Thursday, September 20, 2012

Compliance: Frustratingly Brilliant

Tonight I went to see a film that's caused a stir on the indie circuit — Compliance. It's the shocking story of a prank caller who calls the manager of a fast food joint and convinces her he's a cop, that one of her employees have stolen money from a customer, and that he's in the middle of something and she'll have to become the officer on the scene in his place. While the girl sits in the manager's office, horrified and baffled, the manager first seems to revel in the fact that this sexy little chickie might have done something wrong and be in big trouble, but quickly becomes serious when the "officer" on the phone asks her to strip-search the girl.

What happens next begins an increasingly shocking and devastating cycle of events that leads to the movie's conclusion, and forces audiences to ask, How compliant are we? At what point would you stand up to authority and ask questions? If you're pulled over by a police officer, you cannot ask questions or talk to them in any way: you hand over your ID, you don't say a bloody word, you do not get out of the car, and you take what they give you and that's that. You comply. When you are a manager working in a fast food joint and a cop tells you he has the regional manager on the other line — your boss — and that person has agreed to everything the cop is telling you... you comply. When you're a teenager who desperately needs the minimum wage this job is giving you and your manager is telling you to be quiet, sit there, and do what they say because if not you'll go to jail and have a record and be in a shitload of trouble... you comply.

But what kind of person says no? Who decides they're going to question that authority, and how far does that authority have to push the envelope before you start pushing back? I will admit my stomach was a knot of tension and frustration (not least because Dreama Walker (Good Wife, Gossip Girl, Don't Trust the B_ in Apt 23), who plays the victim, looked like my daughter might in 10 years) mostly because I kept thinking, Put the guy on hold, pick up your cell, and call the police station to check if there is in fact an Officer Daniels there!! For GOD'S SAKE, who would DO this?!

My friend Sue and I walked out of the theatre, both gobsmacked at what we'd just seen, but then we talked about the crappy job we used to have when we were teenagers, working in the bakery department of a horrible grocery store. Our manager was horrible, this big, chain-smoking woman with a brain the size of a pea... and yet I feared her. She would grab me, yank me back into the fridge where we kept our cheese and dough and fresh food, close the door, and chain smoke in there while yelling at me that I needed to go out to the floor, find the bread that was expiring that day, come back and repackage it with today's date. When a customer would come back with green Vienna rolls, complaining that they said they were made today, my manager would look at me, look at the customer and apologize for her "stupid" employee who clearly didn't know you shouldn't bag them while hot. I'd apologize, and look down, and the customer would often see through it and say, "Buns don't go green because of moisture." But when one of the store managers -- whose brains were the sizes of slightly larger peas -- would come walking by and compliment her on something (perhaps she'd shaved her mustache that day), she was putty in their hands, instantly acting girly and doing whatever they said. If a prank caller called her and she and I were the only two in the store, and she thought it was a cop, and he gave her a single flattering comment, she would have strip-searched me and thrown me out the door fully naked if he'd asked her to.

So, sadly, the movie is plausible. All too plausible... because it's based on a true series of events that actually happened in 2004 when a prank caller contacted several fast food outlets and convinced the managers to do exactly what happens in this film. Amazing, and sad. But it certainly makes us wonder what we would do, and what kind of person would act differently.

Here's the trailer, which is as chilling as the movie itself. I can't say I enjoyed the film, but I'm glad I saw it. I recommend it, as long as you go into it with your eyes wide open that this is NOT going to be an easy film to watch (several people actually walked out of the film partway through).


Anonymous said...

I remember seeing this story on a night news show a few yrs back. it was chilling and frustrating to watch then. I know I couldn't subject myself to actually seeing the film, no matter how important it is.
I once had a boss accuse me of stealing my own pen. I was working as a hairstylist and a client came in saying she had lost her Cross pen. one of the other nasty stylists "helpfully" told my boss that she had seen me with one( we had clipboards and had to write client cards). He told me to show it to the client to prove I didn't steal it. I insisted that it was mine, and had always been mine. I had used it in the shop for months. and the other stylist knew this.
The client told him her pen was silver and mine was gold, thus letting me off the hook. heaven knows what he would have done had it been the same colour. He didn't apolgize, just told me to go back to work. I quit a week later.
Interestingly, the other stylist? she was fired for theft a few weeks later.

kluu said...

Watching the preview kinda made my stomach turn. It all seemed so wrong. I don't know how that manager could have gone along with it.

Anonymous said...

I know how it happens. I own several restaurants in a fast food chain, and while I hope that my staff have enough common sense to ask questions before acting, people are trained to do what they are told. Especially in the face of authority. It is easy to look at a situation after the fact and say "I would never do that", but when you are in a situation you don't always react the way you think you will.

Nikki Stafford said...

Anonymous #2: I completely agree, as I said in my post. When these people are desperate to hold onto a job, they don't ask questions. You obey authority the same way I did when I was working in that industry back in high school. You just don't ask. In white collar office jobs, the dynamic is different, but in these situations, absolutely not.

Anonymous said...

Yes, exactly. It is much easier to lose your job in a fast food restaurant than in a typical white collar job....for both the crew and the manager. While I don't want to absolve the manager of all responsibility, she thought she was talking to a cop and that her boss was in contact with the cop. If she has bills to pay and a family to support, is she going to risk her job? Easier said than done.

Stephanie aka anon #2