Squid Game Confronts Capitalism with Unsettlingly Relevant Dystopia

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Graphic by Laura Renfroe; photos courtesy Netflix

On target to be one of Netflix’s biggest hits in history, Squid Game tackles modern ideas of class struggle and elitism through unnerving metaphors and jaw-dropping visuals.

By Laura Renfroe, Pelahatchie High School

Red light, green light: a lucid children’s song hummed to a game to test just how still a kid could hold his body so as not to be caught by his friends. But what happens when this child’s play becomes a field of carnage, and winning or losing becomes a matter of life or death?

Squid Game threads this chilling concept with remarkable visuals. A woman, skin sticky with the blood of her fallen peers, stares at her hands as a scream breaks her lips. An old man bends over honeycomb, a sweetly baked Korean candy, hands trembling as he carves a shape with a needle. One crack in the sugared pattern would mean his swift demise.

Up and rising Netflix show Squid Game soars to the number one TV show spot in the world right now with gut-wrenching scenes and cathartic characters and metaphors. The South Korean series is perfect for the upcoming Halloween season with its top-of-the-industry visual and auditory horrors. 

Interested viewers should note, however, that some elements of Squid Game may not be suitable for all audiences. Scenes of sexual content and frequent graphic gore throughout the 9-episode installments may be disturbing for some. 

The show commences with protagonist Gi-hun enduring a miserable existence in which he gambles his little money away and only periodically meets with his beloved 10-year-old daughter. After meeting a mysterious man who offers him the chance for financial deliverance with the Squid Games, Gi-hun decides to take his chances and compete. 

The other competitors all hold one thing in common that leads them to the nightmarish games: outstanding debt. From the fragile elder #001 to the ruthless teenager #067, each contestant is in varying degrees of financial wreckage. Their collective desperation to improve their lives drives them to bloodshed. 

The cast captures the unhinged frenzy of these characters with unsparing performance. Just how far are they willing to go to claim that suspended golden piggy bank as their own?

Corruption deteriorates the minds of the players as trust is tested in contests where backstabbing becomes a survival method and even consorts become foes. Fraud lurks behind sealed doors as a doctor swaps organs to be sold on the black market in exchange for game hints, all in desire for the mounding bundles of cash (approximately $38 million in USD.) 

The ravaged players undergo various children’s games from swapping marbles under gunpoint to hopping from one glass to another, their rivals’ bodies beneath a gruesome statement of what one misstep brings.

All the while, the elite lounge in their lavish parlours, iced liquor in hand. The brutal games are but entertainment to the few mega-rich who view the murders as no more than lost bets. The players’ lives come down to nothing more than selfish monetary desires. 

Similar to other dystopian franchises such as The Hunger Games, Squid Game is hauntingly grounded in our capitalist reality. 

The show startles audiences through more than just the dizzying amounts of high intensity violence. Each episode retains an underlying correlation to our capitalist society. The grit woven in each scene is intensified by the truth that this dystopia is not so alien.

The contestants are labeled by numbers rather than their names and the pink masked staff monitor every detail of the competitions to ensure “fair chance” for each player. In reality, the players truly have little freedom of choice.

The dark themes of wealth gap and inequality coupled with eerie music compositions and phenomenal visual storytelling are only a few of the reasons why Squid Game is one of the most equally stunning and disturbing shows of recent memory. The show is the first South Korean series to dominate the US Netflix chart, and its impact has seemingly stretched to every corner of the globe.

Director Hwang Do-hyuk expressed in an interview with Yonhap News Agency his gratitude for the show’s rapid popularity. “It’s just a surprise. It’s incredible that all this craze happened within a week. As a creator, I’m so thrilled that my work has caught the hearts of people all around the world. It might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

The simple, impactful nature of the kids’ games paired with the multilayered capitalist metaphors undoubtedly makes the viewing experience one like none other. The irony of the deteriorating bodies in such garish juvenile settings is one that will keep viewers thinking about the show long after binging. 

And it is perhaps due to the prior installments’ grandiose metaphors and breathtaking cinematography that the last episode felt a bit nuanced and perplexing in comparison. In a series lined with dark cinematic themes of the calamities of wealth gap and class struggle, the final episode attempts to bring a happy ending to a maniacal reality. 

Nonetheless, Squid Game is sure to remain an unshakable legend in Netflix history. The series further proves that once one can overcome that one-inch subtitled wall, a whole new world of refined storytelling breaks open to be relished. 

This story was originally published on Hatchie Headlines on October 5, 2021.