SPOILER ALERT: Several important plot points are discussed in this article, including the ending.
It’s hard to find the ray of hope in Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s dystopian thriller The Platform. The Dickensian hellhole in which his characters exist offers a depressing allegory to our dysfunctional political landscape. From its comments on trickle down economics to violent suppression in support of ideology, The Platform mostly argues that our liberties are locked in and narrowed down by any system. However, Gaztelu-Urrutia leaves one tiny crack in the concrete walls where we could attempt to break ourselves free. That comes from his main character Goreng’s adopted role as activist.
As Goreng (played by Ivan Massague) works his way through the tiered prison complex, where the higher levels eat before the lower levels, his individual determination seems the only chance at the system’s collapse. Goreng arrives in his cell already with an empathetic spirit that puts him on course to become prison liberator. Activism requires understanding the needs of others and putting those needs in front of your own desires. When his first supper arrives from above, Goreng’s immediate reaction was to refuse food so those below had a large supply.
While Goreng’s heart is in the right place, his unawareness of the harsh realities of the hole stunt his drive for change. Empathy may help in understanding the problems of the public, but actual experience brings the problem to a personal level and shows the need for urgent action. Important social movements, like the Black Lives Matter movement, are typically rooted in a collective trauma. A group that has lived through the same oppression can fight injustice more passionately than through the lens of objective morality. The more time Goreng spends in the hole, the more his sense of shared suffering builds. The ghosts of his former cellmates remain with him, pushing him towards a call to action.
One of those ghosts is Imoguiri, who tried her hand at objective reasoning with the other cellmates. She firmly believes in the idea of “spontaneous solidarity,” that over time the cellmates will recognize their shared plight with the other captives, leading to self-imposed rationing that saves enough food for everyone. Imoguiri arrives at the argument, however, from a position of privilege. Having been part of the administration that created the hole, she was able to select her cell partner and found herself beginning on the relatively easy level 33 (the levels go from 1-300). She has no comprehension of the cutthroat nature at the lower depths of the capitalist ladder. Goreng, having seen the darkest sides of oppression, now seems less sympathetic and much more vengeful. There is no possibility at an emotional appeal to a rigged system, you only can attack it.
Goreng’s transformation to a gritty approach in his role as activist shows the painstaking efforts it takes to effect true change. The important social movements of history are typically defined by their seminal moments, but less focus is given to the everyday groundwork that put these decisive events into motion. When Goreng commits with his new cellmate Baharat to collapsing the system from within, they go level-by-level to deliver their message. By the bottom, the two are bloodied, hungry, and mentally drained.
Both were also challenged in their commitment to their end goal and the ethical dilemmas they faced to achieve it. They began to face stronger resistance as they made their way down, and simple persuasion became not enough to change minds. They had to push further. Sometimes, tougher tactics need implemented if a movement is to be successful. The antifa movement are a prime example. As the beliefs of Nazis lie outside the bounds of logic, logical arguments are not effective. Since their ideology is based on a complete lack of compassion, peaceful protest has no chance at getting through to them. The antifa movement found success in driving Nazis back only through aggression. Goreng and Baharat were the same.
Tragically, Goreng’s activist journey ends where a lot do, in sacrifice. Those that gave their lives in defense of justice etch their message into our conscience forever. Education forms the final core component of activism. Even if the efforts made by activists do not lead to direct change, their principles have a better chance at being absorbed by the next generation. That cycle hopefully continues as our modified beliefs begin to advance society.
Goreng reaches the hole’s terminus, all hope gone, only to find a young child awaiting them. New life grows in the most desolate of environments. “The girl is the message,” Baharat tells Goreng in his dream. As a debilitated Goreng drifts off into the abyss, the hole still exists very much as a torture chamber. However, the girl shoots back up to the top level, reassuring that the gears of change are still turning, perhaps a little faster this time.