‘Squid Game’ violent and violently thought-provoking

Hit Netflix series critiques society through lens of brutal children’s games


Dave Winter

A banner advertising Squid Game-inspired mechandise hangs over a storefront in Northwest Shopping Center on Burnet Road, directly across from Lamar Middle School. According to Reuters, demand for white Vans shoes similar to the ones seen on the show and other related products has increased significantly as Squid Game mania sweeps the nation.

Squid Game, written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, has been breaking records ever since it was released on Sept. 27. The Netflix original series has over 111 million viewers, making it Netflix’s biggest series launch ever. It’s also the first Korean show to be No. 1 in the U.S., along with numerous other countries. Everywhere you go, it seems, people are talking about Squid Game. So is it really worth all the hype?

Yes. But not in the way we expected.

What viewers thought would be mystical and fantastical, instead was a deeply unsettling look into just how far people are willing to go for money. 

Squid Game is unique because it is originally in Korean and therefore the only show most English speakers seen in that language (with English subtitles of course). Even with consuming the story using only subtitles and videography, it is quite intriguing. 

The protagonist, Seong Gi-Hun (played by Lee Jung-jae), is a poverty-stricken middle-aged man and chronic gambler living with his mother. His financial incapability prevents him from having custody of his young daughter. A curious encounter with a stranger on the subway offers him what seems to be the answer to all his problems: a Hunger Games-esque chance to win millions of dollars by playing children’s games. 

Made up of different people living in South Korea, the games may have seem random, but the players are not. Each player shares a common denominator: a desperate need to escape poverty and the ruthless drive to do it. With some serious plot twists and an emotional overload, this story develops into something completely unexpected. 

The plot was a bit confusing at first because the concept and reasoning behind most of the events that took place is unclear. But the unanswered questions only fuels greater interest and investment in the show. The first episode leaves viewers with so many questions that they simply cannot stop watching. Disturbing but oddly fascinating, the lack of answers was perhaps intended to pique viewer interest. The structure of the show is strange, but in a way that also benefited the story and also kept viewers intrigued. When the show turns turns brutal, the urge to change the channel is extinguished by a morbid curiosity that keeps viewers glued to the screen.

What viewers thought would be mystical and fantastical, instead was a deeply unsettling look into just how far people are willing to go for money. 

The setup of the facility where these events occurred resembles a toy playhouse. Everything is strangely colorful and block-like, but the activities that occur inside are not so bright. What appears to be an innocent arrangement of simple competitions turns out to be a dark, disturbing scheme. The administrators presiding over the games, however, do so with extreme integrity. They take these contests very seriously and never disobey the rules, even if it compromises their mission. 

The acting in Squid Game relies heavily on expression to convey a dramatic tone. The actors (including Jung Ho-yeon, Wi Ha-joon, and Park Hae-soo) commit passionately to their roles, providing a surreal experience for the viewers. At some points, however, the acting is a bit overdone, taking away from the plot of the story and becoming a distraction rather than a fruitful addition. This is not to say that the acting complicates the plot; it is more of a brief annoyance. This is mostly due to the fact that tensions are already high enough. The melodramatic acting tightens those tensions unnecessarily. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the spectacle of the games, but that spectacle is part of what shocks us the most. While the show is cinematically and visually enticing, the critique it offers is even more interesting. The violence of the games, meant to represent the dog-eat-dog real world, becomes somewhat normalized by the end of the series; to the point where viewers hardly notice it anymore. This is jarring in its own right, forcing us to examine the normalcy of money-centered brutality in our own society.

Overall, we would definitely recommend giving Squid Game a watch. It shocks, disturbs, and leaves you shaking, but it also leaves you asking the following questions:  How much is a human life is worth? (According to Squid Game, roughly $84,567.) How far will people go to escape debt and destitution? And when does the cost become too high?