A new Sci-Fi Dystopian Prison film comes out of Spain and it’s brutally honest and honestly brutal.
Goreng (Iván Massagué) is an intellectual who volunteers to be sent to “The Pit,” an experimental prison, for 6 months. He brings a copy of Don Quixote with him and is told that, upon his release, he’ll be given a degree. Once inside, he finds out that the prison consists of a single vertical array of rooms with a large hole in the middle, with 2 prisoners in each room. His roommate, Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor), explains that food comes down from the top on a single platform and each floor of the prison eats off of it in order. Floor 1 eats ravenously, but the lower floors often don’t get anything. Moreover, everyone only gets randomly reassigned every month. Survival is king.
This was last year’s Midnight Madness winner at the Toronto International Film Festival, whose past winners include such films as The Raid, What We Do In the Shadows, and Seven Psychopaths, so that’s an award that’s usually worth looking into. This film is no exception. It mostly works for two reasons:
First, it’s incredibly minimalist, typically featuring no more than three characters on screen at any given time, and almost always just two. Because of this, the quality of the dialogue and the performances is crucial, since a lot of the film is just the characters talking. Fortunately, Massagué gives an amazing performance, going from naive to panicked to nihilist to messianic as the situation requires. Eguileor’s character is much more consistent, always seeming to be a polite, charming, even funny individual who nevertheless exudes an air of menace. Their interactions manage to carry much of the film.
Second, the premise is amazing. It’s extremely simple and basically begs to be implied intuitively as a metaphor. The movie repeatedly emphasizes that, if everyone only ate what they needed, there would be enough food for everyone. Additionally, every prisoner is aware that, at almost any time, they could be either at the top or at the bottom, completely at the whims of a seemingly random system that clearly has no concern for their welfare. Despite that, the people at the top take advantage of their position and gorge and the people at the bottom starve to death. So, a system where everyone could be equitable and live happily or a few people can thrive at the expense of the people below them. I’m not saying it’s a giant metaphor for society, but… well, it’s a giant metaphor for society.
I’ll warn you that the movie is a hard-R with nudity and a lot of gross stuff featured, but if that is something you can stomach, I really recommend this movie.
**** ENDING EXPLAINED (Spoilers) ****
So, quick recap:
After the first month, Goreng and Trimagasi end up on Floor 171, where Goreng and Miharu (Alexandra Masangkay) kill Trimagasi before he can eat Goreng. Goreng then ends up on Floor 33 with Imoguiri (Antonia San Juan), who worked for the company that made the Pit. She says there are 200 floors. They end up getting put on floor 202 next, where she kills herself so that Goreng can eat her body. Goreng then ends up on Floor 6 with Baharat (Emilio Buale Coka), a zealot who is trying to escape the prison, but is thwarted by the people on the above floors. Goreng convinces Baharat to ride the platform down to feed all of the people who would normally starve. On the way down, they encounter Sr. Brambang (Eric Goode, but not the one who made Tiger King) who advises them that feeding people will not change the system. First, they have to try and convince people to change, only enacting violence if they refuse to voluntarily change. Second, they need to realize that the administration will never change the system, but the people on floor 0, the ones who feed the prisoners, they could change it. Systems are cold and unfeeling, but people can be brought to empathize. So, they should send a dish back to level 0, untouched, to show that the people in the prison are, indeed, people, and not animals. That they have self-control and dignity. So, they select a Panna Cotta to send back up.
However, they discover that the prison is deeper than even Goreng had estimated, ending on floor 333 (halfway to 666, or Hell), where a small girl is found, despite Imoguiri saying that there were no children in the facility. It’s implied to be Miharu’s daughter who she kept riding down the platform for, although Imoguiri’s statement about her background contradicts it. Given that most of Imoguiri’s information was wrong, it’s very possible that the child was Miharu’s. As Miharu supposedly threw a body down the shaft and then rode the platform down every month, it’s possible that the only reason that the child survived was that Miharu rode down every month with a mostly full platform to feed her. Since Miharu died this time, she couldn’t get down. They end up feeding the girl the panna cotta then, after Baharat dies, Goreng puts her on the platform to return to Floor 0. He sees an image of Trimagasi and walks off into the darkness under the facility.
So, what happens at the end of the movie? Well, he sends the girl as the message, because proving that the people in the facility could keep a child alive shows that they are human better than the panna cotta could have. He doesn’t need to go with her, because sending him, particularly in the state that he is in and after all the things he did, will ruin the message. He’s no longer innocent or pure, unlike the child. While the child cannot convince the system to change, showing that such an innocent figure is being tormented by the system stands a high chance of reminding the people on Floor 0 to change things. The platform has to go past floor 333 first, allowing Goreng to walk off into the underground, implied to be his death as Trimagasi is no longer just a vision, but next to him.
Metaphorically, it means that Goreng realizes that you can’t fix things just by helping people within the system, and you can’t actually fight “The System” because it doesn’t have a conscious to be changed. Instead, the only way to make change is to appeal to the humanity in those who run it.
Overall, I appreciate that the film actually gives a solution, rather than just saying “things are really shitty.” As to whether I think it’s a real option, that’s a separate issue.
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