Cannibals in quarantine: THE PLATFORM (Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, 2019)

As we isolate ourselves in our homes (if we have homes) and wait for the storm of contagion to whistle past outside, we can imagine, rather more easily than was the case ‘way back’ in 2019 when this film was made, what it would be like to be locked in a room with an uncertain supply of food. Would we turn to cannibalism?

Netflix have released The Platform, a Spanish film that has been widely described as “stomach churning”. You’d think a churned stomach would be the bare minimum for cannibal movies! More temptingly, an Indian website called it “Just The Film To Stay Away From During Corona”:

“This Spanish film vomits its venomous bile on a depraved civilization with graphic description of cannibalism and excretion, not in any particular order. Human beings are shown as survivalist degenerates.”

The Platform offers a metaphorical analysis of neo-liberal capitalism (but also Stalinist communism), through the lens of a prison, in which there is plenty of food, if only everyone would share! With true, deadly, neo-lib efficiency, the prisoners are not fed by the labour intensive method of guards delivering food, but by a platform that descends from the top of the building, stopping briefly at each level. The inmates at the top have their choice of the gourmet food, and those further down on each level get the left-overs. “What are we going to eat?” Asks Goreng.

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Of course, the people at the top gorge, binge and horde, occasionally defecating and spitting on those below, and those at the bottom starve or turn to cannibalism. Así es la vida.

“There are three types of person: those at the top, those at the bottom, and those who fall.”

Goreng (it’s a pun – the Indonesian/Malay word for fried food) is played by Iván Massagué, who finds himself in a prison cell with Trimagasi (another Malay pun, meaning “thank you”), Zorion Eguileor. They become friends, for a while, motivated by their shared misfortunes, and then are driven apart by the same thing.

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The people at the top get first pick of the superb feasts prepared by a team of chefs, while at the bottom of the platform are the homeless, sleeping rough, hopefully 1.5 metres apart.

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By the time the platform gets to the bottom levels, there is not a scrap of food. Trimagasi has spent a month down there. He tells Goreng about it. “I didn’t say I didn’t eat anything…”

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Those on the middle levels hope to find some sustenance in the trickle-down from those above them, who in turn consider them barely human.

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Goreng is there for six months to earn a college degree, while Trimagasi is in for manslaughter. His crime was getting mad at the ads and throwing his TV out the window, where it killed an illegal immigrant who was passing by. “He shouldn’t have even been there!” Trimagasi cries. Both actors are best known for playing comedic roles, and there is a surprising amount of humour found in what is otherwise quite a bleak story.

The woman who processed Goreng turns up in his cell, and tells him the prison is a “vertical self-management centre”, an experiment in “spontaneous solidarity”. But it turns out to be closer to a social experiment about weakness, and irresistible hunger, reminiscent of Mason Verger putting two dogs who were friends in a cage with no food, to see who would eat whom.

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Interest is cannibalism grows apace. A recent article stated that cannibal stories typically emerge at times of social unrest and uncertainty. 2019 and the first quarter of 2020 presented us with plenty of evidence of that, with a plethora of cannibal movies released or in production, including:

She Never Died Audrey Cummings
Corporate Animals Patrick Brice
Pet Sematary Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Big Top Evil Sean Haitz, Chris Potter
The Young Cannibals Kris Carr, Sam Fowler
Aamis (Ravening) Bhaskar Hazarika
The Perfect Patient Mikael Håfström
The Platform Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
Mr Jones Agnieszka Holland
Two Heads Creek (Aust) Jesse O’Brien
Wrong Turn 7: 2020 Mike P. Nelson
Cannibal Christmas Massacre Nick Heinrichs Jr
Gretel and Hansel Oz Perkins
Human Hibachi Mario Cerrito III
Evil for Dinner Travis Youngquist
Antlers Scott Cooper
Cannibal Comedian Sean Haitz
The Dinner Party Miles Doleac

Look, I’m not going to tell you what happens in The Platform or discuss the rather ambiguous ending (you can google all sorts of explanations, including one from the Director). It would be too easy to drop spoilers, and you really should see this one – it’s a corker, and it’s available on Netflix, so if you have that, watch it while we all stay home isolated or in quarantine. Then turn on the news and watch people fighting for toilet paper.

The battle cry of humans when they fear scarcity:

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This film is the perfect metaphor of the fear and greed displayed by those hoarding during the pandemic:

Goreng is haunted by the words of Jesus as he descends to the lowest level:

“If you drink not of the flesh of the Son of Man, nor drink of his blood, ye have no life…. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me, and I in him.”

