you possibly look down on someone else for something over which they have no control?

Enter The Platform. This Spanish film directed by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia is a metaphor for a great many things — in this article I will focus on the metaphor of arbitrary status. The film is set in a large vertical tower, where residents are placed in pairs on prison-cell-like floors, with a massive rectangular hole in the middle. Once a day, a platform initially filled with food is lowered through the hole. As it lands on a resident’s floor, they are allowed to eat as much as they like. For each level it passes, the amount of food incrementally decreases, ultimately leaving nothing left for the residents of the lower floors. Once a month, residents are reassigned to a new floor randomly. It’s preferable to be on a level as high up as possible, obvio.

There is always someone above and there is always someone below. Official screenshot from the press kit for The Platform / El Hoyo.

“Screw those people”

The behavior of the residents of the tower is fascinating. They bring humanity to its naked core. Though the floor onto which they are assigned is entirely random, they quickly find themselves adapting to the level.

Trimagasi, an older man portrayed by actor Zorion Eguileor, has been a resident in the tower for many months. Trimagasi has been to the depths of the tower, where food has long since been eaten by more fortunate residents. Yet the moment he reaches a floor with enough food to comfortably survive the month, he expresses disgust for the residents below and hatred for the occupants above. In one scene, the man pisses on the residents beneath him, saying that next month they could very well do the same to him.

Everyone in the tower knows that their current status has been determined by a random factor, yet they immediately find themselves in the roles expected of someone at their level.

In the world of The Platform, the quality of your life is determined by luck. The real world of Planet Earth is no different, except for the fact that your level doesn’t usually change month by month. In the real world, you are often stuck in place.

I’m European. Though it’s a continent that’s very diverse, perhaps remarkably so given its relatively small area, it’s generally a very privileged part of the world. In the 2010s, the continent experienced a migrant crisis as refugees surged into the continent. As a response, it didn’t take long before major nationalistic, occasionally racist, sometimes even nazi, parties rose to power. Many residents of European countries believe that their government should care for its own population first and foremost, before helping others. This is, of course, not unique to Europe, mind, but it is a striking example.

The only difference between a person born in The Netherlands and a person born in Syria is luck — the same way that Trimagasi’s placement in the vertical tower of the aforementioned film is utterly luck-based. When the food arrived at Trimagasi’s floor, he didn’t just eat a portion large enough for him to survive. He devoured far more food than he needed, leaving less for those below him. The systematic exploitation of developing countries is no different. Europeans could afford to pay a euro more for their sweatshop-produced shirt, but they choose to go for the cheaper option. And even if a European were to pay a more reasonable price for their shirt, who is to say that someone in the middle won’t take that extra money, rather than giving it to those below? It’s the same dilemma for the characters in the film. Even if a person on a higher level only eats their necessary share of the food, who is to say that those in the middle won’t just eat it before it reaches the unfortunate souls at the bottom?

Trimagasi pisses on those beneath him, all while calling them horrible things, even though he is well aware of the fact that it was pure luck that he ended up above them. Official screenshot from the press kit for The Platform / El Hoyo.

The fundamental issue with humans

Realizing that your status in life is arbitrary, how is it possible that some people are racist? Is it human nature to want everything that you can have? Is it merely a case of blaming your personal issues onto others, less fortunate? Or is it perhaps a case of out of sight, out of mind?

While you do have the opportunity to change your life, to improve your status, to climb to a higher level, the sad reality is that some people are born more privileged than others.

When people express a want to close the border for refugees or to kick certain ethnicities out, I can’t help but feel devastated. Do people not realize that the only difference between themselves and any other nationality is luck?

The Platform is a metaphor for a great many important things — I can only hope that it reaches the right audience.


Full-stack developer. About: https://jacobbergdahl.com/. LinkedIn: https://bit.ly/2T1LzgW.

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