Compliance – Craig Zobel and the Bullit County McDonalds Case. (Film Review)
I just saw Compliance, a film I found very difficult to watch for several reasons. I can completeoy understand why the film evoked anger and walk-outs. I felt hugely manipulated while watching it. And yet, when I read up on the Milgram experiment and the completely bizarre account of the lengths human creates will go to in order to follow authority figures, I had to confess, there is something of value to be gleaned from this film.
Of course, I didn’t walk into this film without knowing what it was about, and I had read up on the Bullit County McDonalds case. What I was not prepared for, and what no doubt frustrated and angered so many people who saw the film at Sundance, was the obviousness of the deceit of the authority figure when viewed from a distance. I was angry to the point where I considered leaving at one point – something I never ever do. I was horrified at how easy it was for this man to hoax these people – ordinary folk just going about their business. The most shocking thing isn’t what they do, its what they believe. To be taken in by such a screamingly obvious hoax is devastating. If it weren’t based on a true story (and I have to say it is very closely based on that story) and if there were not seventy similar cases in the US around that time, you simply would never believe this was possible.
This is brought to the fore in an important scene when two investigators are discussing the case until they work out they have two cases confused. There is a moment when the clever investigating detective says “Your’e kidding me. This has happened before?” In many ways this is the climax of the film and the most important moment, because prior to that moment the audience is thinking along his lines – this could never happen to me and why on earth did these people do this? In fact when Louise Ogborn decided to sue Mc Donalds for what happened to her, part of their defense was that she did not use “common sense” when in the situation as a victim. It is only when you realize many people in similar circumstances fall for this in precisely the same way, that you start to understand there is something sinister beneath the surface of the happenings in this film.
Looking as deep as Wikipedia will allow in the 45 minutes one gets to research a mini essay such as this, you learn that one of the most important aspects of the Milgram experiments was the fact that no one out side of the circumstances of the experiment believed that anyone would fall for this – and that is easily the most interesting aspect of the film. It is completely unbelievable, ludicrous even. I mean if a police officer asked you to spank a naked woman over your lap and then allow her to give you a blow job as a gift for helping the police – many things may go through you mind – but believing the man on the phone is a police officer certainly isn’t one of them. Surely at this point, it would occur to you that you were being seduced into something yourself?
The Milgram experiments were conducted in the aftermath of world war two and in response to the pleas of Adolf Eichmann that he was “following orders” when he condemned millions of Jews to their death. The defense did not help Eichmann who was hanged for his crimes. There are those who thrill to the opportunity that has arisen when an authority figure gives them an “opportunity” to do something morally reprehensible without consequences, and Eichmann was proven to be one of these. The folk represented in Compliance are not mini Adolf Eichmann’s running around – and this is a fault I found with the film. It should have focused on the needs of folk to obey authority as well as the importance of not losing a job. Instead it did silly little things like set up an emotional “battle” between Becky (Dreamer Weaver) and Sandra (Anne Dowd) that centered around Becky’s attractiveness. This was a mistake and detracted from the power of the film. Dreamer Walker was a terrible choice, because the film is distracted by her beauty, in the silliest of ways. The Milgram Experiments and the issues that occurred around the strip search hoaxes were about power and obedience to authority. The film would have been far more powerful if Becky was just an average looking young girl. And more accurate.
On the whole though, this is a film I recommend. It was certainly very interesting. Oh – And yes Ann Dowd is amazing. She is why the film works.