Most of us have Netflix on our mobile phones and while it’s cheering that quite so many people are curious about a project that they are watching with subtitles, little feels novel about people flocking to a project that allows them to have it both ways.
“Squid Game”, created by Hwang Dong-Hyuk, depicts a competition with some 456 entrants, in which boundless wealth is made available to whoever survives a brutal gauntlet of fatal events. The violence is at once eerily intimate and impersonal. While there is a brutal frankness to the way the competitors’ lives are cut short, the shooters are masked game employees (or, in the case of Red Light, Green Light, a robotic doll).
What we gradually learn, through the device of a detective who is broken into the system, is that they are utterly bought-in , obeying rules of their own and believing rigidly in a game they have worked to present with a certain baroque innocence. Having now seen both the harsh realities they face in the game and at home, we are force to reckon with the notion that infinitesimal odds of survival in the Squid Game might just be better than none in modern society.
But this is a starting point from which the series does little in the way of development. This series amplifies itself endlessly, raising the stakes and the level of inhumanity. (It’s opening salvo of hundreds of dead bodies, seems difficult to top, but it gets over the line in demonstrations of players’ brutality, which alternates somewhat schematically with their startling shows of kindness).
As the series runs on, it becomes clear that the Squid Game exists for many reasons, including for the harvesting of human organs form the killed and to provide amusement for a chattering class of wealthy people some of them depicted as white Westerners who bet on the results.
About the first, there seems little to say, other than that it’s impressive that the series found a way to be even more affectedly direct and unbothered about showing ways the human body can come apart. A season-closing conversation between the game’s winner and it’s architect indicates that the game was, in its essence, designed for entertainment and to see if it is possible for people to be good. (He believes that they are not, despite having seen variations of the participants exhibiting team work, selflessness and cooperation but then, he was personally betrayed by the game’s winner, so his feelings maybe a bit raw).
This is maybe the point: “Those who play the Squid Game are subject to the banalest and juvenile philosophizing of those who, because of lucky breaks in life, get to determine everyone else’s reality. But taken on literal terms that the show burned through so much life and so much fake blood in order to stage a character-based investigation of goodness, then it really is no surprise that this show has taken off.