This is our new reality – cannibalism. The coronavirus is showing us the limits to growth. Voracious appetite, incapable of sharing or even consideration of others, can only lead to one place. When the good times roll past, our flesh is meat indeed.

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The film premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the People’s Choice Award for Midnight Madness. It was released on Netflix on March 20, 2020.

Hansel, Gretel and incestuous cannibalism: WE ARE THE FLESH – Tenemos la carne (Emiliano Rocha Minter, 2016)

It’s Hansel and Gretel, Captain, but not as we know it. This Mexican film is a visual experience, rather than a traditional narrative. It is set, like many of the films we have covered in this blog, after what appears to be an unexplained apocalypse. The “witch” is a crazy old guy named Mariano (Noé Hernández) who makes fuel out of old bread and trades it to persons unknown, through a hole in the wall, for food – mostly eggs and meat. Mariano is more Satan than witch.

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He believes in chance, which, he says, is “the greatest criminal to ever roam the Earth.”

He is an aficionado of solitude, but when a young brother and sister, Lucio (Diego Gamaliel) and Fauna (María Evoli), appear in his abandoned apartment, he feeds them and puts them to work on ever more peculiar projects, such as a womb-like cocoon, made of wooden struts and vast amounts of packing tape.

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Mariano receives some meat through the hole in the wall, and cooks it for his guests. But there’s a problem: Lucio is a vegetarian. Fauna tucks into her steak, rather reversing the normal situation where Hansel ignores Gretel’s warnings and eats the gingerbread. But Mariano has laced the meat with poison that, he says, the Nazis used to kill Jews. He won’t give Fauna the antidote until Lucio eats his meat.

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So, it’s all about transgression, overcoming taboos, abandoning inhibitions, accepting pleasure rather than bothering with difficult questions of ethics. Mariano then decides that the kids need to have sex, and Lucio’s objection, that she is his sister, is dismissed:

“Do you think your cock gives a damn about her being your sister?”

So then there’s lots of incestuous sex, some of which is captured in lurid neon heat-map images. Mariano sings to them and masturbates as they perform for him, finally fainting as he ejaculates. Or dies, but is resurrected, because, as we know, the monster is never really gone.

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The Brothers Grimm was never like this. Although who knows what siblings Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm got up to before they became philologists?

Anyway, we finally get to the cannibalism, about an hour into the film, as Mariano captures a soldier, tells him exactly what they have planned.

“We won’t kill you for money. We won’t kill you for an ideology. Or for the pleasure of watching you suffer. It’s not revenge for what you have done. We are neither avengers nor executioners.”

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They sing the Mexican anthem and then slit his throat, catching his blood in a container. Various body parts are rendered into liquid and sealed into buckets, presumably to be traded through the hole in the wall.

Another girl comes into the maze looking for shelter, but is instead raped by Fauna and then Lucio.

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Have we shattered every convention and broken every taboo yet?

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Not quite. Mariano celebrates his naming day, a party in which all sorts of weirdos turn up and get it on. Mariano is to be the guest of honour, but also the main course.

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“It is also the day I’ll live inside your squalid bodies. Don’t forget that the spirit does not reside in our flesh. Flesh is the spirit itself! So I kindly ask that all you lowlifes devour me until there is nothing left.

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There’s a twist at the end, but hey, enough spoilers. Go watch it – it’s only 80 minutes.

Catherine Bray in Variety called the movie a “joyously demented portrait of humanity.” She summarised the theme very well:

“Much of its most vivid imagery is purpose-built to interrogate the moral values society projects onto biological matter: human meat ground to a slush, slopping about in a bucket; a clitoral close-up; a pipette inserted casually into a hole in a boy’s temple; a sister’s gelatinous menses dripping into her brother’s mouth.”

The stubborn belief that humans, unlike other animals, have some sort of spirit that elevates us into the ranks of demi-gods and therefore justifies the havoc we unleash on the rest of nature has crumbled. As Mariano insists, flesh IS the spirit. We are meat, driven by our appetites. Our carefully crafted moral convictions can vanish like smoke in the face of hunger or desire.

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Hansel and Gretel is a seminal cannibal text of course: innocents, abandoned for daring to expect to be fed, and left to face the voracious appetite of the outside world. Many of us probably first heard about cannibalism while sitting on a parent or relative or baby-sitter’s knee, crafting our next nightmare as they read us stories from the Brothers Grimm. Variants of the story are everywhere – a new movie is due soon (I’m looking out for it) called Gretel and Hansel. Here’s the trailer: