At the beginning of the second episode of the dystopian fantasy “Squid Game,” anonymous villains load the boxed corpses of hundreds of contestants who’ve been gunned down for their failures into incinerators. But one of the bodies still twitches. Its fingers crawl out of a gap between the lid and the rest of the box.
So the lid is stapled shut. It’s cremation for the person regardless.
That’s not even the most disturbing image in the nine episodes of “Squid Game.” And the show, which began streaming on Netflix last month, has apparently been the service’s biggest debut ever. Are there teenagers or young adults in your life? Ask them about “Squid Game.” They’ve probably watched it. They’ve quite possibly loved it. And that terrifies me.
A Korean-language production awash in blood, “Squid Game” is less a feat of ingenious storytelling — though there are some deft touches and inspired wrinkles — than a gory riff on a familiar formula, a hyperviolent “Hunger Games” with an immeasurably darker view of the world.
Here’s the plot: Economically desperate South Koreans agree to be imprisoned in a remote, bizarre arena where they compete in adult versions of children’s games whose losers are slaughtered. Aware of the stakes, they elect to continue “playing” because they’ve been promised a future-changing amount of prize money if they prevail and because their existences beyond the arena are just as dehumanizing.
In fact, the episode of “Squid Game” titled “Hell” isn’t about the competition, in which one false move equals a bullet to the head. It’s about life outside the arena. It’s about a putatively affluent society in which the divide between rich and poor — and between lucky and unlucky — is gaping. To land on the wrong side of it is to be damned.
That this vision appeals to so many viewers, especially young ones, suggests a chilling and bleak perspective — on capitalism, on “freedom,” on individual agency — that should stop us in our tracks. In the jarring, horrifying first episode, as contestants begin to be killed by the dozens, an unidentified mastermind cues up music and pours a cocktail to savor along with his view of the massacre, which calls to mind the school shootings that a generation of American children have grown up with. God is an assassin, tipsy and merciless in his gilded lair.
Maybe the viewers of “Squid Game” just thrill to the bold, cartoon-colored shock of it: Its visual and spiritual aesthetic are what you’d get if you crossed an episode of “Teletubbies” with a highlights reel of Quentin Tarantino at his grisliest. And there’s suspense inherent in learning, slowly, who dies, who survives, who that mastermind is. I canvassed young people I know: “I couldn’t look away,” “insane premise that I was captivated by,” “very few shows have its wow factor.”
But the fact that they’re not repelled by the incessant bloodletting and by many characters’ flamboyant cruelty to one another says something weird and disturbing about modern sensibilities. “We’re entertained by extremes,” a 23-year-old who zoomed through “Squid Game” in two days told me.
Then there’s the indiscriminate manner in which a huge hit becomes an even bigger phenomenon — a trend — divorced from its actual content. Mike Hale, a television critic for The Times, wisely noted the “meme-readiness” of “Squid Game.” The Times also published an article by Vanessa Friedman about how track suits were newly “hot” because the “Squid Game” contestants wear them (as a kind of prison uniform, mind you). The Times published another article, by Christina Morales, about the history of dalgona candy, which is a deadly prop in one of the series’s elimination contests. There was a link to instructions, by Genevieve Ko, on how to make it.
然后，以一种不分青红皂白的方式，这个巨大的轰动变成了更大的现象——一种时尚——脱离了它的实际内容。时报的电视评论家迈克·黑尔(Mike Hale)明智地指出《鱿鱼游戏》“具有成为米姆的潜质”。时报还发表了凡妮莎·弗里德曼(Vanessa Friedman)的一篇文章，讲述运动服如何因为《鱿鱼游戏》的选手穿它们（提醒一下，是作为一种囚服）而变成“热点”。时报还发表了一篇由克里斯蒂娜·莫拉莱斯(Christina Morales)撰写的文章，讲述了椪糖(dalgona candy)的历史，它是剧中一场淘汰赛的致命道具。文中有一个链接，是由吉纳维芙·高(Genevieve Ko)撰写的制作方法。
In a week and a half, on Halloween, we’ll be bombarded by “Squid Game” costumes. The Wall Street Journal weighed in on that.
To some extent, “Squid Game” is big because it’s big, its first-burst popularity generating attention that begets even greater popularity as everyone wants in on the action and as a curiosity’s slippery tentacles reach farther and farther into people’s consciousness.
But its commentary on class, greed and savagery is much too central to be incidental. That commentary may, as Mike wrote, be “a thin veneer of pertinence meant to justify the unrelenting carnage.” But it’s there, thin or not, along with that carnage. And tens of millions of viewers are riveted.
For many if not all of them, to at least some degree, this portrait of life as a sadistic lottery and poverty as a hopeless torture chamber has resonance, which means it also has merit. That’s a bullet to the soul.