Compliance – I hated this movie


I hated this movie. It’s not a bad movie, I just hated it.  And I do not say this lightly. The only people who might appreciate this film are sociologists, anthropologists, educators, psychiatrists and psychologists. There is no other reason to see this that I can fathom, except for the clinical.

Sure, it’s important because it shines a mirror on how Americans don’t think. But from beginning to end the story builds up and is relentless in its march to the impossible but true ending.

Viewing the film was one of the most uncomfortable, disturbing experiences of all my movie-going ever. And not because of what was shown, which was pretty toned down from reports of the real event. It was that a whole team of employees lost their minds, their decency, their “common sense” in the face of respecting authority. You can scream at them from your seats but they won’t listen.

“Compliance” is based (“inspired” but I see no inspiration here) on a true story about a “strip search prank call scam”   where a man, identifying himself as law enforcement, asks the manager of a fast food restaurant to detain an employee and conduct a strip search to help the over-busy police department. This happened over 70 times across the USA between 1994-2004 when a male employee of a private firm that supplied corrections officers to prisons, was arrested.

In the case depicted in the film, McDonald’s (though it uses a generic restaurant) had to pay a $ 1.1 million settlement to the victim for failing to protect her (after a jury through out a huge settlement), plus more than $2m in her legal fees and $400,000 in punitive damages also to the victim. A man was convicted of sexual assault and the guy who made the phone call? He was tracked down and arrested, charged and later acquitted. Freedom of speech? He was a nuisance, anti-social, and totally lacking in empathy, citizenship, humanity. But he didn’t “do” anything. He got people to do what he wanted by merely impersonating a cop, and not a real one at that.*

“Compliance” is a study in how people relate to authority. When they believe they are obeying, pleasing their boss or the cops, all common sense goes out the window. The level of stupidity is incredible but that this happened is not and the film, unfortunately, presents the story in a simple, compelling way. Even the employees who questioned what was going on conceded that the boss knew about it and was in charge. Even the victim herself caved to the demands of the manager and others as dictated by the man on the phone. The film shows that she was persuaded to do this or she would have been arrested and processed and her record scarred forever. Still.

The local manager wants to please her district manager and the cops, the other employees follow her orders; the manager’s boy friend was the worst of all as he followed the voice of authority on the phone.

Yet no one really asked the big question: if you are the cops and this is so serious, you come and take care of it.

Didn’t these people watch television? Since when did anyone obey a cop on the phone?

The need to please is so strong.

The need to question, to think, is so much more imperative.

Americans are not very good at it.

“Compliance” is a cautionary tale and it made me want to scream. I hated it because it really happened.

* I made some small corrections to this section today, 9/16

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