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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Squid Game: How the world became ready for the violent survival series

The Korean show, Squid Game, which released in September, became a global point of discussion, with its violent depiction of people resorting to extreme measures, just to survive while playing children's games.

By: Entertainment Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: October 8, 2021 8:35:45 am
Squid GameSquid Game has taken the world by storm. (Photo: Netflix)

The premise of Netflix’s latest rage Squid Game — a brutal survival game series, is not novel. There has been a slew of similar books and film adaptations, some of them remaining in the public consciousness like The Hunger Games, while others have melded together into a forgettable mass. Yet, the Korean show, Squid Game, which released in September, became a global point of discussion, with its violent depiction of people resorting to extreme measures, just to survive. The characters are distinct, fleshed out, with hard-hitting storylines that are relatable.

Why is the show popular? Perhaps because it has a stark answer to the question, ‘How far will you go for money?’ How far will you go to sacrifice those you love for money too? When will you stop, and will it be too late when you finally realise it? And maybe, it’s an allegory for a crippling, suffocating capitalistic structure.

Ironically, the show took 10 years to be made. Squid Game director and creator Hwang Dong-hyuk revealed that he had devised the plot in 2008, but it was continuously rejected for its ‘bizarre concept’ and for ‘being grotesque and unrealistic’. However, it was during the coronavirus pandemic that the story found acceptance. The world, in its state of uncertainty, was ready for the show — survival was the game everyone was playing on a daily basis.

Squid Game (Photo: Netflix)

Speaking to The Korea Times, the director said: “But after about 12 years, the world has changed into a place where such peculiar, violent survival stories are actually welcomed.” A telling statement, no doubt.

“People commented on how the series is relevant to real life. Sadly, the world has changed in that direction. The series’ games, that participants go crazy over, align with people’s desires to hit the jackpot with things like cryptocurrency, real estate and stocks. So many people have been able to empathize with the story,” he said. The pandemic intensified the chasm between the rich and the poor and Netflix realized that Squid Game spoke to reality.

“The world has changed. All of these points made the story very realistic for people compared to a decade ago,” he added.

Squid Game begins on a seemingly innocent note: a showcase of children playing a game called ‘squid game’ outside their home. There’s much laughter, and if you get caught, ‘you die’ — a benign phrase that we’ve all used in childhood when being ousted in games. Seong-Gi-hun the protagonist and narrator, pauses as he repeats the words, ‘Yes, you die’.

Years down the line, we see an unemployed Gi-hun, who is a gambling addict and has signed his organs away to his creditors. He is defaulting on his alimony payments and child support, and relies on his elder brother for sustenance. He can barely afford to buy rice cakes for his daughter. While setting the tone for a bleak, horrific black comedy, it’s these moments of tenderness that bring the show closer home.

Life is turned on its head when he gets an ominous offer to play children’s games and win a million dollars. Packed away in a dormitory, he finds himself among 455 such contestants, who are equally strapped for cash. Players are reduced to just numbers on their jerseys, and have to win six children’s games if they can. They die violently if they lose. They can leave if they like, but they’re metaphorically dying in the real world too, as they are reminded. And so, they head back to save themselves from this prolonged death.

At least in this arena, there’s a chance of getting something for it.

Squid Game (Photo: Netflix)

Western spectators watch and bet on these games of death, while lounging in a lap of luxury. The ‘Host’ is bored, and brazen enough to say that everyone is here owing to their own choice, but is that so? What could lead humanity into this pit of depravity, a fight unto death, if not the thought of a solution to save them from a fate worse than being humiliated on a daily basis? Yes, daily mortification is worse than instant death — a message driven across in the series. The lure for money is too much, it’s enticing. Free will is a carefully constructed illusion.

Gi-hun realises that people who he thought were ahead of him in rat race, are in the same position — his childhood friend, a graduate from Seoul university, a North Korean refugee and a worker from Pakistan. He asks, “I thought I was slow, and incompetent… but you are in the same place as me.” And so the message hits hard: As humans, regardless of our background, we’re always in debt. Debt can reduce humans to the most animalistic versions of themselves, and almost tear them apart from inside, where they can’t even recognise themselves, let alone their responsibility to others. It’s this struggle between the desperation for money, and the obligations to others that forms the crux of Squid Game. These bonds of friendship might just be the means for salvation—and it becomes Gi-hun’s means to survive. In the end, he emerges as the better version of himself by resisting the allure of cash, because he did not want anyone’s life to be sacrificed for it, least of all a friend.

Squid Game is a stark, brutal and dystopian series, presenting people struggling to make ends meet, as they drown in their financial troubles. It might be South Korean, but it has echoed across the world because it’s a dark phenomenon that is present everywhere.

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