This is more like an ideological cousin of Snowpiercer, but a much harder watch. The story takes place in a dystopian setting, where there is a vertical stack of cells housing 2 inmates per cell/level. There is a square open well running through the middle of the cell connecting all the levels. Each set of inmates are made to spend a month in random levels and at the end of every month, they are made to occupy a different one. Through the open well, a platform containing elaborately cooked food is dropped down stopping at various levels. The inmates in each level eat as much as they can and leave the rest of the food for the people below. The inmates living in the lower levels hardly get anything left and they resort to killing and cannibalism. However, the darker truth that we come to know is that even if the inmates choose to share the rations in a utopian scenario, there will not be food left to reach the lower levels. The movie narrates the journey of Goreng (the protagonist) who was ignorant of this setting, and whether he was able to change the scheme in the second act of the film.
The allegory in the movie is not implied and it is in plain sight for us to devour. What’s hard-hitting is the portrayal of how ordinary, decent people can abruptly renounce the human in them and plunge into unimaginable depths. The movie is staged like an abstract play with cold exposed concrete contrasted against the extremely colourful food on the platform. There are hints of Christian references like the level 333, Goreng’s journey, his empathy for people below him, his sacrifice resembling the Christ’s passion. The most striking Christ-like similarity happens in the end when Goreng decides to deliver The Message, choosing it over his own life. It is a sharp commentary on how we can afford to be oblivious to the truth: that what is there for us is just a privilege. We simply choose to overlook or be ignorant to see the fact that whatever we are leaving behind is not going to be enough for everyone. The establishment does its job in a cold, systematic method, completely indifferent, apathetic to the actual state.
Does the end, where we encounter a child, looking healthy and clean, surviving at the level 333 all by herself, represent Goreng’s imagination? Maybe he might have personally needed closure for the journey that he took down. Probably the highly surreal imagery of the girl ascending could be read as the times we live in…a Jesus who might fail, a failed communist ideology and ultimate triumph of exploitative and manipulative capitalism that we have all chosen to be part of.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.