I’ll be taking a break from my Sabah Travel Series. It’s been awhile since I wrote a movie review. What’s more surprising is that I rarely watch this kind of film genre, yet it was recommended on my Netflix list.
I was intrigued by the concept of the film. The film focuses on an extreme brutal social conditioning experiment.
Warning: Spoilers ahead. This film is categorised as a science fiction-thriller genre film with dark and horror elements. It’s not a film for the faint hearted, as murder, cannibalism, sexual violence and extreme gore are all on the menu.
The story begins with a man, Goreng, regaining consciousness on the 48th floor of a concrete prison with another man – the seemingly wise yet suspiciously reserved, Trimiagi. Unlike most, Goreng volunteered to enter the prison to quit smoking and to read a book (everyone is allowed to bring in one item). Each floor consists of a single, small room, inhabited by two cellmates. His inmate, Trimiagi on the other hand, has survived many months in the prison and brought in a self-sharpening knife.
Goreng volunteered to enter the prison without fully understanding what he has signed up for. Trimiagi quickly explains the only stipulation of their confinement whilst serving their time – food. In the middle of each floor is a giant square hole where a descending meal platform descends each day with food and drink. You’re not allowed to store any food on your level after the allocated chow time. The administrator explains that “if everyone ate only what they needed, the food would reach the lowest levels”, but they never do. The further down your floor of residence is will determine how much or how little, food you will eat.
And oh there’s another catch! Once a month, the inmates of each floor will be reshuffled at random to a different floor. So you could be happy on the 5th floor for a month, and then on 140 the next. Hence, obviously, being placed at a higher floors ensures that you eat, whilst at the lower floors, well… you might not ready to see what happens at the lower floors. It’s pretty bloody and gory. As I said above in the disclaimer, prepare to see murder, cannibalism and sexual violence.
The social dilemma here is clear – Self-interest first or collective interest?
The prisoners are literally experiencing the Prisoners’ Dilemma as they make choices without knowing the decisions of those above, below or even their inmates.
Ration what you eat versus stuffing yourself as much as you can and give in the fear that you may be switched to a lower floor the following month and possibly not eat at all.
The prisoner’s dilemma is a paradox in decision analysis in which two individuals acting in their own self-interests do not produce the optimal outcome. The typical prisoner’s dilemma is set up in such a way that both parties choose to protect themselves at the expense of the other participant.
Because of the way the prison is designed, with no communication readily available between the floors, quipped together with a system with no clear order that relies on the prisoners’ own restraint, generosity and care for other inmates, will obviously fail.
The system is rigged in such a way that you’d always put your self-interest first over the others. Hence, the endless cycle of going hungry when placed in the lower floors, and stuffing yourself mad when you’re on the higher floors.
But change doesn’t come easy. Goreng, who was first horrified by the notion of the platform and violence it precipitates tries to change the system. He starts off being a sympathetic figure – caring about the others, trying to bring change. But not before long, he too, is corrupted by the system and starts betraying his own principles to survive.
Using food as the finite resource, it also evokes other social and economic predicaments. One example is the tragedy of the commons – the top few floors the good stuff like meat, while the rest are denied the good stuff and get leftovers or even nothing.
The tragedy of the commons is a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users, acting independently according to their own self-interest, behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling the shared resource through their collective action.
Do we see this happening today?
Take my recent experience as an example. During the initial period of the pandemic, I was late into buying face masks for myself, as I was caught up with work. The stores I went to had all ran out of stock for face masks. People were hoarding the masks in excessive quantities, and some even when till the extent of profiteering out of it.
A system that has been around so long and so corrupt takes much more to undo – it needs someone so principled and pure – an incorruptible man with a conscious drive to help, value and share with the fellow man – and sometimes force.
The hierarchy of social class – a fault to the system?
When I first watched the movie, it reminded me very much about the a picture I saw much younger – a bird pooping onto the lower tier of birds and so on.
The dilemma when a lower floor has moved up to a higher floor
It’s your lucky day, you’re now on a higher floor! Instead of being sympathetic to those in a place where they just were, and learn to ration, they do the complete opposite. They consume as much food as they can, trying to make up for lost time and give into the fear that they may never get up this close to the top ever again.
In the movie, the mindset of all the prisoners were pretty much the same – they despised everything below, and envied the top. People on the higher floors eat more than they needed and spoilt the rest, leaving the lower floor with scraps or even nothing.
But after the monthly change, the lower floors who move up onto the higher floors, instead of being more sympathetic, become the same cruel beings instead – like a payback to those who treated them unfairly in the past. They do not try to make things better, but use their position for power and vengeance instead.
Do we see this happening today?
We see this pretty much everywhere. Higher ranking officers / people who use their power / privileges at the expense of others, yet when the “others” move up to positions of power, they too begin to behave similarly.
Though I generally do not like this genre of movies, and was appalled by the violence and gore, it was still a pretty interesting and thought-provoking movie.
Movie rating : ★★★★☆
Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes