Movie Review of “Compliance”

Labor Movie Review: Compliance



People see movies for lots of reasons, but mainly because many not-great movies are still worthy of seeing. “Compliance” is one of them.

“Compliance” is based on the true story of a young McDonalds® worker in Kentucky who was detained against her will in the back office, humiliated, and ultimately sexually violated by her store manager, the manager’s fiancé, and others she worked with because they were following the orders of a prank caller they thought to be a police officer.

This lunatic scenario didn’t happen just once. For several years up to 2004 when the Kentucky McDonalds® incident took place, there were a string of similar prank calls to fast food restaurants and grocery stores. In the various cases, managers and compliant co-workers were convinced to detain, strip-search, perform body-cavity searches, spank and otherwise humiliate young female co-workers. The victims were also made to pose in various sexually exploitative positions and to perform other lewd acts.

In one case, a store manager was convinced to act as bait and undress in front of a random customer whom the prank caller said was a wanted pedophile.

David Steward, a Corrections Corporation of America employee, was arrested and charged with the 2004 Kentucky crime. Though the jury found him not guilty, the prank calls have since ended.

When “Compliance” was shown at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, it reportedly caused walk-outs and shouting matches among filmgoers.  People either couldn’t believe that store managers could treat their workers like criminals with no proof, or were incredulous that the victims were so yielding.

The film is worth seeing with a group of friends who want to talk about what is so wrong with our workplace dynamic. Though it takes place in a minimum wage McJob setting, I think that it could also happen in one of those soul-deadening cubicle mazes in suburban office park land.

The fact that co-workers would be so inhumane toward one another suggests something about the silk-gloved style of fascism in America that is supremely ironic. I heard more than once from union stewards how often fellow union members are willing to rat out another union member to management about some trivial work transgression. Why? To hopefully get a management job one day so we can become that horrendous creature, a middle manager?

In the U.S. we thump our chests about our freedoms, yet all to often, we willingly depart from them as soon as an authority figure asks us to. This is why we pull over for ambulances. But it is also why we believe the talking heads who speak from authority on the cable news cycle. Why we nod our heads in agreement with the preacher. Why we succumb to our doctor’s advice to medicate ourselves into health instead of change our diets.

Returning back to the film, “Compliance.” Ironically it’s the worker who isn’t part of the chain of command who calls a stop to the victimization of the girl. The come and go maintenance man arrives as the objective observer on duty run amok, and his outsider status is what permits him to call the prank caller’s bluff. But it is only because the maintenance worker is accountable only the jobs he is assigned to fix. He is not part of the shift clock – that period of time, be it four hours, eight hours, when you effectively become property of the company. When your freedom of thought is curtailed. That time period when you as witness to wrongdoing have to bite your tongue because, like the manager, you too need your job. Or you perhaps have some ambition and want to move up, so you don’t want to ever disagree with the formula. You go along to get along as the saying says.

Check it out. It’s on Netflix. Message me and let me know your thoughts.

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