Compliance (US, 2012)

Do as you are told

Do as you are told

This excellent, and chilling, film is prefaced by the statement that nothing within it is exaggerated. Anyone not taking that in good faith may give up on the film as being ridiculous: ‘but people wouldn’t behave in that way!’ Stanley Milgram’s experiments on authoritarianism are also mentioned, reminding us that there’s little some people won’t do if they are predisposed to ‘do as they are told’.

The set up is a fast food cafe where a phone call from the police leads to the ‘blonde’ girl (played by Dreama Walker above) being incarcerated in the back until she can be arrested.  The requests/orders get more and more bizarre and… you can probably work out some of what follows. Suffice to say it is excruciating. I’ve tagged the film as a ‘thriller’ because they are designed to take us to places we don’t want to go, in the knowledge we are safe in the cinema or at home. This film is doubly thrilling because while we don’t want to go ‘there’ we have to acknowledge the people ‘there’ are just like us. What would I do?

Writer-director Craig Zobel marshals his scarcely believable (it’s based on ‘real life’) material with great skill. Kicking  off with documentary style camera work to give the narrative immediacy he lets the story unfold with horrible logic. There are also some marvellous montages of fast food and the detritus it produces. As Peter Bradshaw pointed out, in his (unusually) perceptive review, the fast food industry, with the anonymous corporation looming above and workers constantly taking orders, is a perfect place for authoritarianism to thrive.

Dreama Walker, as the prime victim, is superbly cast. She behaves like her name: a young woman too preoccupied with herself to pay attention to what she is doing and who can blame her in such an alienating job?

Milgram was trying to work out how the Nazis is cajoled the German people to comply with their atrocities. Obedience to authority is also a corporate disease, as we see in the ceaseless flood of instances where whistleblowers are our only way of finding out about the wrongs done to us. Many people, it seems, will do anything for money or, in the case of Lloyds bank, to avoid demotion! It’s fogeyist to say we’ve lost our moral compass, and certainly the Daily Mail never had one, but it is true that the triumph of the neo liberal market leaves only immorality in its wake.


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