"There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come" Victor Hugo
Squid game can be termed as a critique of modern day capitalism coupled with the instant gratification led digital mediums. Funny it may sound, the startups ecosystem, YouTube, mystique of one leader led nations are all seem to be at the core idea behind the TV Show.
Think of it, Il-Naam (Number 1) the founder of this game is the one who has been perpetually disappointed on how the world treats the commoners. Although he is making money and organizing kills of its participants, he makes it sound as if the game is like a ‘university’ of sorts by repeatedly talking about agreements, clauses and democratic voting. In the beginning, a guard tells the participants that how each of them are under debt way more than their net worth and that they should participate in it as a last chance to redeem themselves. In a way, Il-Naam feels that his game is actually helping the participants reach their true inner self.
The guards hide their faces throughout the show, this in essence shows their own guilt and the very fear of being identified or killed which haunts the contestants in the first place.
It seems that Il-Naam is fancying himself to be a cleanser of sorts as he does end up giving the prize money to Gi-Hun (Number 456) in the first place.
The above projections in Squid Game makes the whole setting as a ‘political reality’ of its own.
But what is the deep meaning behind setting up a temporary state for the sake of commerce. Modern day Korea has equal divides in its strata. This was largely visible in Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” where the Kim family from the slums also wants a short cut to live ‘big’ and enjoy the spoils of the good life. In a stark contrast, the affluent Park family’s patriarch in “Parasite” had a sadistic taste for dirty clothes of the maid servant who is the daughter of the Kim family. In a way, they balance it out in their issues and complement each other in a way.
The resonance of the show in real world pop culture is phenomenal to say the least.
The Squid Game template is also unique as it creates an underdog Olympics. Anthropologically, desperation is a great motivator for competence and Squid Game creates an Olympics of the classical ‘failures’ and ‘low lives’ of the Korean society who demonstrate ‘competence’ . This essentially means that the contestants were not incompetent and competence had limited role in their fall or failure. Yet again it’s a critique on how a capitalist society treats its citizens .If we compare this with “The Hunger Games” trilogy, here the participants were given a way out of the game and they willingly came back again fully knowing the price and risks associated with the games.
My problem with “Squid Game” is its final resolution. The story doesn’t really recognize its original premise. The basic idea that “winner takes all” and anything is fair in the pursuit of the prize money. But Gi-Hun refuses to accept his wealth as he feels “burdened” that most of his friends die as the game concludes. For a year or so, he doesn’t realize the fact that his daughter is around as well. Do note the fact that Gi-Hun wanted to pay off the debt and use the money to get closer to his daughter after he wins the game show. So, did he just shrug off his responsibility after the games…..
There is also a very strategic use of the female characters in the show. Kim Joo-Ryeong as Mi Nyeo provides comic relief in the story and just when you question the relevance of her character in the bigger narrative, she jumps back and amplifies the narrative to a whole new level. Ho-Yeon Jung as Kang Se Beok might look as the lead female character but she is not offered major swings in the story. Mi Nyeo clearly steals the thunder here as the emotionally impulsive thug who dares to challenge the Male domination in the group.
Each characters development arch is well developed. Ali’s character is a case in point and it depicts how capitalism thrives on the weak and unprepared. Ali has a deep respect for Cho-Sang the con artist investment banker as he was kind to him when they left the game before. But when push came to shove, Cho-Sang like a nasty corporate giant who knew the exact weaknesses of Ali, exploits him to move forward in the game.
The script in a step by step fashion demolishes the very tenets of capitalism. But also makes a case for Left leaning ideologies. In the end, the corporation behind Squid Game feels that 455 murders out of 456 is justified and they themselves reserve the right to determine what is suitable for each contestant. All the contestants wear a green track suit and white slip-ons as a uniform to compete. In its Essence , a state which decides the competence of each citizen irrespective of who is really competent or not.
There is also the justification given by Il Naam when he challenges Gi-Hun to bet on whether a beggar who is lying across the street will be helped by a passerby in the dead of winter or not. A bet which Gi-Hun wins!
The organ trade being done in the Squid Game organization itself is a reminder that the system of the game and its so called democratic machine is a farce. There is a distinct possibility that the Guards are not paid well for all the dirty work they do. So in my summary the Squid Game idea and its execution from the prism of the plot itself is a bit weak.
But the writer Hwang Dong Yuk (a USC Cinema School alumni) has definitely created a world in which you would like to be invested in for a while.