Culture & Ethics
Squid Game Explores a Dark Image of Humanity
Yesterday, I wrote about the latest film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Here is another holiday entertainment that will spark thought and conversation.
Once in a while, Netflix manages to come out with a show that gets people talking. Their most recent success is the series Squid Game. Admittedly, the show’s concept isn’t new. Squid Game is yet another twist on a classic dog-eat-dog trope familiar from The Hunger Games, Highlander, and other sci-fi fantasies with last-man-standing plots. It focuses on Seong Gi-hun, a desperate man in debt who joins a competition of six games, where whoever survives wins a large sum of cash.
Men as Horses to Bet On
As the show progresses, we encounter other characters who are in similar situations and we come to care about them until they either win or lose. To the show’s credit, it does a good job of building these characters and their tragic situations, leaving no man’s story half-finished. So the stakes are well established as the intensity of these games increases. The result is that the reason behind the games and the core conflict motivating the show are not fully revealed until about half-way through the series. When the reveal comes, it is as expected, given the genre. The idea is that men are depraved, but the show takes the notion a step further than that, going so far as to have one of the villains state that humans are just horses to be bet on. Or as one of the elite spectators watching the games comments at a certain point in the action, “Animal instinct. When faced with danger, seek refuge in the herd.”
Of course, as is typical in this kind of story, the idea of man as an animal is contradicted by the main characters, who form a team to overcome the challenges before them. Toward the end of the show, two men bet on whether a drunken individual dying on the street will receive help before midnight. The drunk man is helped off the street, and the villain, who bet against this, loses the bet.
A Strange Hostility to Faith
Yet what is fascinating about the show is that while it rejects the idea that men are nothing but brute beasts, it repeatedly goes out of its way to attack religion. There is a character who is constantly praying and is reprimanded for doing so, and the show goes out of its way to depict the believer as a vile hypocrite who murders people when convenient. We even get the stereotypical religious wacko preaching in the street about judgement. This trite motif becomes distracting. The scenes expressing hostility toward religion are sandwiched into the plot at points where they don’t seem to belong. It’s as if the show were saying: “Find your humanity, but whatever you do, don’t find religion because that would just be crazy.”
The writers could have asked important questions like, “What makes a man more than just an animal?” and “Where do people get their values?” These are never addressed, unfortunately, though they would have made the show more interesting. So, is Squid Game worth watching? Only if you have a tolerance for intolerance.