Well, this time I think things are a little more difficult than in previous occasions, what can we say about Compliance? This film manages to articulate a story based on what Hannah Arendt described, after her investigation into the crimes of the Nazis against the Jewish people, as the “banality of evil” (but I’m not saying that the film is about Nazis or about Hanna Arendt!). The first thing I can say is that the hour and a half that the film lasts is a difficult journey to endure, the series of situations that occur from the beginning, the growing tension that does not stop and that becomes increasingly claustrophobic gives evidence of the immense ability of the director Craig Zobel to keep us on the edge of our seats, wishing more than anything else that the situation would stop, but at the same time, we know that it will not stop and that things are going to get worse and worse.
But… why did I start remembering Hannah Arendt’s research? Well, because the term “compliance”, which is the name of the film, refers to a characteristic of human psychology in which an individual blindly submits to a request, when this request comes from a person that the individual feels as his or her hierarchical superior. Hannah Arendt went a step further in this respect by describing the motives that led so many Nazi officers and soldiers to commit the horrible attempts on the lives of thousands of people, only to defend themselves by saying that all they had done was obey orders. The banality of the evil consists then in the justification, especially of the officers, who simply could not see the evil they were committing, blinded perhaps by the desire for promotion in their professional careers and having treated the whole affair as one of a merely bureaucratic nature. And it is this same behavior that we find in the protagonist of the story, Sandra Fumm, the manager of a fast food branch, played masterfully by Ann Dowd, who is confronted with a phone call in which an alleged police officer asks her to arrest one of her employees, accused by this same person of stealing from one of the customers. All it takes is for “Officer Daniels” to tell Sandra that he has been in contact with her superior, and she follows all the instructions he gives her, accusing Becky, the alleged thief, without any evidence, and proceeds to strip search her. From here and until the end of the film we witness, time and again, behaviors completely out of line with morality, many of which are recognized by those who commit them (I am referring to Van, Sandra’s boyfriend) but which, nevertheless, they cannot but carry out, in the face of the danger of losing something themselves.
In terms of cinematography, it is important to note that the film presents a different kind of story and characters than what we are used to as spectators. From the choice of the main location, the fast food restaurant and its narrow corridors and rooms, to the conflicts that are generated between the characters, all anchored to the hierarchical structure of an ordinary work. It is important to point out that the main character, Sandra, is not a character with a dramatic arc or who learns a lesson during the development of the film, but she stays in the same position from the beginning. Even in the end, when she is being interviewed about what happened and she declares to be completely innocent, we witness a person who cannot see the impact her own actions have had on others. It is here that the concept that Hannah Arendt coined at the end of her investigations clearly appears, this blindness caused by the indiscriminate desire to remain on the side of the law, of the hierarchy, in an attempt to protect one’s own life, at the expense of autonomy and moral judgment.
In conclusion, I would like to say that Compliance is a film that I think many people should see, because it makes it clear that we human beings are subject to mistakes far beyond what we would like to recognize. The fact that an innocent person can go through a hell like Becky did, while doing a job that wasn’t even transcendental to her, because of another person for whom things did seem to be more transcendental, but again, for all the wrong reasons, is a much closer reality than it seems, since the story in the film is based on real events.
The good stuff:
- The dramatic intensity that grows with every moment.
- The outstanding performances of all the characters involved in Becky’s arrest.
- The final dialogue of the protagonist.
- The beginning of the movie can be uninteresting.
In short… watch or die!