Some Spoilers will be revealed in this article. Be sure to watch it first if you have an account on Netflix
In October, Netflix released a new tv show that seemed interesting called the Squid Game. The series begins with a group of kids who are playing a seemingly harmless game that vaguely resembles the shape of a squid where they can make up any rule they want as long as they stay within the shape. The film depicts an aggressive battle between competitors and a blood sport as over four hundred people compete through a series of twisted unpredictable games to win a prize of over $38 million. The contestants at first believe that it’s a harmless series of kid's games but it takes a dark and unexpected turn as anyone who moves an inch is eliminated. Literally.
I don’t want to spoil everything, so I’ll just discuss the common themes for this article and talk about selected parts of the tv show.
Critique of Capitalism
The main theme in this television series is that it accurately depicts the hardship working families in South Korea, the United States, and other countries around the world struggle because of Capitalism. The critique is very subtle and clever but it’s there as we note the main character and others discuss being unable to afford rent, struggling to live paycheck to paycheck, and depicting successful characters that went to Ivy League colleges and yet still ended up in millions in debt. This is the main reason for its popularity, it’s relatable. You don’t have to be partisan to appreciate this tv show highlighting what the working class feels like in countries all over the world who have faced a variety of issues.
The issues are related as a worldwide phenomenon. Wage theft occurring, housing becoming unaffordable, income inequality widening, inadequate access to affordable medical care, food insecurity, erosion of worker’s rights, and the rise of corporation conglomerates convincing people to “play a game” that they helped rig in their favor. Through this series it shows how ruthless real life can be even among the best of us who’ve done everything right yet feel punished for simply wanting to live a decent life. And it shows that the only thing we have left in life is each other.
Collectivism vs Individualism
Collectivism is a term used to describe a cultural belief that when a person fights as a coalition or a unit they are more likely to succeed as we see in the tug of rope scene. The majority of the world believes in this concept outside the United States, the UK, and Australia where people and humanity matter more than backstabbing and throwing others under the bus for personal gain. At the end of this show with their climax the main character still holds these is willing to forgo 45 billion won ($38 million) prize money to make sure he a close friend can walk away alive. That is very admirable and commendable in a world that is a dog-eat-dog world and the last episode actually brought tears to my eyes with how emotionally charged it was.
As the games continue in this series as most players lose some of their humanity the main character Gi-Hun rarely ever does. He seems to be the only counterweight and holds onto his moral compass throughout most of the series even when given every opportunity to stab his colleagues in the back. Although there are parts where Gi-Hun seems a little overly emotional the writer of this story did this deliberately to illustrate what a person looks like when they refuse to become a ruthless animal in a competition.
The games in the film remind me of the games we all play in modern life just to live in today’s world that feels similar. Jumping through unexpected hoops, backstabbing others, feeling hopeless after doing everything right, escaping loan sharks, and choosing between drowning in debt or playing a game that sacrifices your own morality and humanity in the process.
In the final scene Gi-Hun is forced to fight to the death with his longtime friend of twenty years. Although they scratch, stab, and bite each other Gi-Hun is forced to choose between saving himself and leaving with the prize money, but he chooses a third option as his humanity and empathy for his friend comes back to the annoyance of the wealthy observers.
Another theme in this series is that players are assigned specific numbers instead of names, because in this contest they are seen as less than human similar to how Amazon views their employees: expendable.
The main character Gi-Hun is assigned the number 456 as are a few of his friends in the series including an immigrant from the middle east, a former coworker, a refugee, and a longtime friend of his who graduated at the top of his university. All the contestants are trapped between living in hell in the real world and living a second hell in the squid games with neither of them being a very pleasant option. Again it’s a dog-eat-dog world and this series brilliantly portrays what that feels like for 3.5 billion people living in poverty.
That’s as much as I’ll spoil the tv series but take a look for yourself and let me know what you think in the comment section below.