Human suffering, competition, and hand-to-hand combat are not new hobbies, but they just came to light as such thanks to The Squid Game. There is an ancient aftertaste reminiscent of Roman circuses in the new Netflix series, which has become one of the most watched in the platform’s history. There are too many different countries, cultures and people for this success to be a coincidence.
Titane, the most beast winning film at Cannes
The inspiration that you drink from The Squid Game It is a mystery, since its creator has not made any mention, but the references are free and at least a dozen have emerged with the viewing of the first season.
Battle Royale, Cube, Saw, Alien vs Predator and Alice in borderland
The English chick, the rope, cutting figures … One of the main themes of the series is children’s games. And, although it is precisely that union of activities for children with murderous traps that gives it a perverse touch, it is not the first time that we have seen how a simple game brings something more to the table than to beat the rival.
Perhaps the most recurring example is Saw (2004), flagship of the narrative based on turning games into macabre experiments where the characters are the main pawns. But it is not the only one. Something very similar happens in Cube (1997), in which the four protagonists are drugged and wake up in a cubicle from which they have to escape through hatches. With tests and blades involved, of course. The Serie Alice in borderland is the recent version of this philosophy, but the setting goes from being a cube to an abandoned Tokyo turned into a sinister playground.
Another characteristic of the fashion series is the lack of solidarity in pursuit of unparalleled individual competitiveness. And that is precisely the synopsis of Battle royale (1999), the novel written by the Japanese Koushun Takami: every year about 2,000 participants are released on an island where the law of the strongest rules. The book has had a film adaptation, it has inspired others such as Alien vs. Predator (2004), and has even penetrated the video game world with Fornite, that just drinks from this concept.
Criticism of capitalism and class superiority
The Pit, Parasites, Snowpiercer, A Family Affair and The Hunger Games
The ghoulish wishes of a group of millionaires give rise to the bloody game that has engulfed viewers around the world. The so-called charity they show off by giving people covered in debt and without money a chance is a sign of a class superiority that the series aims to overthrow. In this case we find several current references. The first and most obvious are the novels of The Hunger Gamesby Suzanne Collins, where a number of elected officials from the country’s poorest districts participate in a reality televised in which there is only one. In addition to fighting for survival, what the winner gets is a passage to a higher economic and social class in exchange for ending the lives of all his rivals.
During The Squid Game, the participants sleep crammed into a pavilion while upstairs they are monitored by security cameras and temperature sensors. The food that the captors provide them is scarce to encourage riots in which a good part of them die. A division reminiscent of the wagons of the Snowpiercer (2013), the South Korean film Bong Joon-ho where the “scum” inhabits the back of the train and eats jelly bars while the elites take all the resources near the locomotive. Something similar to the movie The hole (2019), the prison in the form of a vertical tower where food is unfairly distributed according to the level. Again, the rebellion is only a matter of time.
Can’t finish reviewing critical movies with the system without mentioning Parasites (2019) and A family affair (2018). The first, like The Squid Game, perfectly captures the capitalist trap, the candy that the poor crave the most the further away they have it. They are two bright and acidic visions of the same question. But the similarities to the Hirokazu Koreeda movie are even better. In a world where the powerful look with pity on those who have less, the latter show that solidarity is not a question of charity, but of human quality.
Locked up and guarded
Lobster, Lost, The Truman Show, the videogame Portal and Cache
It is similar to the first point, since to propose a tricky game you usually need to have hostages, but there are some nuances. On Locust (2015), by the Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, the characters are locked up but what they propose is not exactly evidence. It is set in a dystopian world where singles are arrested and taken to a gigantic hotel to find a partner. They have 45 days to do so or else they will die alone. As in the Netflix series, “retirement” is a dire escape from unresolved issues in the real world.
But sometimes the prison can be our own home, just as it happens in Cache (2005). Haneke, as usual in his filmography, poses a drama where discomfort comes with the breakdown of the everyday. It tells the story of a family who, like the participants of the Netflix series, feel that they are constantly being watched. The sense of violation of privacy is something that both products share, and it is precisely this discomfort that causes the characters to become disturbed as the story progresses.
In the case of The Squid Game It is the leader of the black mask who controls every movement of the players, like a kind of Big Brother, and that is the premise of the video game Portal. It consists of waking up in a facility controlled by an artificial intelligence called GLaDOS which, as often happens in science fiction, ends up showing its darkest intentions.
Many of these works are ultimately based on a classic narrative: Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. The characters contemplate an environment that they conceive as real but that, in the end, is revealed as a projection of the world outside. Is what happens in Matrix or The Truman Show, two of the most common examples when it comes to exemplifying the myth.
The Greek philosopher has also served as inspiration for series such as Lost. In fact, at the beginning of The Squid Game we see that they are actually on an island in the middle of the ocean, although it is clear that they do not get there for the same reasons as the crew of Oceanic Flight 815. The characters of both series are united by the attraction for the place: they return to it after having escaped, placing it before the “hell” of reality. Of course, in one case it is due to a strange “attraction” and in that of the series that concerns us, the reason is purely economic.
The universe and aesthetics
The Money Heist, the videogame Monument Valley, Yellow Humor, Old and 1984
The red monkeys of The Money Heist they are the most visual reference that we find in this series. Perhaps because it is housed in the same house and because all the action takes place in a universe of four walls, be it those of a bank or those of a colorful dungeon. But if we look a little more at the palette, the forms and the architecture, it is impossible not to remember Monument valley. This beautiful video game inspired by the works of MC Escher consists of leading a princess through mazes of optical illusions and impossible objects. It is the same that prevents players from The Squid Game flee on the way to or from the tests.
It also has some Yellow mood, mythical television program, no less macabre, where hundreds of adults were subjected to ridiculous tests under the gaze of Western viewers. Regarding the island lost somewhere in the Pacific, it is not necessary to go too far to evoke the cliffs of Time (Old). In Shyamalan’s film some individuals are also specially selected to be observed behind their back and to carry out an experiment with them.
But without a doubt, there is no more evident aesthetic and more repeated universe than that of George Orwell’s work: 1984. Screens, voices that sound through microphones, leaders without faces, dictatorship hidden in colored paper and kind words. Big Brother is no longer a fiction of 1947 to sneak into our lives and homes. And now it also does it through The Squid Game.