I UNDERSTAND where people are coming from when they open themselves up to works of beauty, hope, peace, and happiness in times of crisis. People use this as an escape mechanism of sorts, one where they can be removed from the toil and gloom of the world and enter the world of art, whether through a novel, a film, a TV show, comics – a world where things are brighter and, indeed, better.
Early on when the COVID-19 pandemic and the quagmire that is the Guyana General Elections began to intersect, I turned to ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’ where I could become a part of the world of drag queens, with their bawdy humour, witticisms, encyclopedic knowledge of fashion and pop-culture, and their never-ending displays of creativity. So, I reiterate, I understand what it is like to want to use art as a temporary salve to the trials of modern life. However, I do believe that there is an opposing end to what is really a dichotomy of escapist sensibilities art during times of crisis. In my opinion, one can cope with the darkness of the modern world by opening oneself up to art that is equally dark or even darker than the real. Obviously, this does not work for everyone and people sensitive to art that contains disturbing material should stay away from such. For me, however, I found that it was indeed possible to balance both the light and darkness that exists in art during this time. I may watch ‘Drag Race’ for its levity and charm, but I am also likely to watch a terrifying science fiction, or dystopian horror film that makes me feel better by reminding me that the world I live in, although completely awful, is not as bad as some make-believe worlds. That, oddly, gives me as much hope as me filling my quarantine-life with joyful memes of cats and videos of babies smiling into cameras.
A good example of a pretty dark piece of art that I recently used to make myself feel better about the coronavirus situation is a Spanish horror/thriller called ‘The Platform.’ Watching this film was an interesting experience because, on one hand, I had to watch it with subtitles, which reminded me of Bong Joon-ho, this year’s Best Director Oscar-winner, urging everyone to open themselves up more to watching films that have subtitles, a memory that sent me down a rabbit hole that led to me wondering about whether the world will be in the correct state that is necessary for an Oscar season by the time the new year rolls around. It was a reminder of the brevity of life itself that I got as soon as the first set up of subtitles popped up, and speaking of the brevity of life, ‘The Platform’ is a film that is more than happy to reinforce that theme, which, as stated before, was something that managed to make me feel secure, sitting in my home with electricity, wifi, running water, and food to eat – comforts that many people in the world cannot afford during this time.
‘The Platform’ focuses on a prison system in the film, where inmates, or those who have voluntarily checked themselves in, are housed in cells that are stacked vertically on top of each other. Once a day, a platform loaded with the most delectable food starts from Cell No. 0 before descending to Cell No. 1, Cell No. 2, and all of the others that come after. Theoretically, there is enough food for everyone, but because those at the top of the stack take more than their share, by the time the platform gets to the prisoners at the bottom of the prison, there is no food left. Every month, the prisoners are shuffled and restacked in the numbered cells. The movie focuses on a new volunteer named Goreng and his interactions with various inmates, as well as his attempts to destabilize the platform-system in the prison.
‘The Platform’ is not an easy watch. It is macabre and grotesque, focusing on the worst extremes of the human experience, ranging from themes such as isolation, communication, madness, cannibalism, classism, greed, and, of course, death. Yet, despite containing disturbing scenes, such as one where Goreng’s cellmate ties him up on one of the bottom levels, where the platform clanks to a stop with empty vessels so that the cellmate can have a fresh supply of food for the month by feeding on Goreng, or the scene where a mother clambers on to the platform and allows herself to be lowered into the hell that is the lower part of the prison in search of a child who may or may not exist, I still kept watching, even though I was scared and disgusted.
I think that COVID-19 has impacted the world in many ways that somehow managed to be reflected in this cold, dark film. In ‘The Platform,’ people fight and kill for food, while in the real world, people take all of the items from grocery stores leaving nothing for the elderly or the ill. In the movie, those in the upper cells refuse to help those in the lower cells even though they are all in the same situation together, or will be once the prison shuffles everyone around at the end of the month. In the real world, millionaires refuse to help others and head off to hide in bunkers or buy themselves access to the COVID-19 test kits while poor people are forced to live in single-cell homes, without access to basic medical aid and, sometimes, even water. The film focuses on our primary protagonist’s attempts to change the mindsets of hundreds of people in the prison who have already accepted their fate, which is reminiscent of the real world where a few voices stand up for righteousness and reason, always on the borderline of being outshouted by the masses.
Despite such similarities, however, I came out of the movie feeling hopeful. Not only was ‘The Platform’ a good film, but it also ended on a hopeful note, and all of its darkness reminded me to seek out the hope in my own world rather than bemoan the horror of our current situation. I think it is just me recognizing that my world is indeed similar to the world in the film, but, thankfully, we are a long way away from the debaucheries and horror of the situations in the film, and hopefully, it will remain that way for a long, long time into the future.