IIf you are one of the millions of people around the world living in a city about to come out of lockdown, you might be like me in the sense that among my jumble of feelings – excitement, relief, joy – is also a surprising degree of anxiety.
And maybe if you’re also one of the millions around the world who have now watched Netflix’s latest hit Squid Game, the series and its bloody, horror-tinged violence may have provided some thrilling catharsis.
The South Korean thriller, which reached number 1 in 90 countries in 10 days – with 95% of viewers outside of Korea – is set to become Netflix’s biggest hit. Written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, the premise is pretty straightforward: Hundreds of desperate and indebted contestants vie for a huge jackpot – more money than they could ever dream of. All they have to do is survive a series of disturbingly cruel children’s games, win or die, kill or be killed. There are obvious nods to Battle Royale and The Hunger Games here.
The compelling trailer will set you up for nine hours of porn torture. Let all the orgies of stabbing, shooting and murder take place in bright pastel settings with oversized toys that make adults the size of a child is reminiscent of the Japanese game shows that decades ago were the pioneers of the humiliating TV genre, long before it turned into a Western reality TV. show the clip.
On one level, Squid Game is your classic Faustian affair. Like a silly question on TikTok, it revels in showing us through a happy splash party exactly what sick and depraved things an ordinary person could do for a life-changing amount of money. The fact that money is earned through childish games (red light, green light; tug of war) has a lord of the flies touch: oh how “civilized” people quickly degenerate into savagery.
But what isn’t captured in the trailer is how generous the show is, how gleefully funny and how compassionate it is to its characters. Our protagonist Seong Gi-hun is a part-time driver, a full-time game addict. In a wonderfully expressive portrayal of Lee Jung-jae, his wider emotions take us effortlessly from the heartbreaking guilt of seeing his ailing mother wearily heading for work to the slapstick humor of plundering the cookie jar for her card. credit before setting off on the race track.
Later, we learn how Seong Gi-hun’s life took a turn for the worse when, following layoffs at his auto factory, he saw his colleague killed during a workers’ strike. A case of PTSD was followed by her marriage breakdown, and some of the series’ most painful scenes take place between Seong Gi-hun and the light of his life – his 10-year-old daughter – who will soon be moving with her mother. and stepfather in the United States.
And so with each of these candidates, an almost Dickensian suffering creeps into their stories: a teenage North Korean defector at the mercy of smugglers and crooks; an impoverished Pakistani migrant worker whose factory boss refuses to pay his salary; a businessman whose weight of social pressure and expectations pushes him to engage in increasingly risky business.
What Hwang Dong-hyuk wants us to know is that these aren’t bad people. These are desperate people. People who can barely keep their heads above water in a system designed to crush their morale and strip them of all dignity. And how he does it through one of the series’ small but clever departures from the battle royale convention: Contestants have a choice, stay or go.
The fact that most of the candidates choose to stay in this hellish torture chamber (as one of the characters points out, it is “just as bad out there as it is here”) is an indictment of the company. modern, told in the darkest and funniest way. possible way. The worst abuse, injustice and cruelty our competitors are willing to endure (and inflict on others) becomes a yardstick by which to measure how abusive, unfair and cruel the “real world” is.
As Squid Game climbed to the top of the Netflix charts around the world, I wondered if it had struck a chord because a lot of us feel exhausted, “because of it,” and we’re looking for a way to. least resistance out of everyday life. We are playing to join the “Great Resignation”; we are inspired by those laconic revolutionaries of the lazy Chinese movement who sting or “lie flat”.
For Squid Game competitors, the acts of resistance are just as gentle and gentle. It can be as simple as splitting an ear of corn or asking another competitor for their name rather than using their assigned number. Moments of human connection and cooperation counterpoint scenes of competitors dressed in identical green tracksuits, marching through a painting of Escher’s stairs and doors – a striking visual metaphor for the rat race.
Squid Game reminds us that normal life was not the sun and lollipops for all of us. So before we rush out there, what could we do to improve “out there”?
Squid Game is now streaming on Netflix. For more recommendations on what to watch in Australia, visit our Stream Team column.