While my peers in the 60’s were screaming over the Beatles and the Monkees, I quietly nursed a painful crush on actor Patrick McGoohan. McGoohan played Beethoven in a Disney tv show. (I also had a crush on Beethoven, perhaps because my father frequently played the Moonlight Sonata on the piano as a lullaby for us.)
Years later, I felt that same vestibular sensation watching old reruns of McGoohan in his existential tv series, “The Prisoner.” According to Wikipedia, “The Prisoner” addressed issues of individualism vs collectivism.
That spooky feeling arose again just recently while binge-watching Netflix’ provocative Korean “Squid Game.” While the protagonist keeps asking, “Who is behind all this?”, I’m asking, “What is the key to understanding this series?” Not being an intellectual with hefty philosophical terms readily at my disposal, I had to go away and think about it for awhile.
In “Squid Game,” people who are at the end of their rope, who have burned all their bridges and have nowhere else to turn, are presented with the opportunity to win an unfathomably huge sum of money, however it is not made clear to them at first how horrifyingly high the stakes will be. Like “The Prisoner,” they are gassed and brought to an unknown island where this life-and-death drama unfolds.
The games the players sign a release to play are games they might have played as children, as children play, no holds barred. “When you lose, you die,” literally. They are games of permanent elimination. However, wryly, at any time they can choose the “democratic” option to vote whether or not they want to leave the game and return to their real lives, where disaster surely awaits. Majority wins. It’s only fair.
Human relationships are put under the blowtorch. Who will be on your team? Who will be your best friend? And when the blood-soaked chips are down, will your old, ingrained instinct for self-preservation supersede your new-found love for fellow man? And who is dispassionately watching and enabling these wretched, horrible games? Is it the super-wealthy, corrupt, disinterested, “VIPs”, given a lavishly furnished suite from which to anonymously view and bet on the proceedings, cocktail and gigolo in hand? Or, is it even us, the Netflix viewers, hiding behind the safety of our tv screens?
“Squid Game,” released in 2021 was written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, and stars Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, O Yeong-su, Wi Ha-joon, Jung Ho-yeon, Heo Sung-tae, Anupam Tripathi, and Kim Joo-ryoung.
There are only 9 episodes – I binged them all almost in one sitting – 5 in one night and the rest the next morning. Now maybe I need to learn Korean to hear what the actors are REALLY saying.