Danish director Susanne Bier’s film In a Better World is a lesson on gaining perspective as much as it is a simply beautiful piece of cinema. The landscapes of the two settings of the film, Sudan and Denmark, act as visual representations of the extremes that audiences experience throughout the story. Bier leads her audience through the anguish of each character, as they individually struggle with the balance of justice and revenge. If you missed it (Ed. Note: Like I did.) this is definitely a film worth seeking out and seeing for yourself. (Big thanks to Alyce MacLean for providing this film’s review in my unexpected absence!)
Now. I don’t want to say too much about Craig Zobel’s Compliance, because I believe the experience might be spoiled by it. I’ll give you this much. Sandra is a manager at a fast-food restaurant, and on this fateful day, on top of an open freezer full of spoiled food, she has just run out of pickles and bacon. I don’t think you need to have worked at Wentworth Perk to know how stressful this scenario would be, but I did, and we have, and it isn’t pretty. So this is not, perhaps, Sandra’s day. When she gets a phone call from a police officer, accusing cashier Becky of stealing someone’s purse, Sandra is just like any of us trying to get by and do the right thing. But how far will she go to meet the demands of this particular officer? What does her compliance (bing!) demonstrate and when does authority literally become the author of our choices? Is free will an illusion, and so on.
Burning moral questions are sure to resonate with this week’s presentation at the Cape Breton Film Series. And don’t get too comfortable in your stadium seating, because walk-outs have been a huge issue with screenings of the film so far. People are not walking out of theatres because they don’t like the movie, but because the increasingly uncomfortable series of events depicted makes viewers uneasy with their own responses to it. A movie acting as a mirror can make you squirm, and this is why I will let Compliance tell you the rest itself.
But as a side note, because I love an excuse to tell this story, I was once pulled into the back room of a small multi-national coffee conglomerate and subtly, then flagrantly, and falsely, accused of stealing an undisclosed amount of money. I, choking on incredulity, said all the wrong things and found myself crying helplessly, displaying guilt that was not mine to show. I even found myself wondering, Did I take the money? Is it possible that I did this and called it all a bad dream and that they know more than I do? They even claimed to have video evidence that they would be turning over to the police if I didn’t ‘fess up. But, sure as my bank account could verify, I did not take the money. It didn’t matter. In that back room, with a three-man jury and a pile of Starbucks (oops) tissues to wipe away my tears, even I questioned my own innocence. Such is the disturbing power of authority as exercised against the wavering human will.
I learned a lot about myself that day, and I learned a lot about power. Control is largely an illusion enhanced by force and verbal cues. Power is a game, and all we can do is try to know ourselves well enough to know when to stop playing.
Figure out where you stand this Thursday when Compliance shows at 7pm, Empire Theatres Studio 10.