Compliance, a film showing in the NEXT category at the Sundance Music Festival, has left many film watchers angered. I had never heard of the film nor do I follow the Sundance Music Festival very closely other than to read stories when they make the headlines. But when I saw that a movie was causing an uproar because of the way it displayed violence against women as entertaining, my interest was peaked. As I started to read what the movie was about I was feeling a sense of deja vu because I had JUST seen an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit about the same exact thing. Robin Williams was the guest star playing the perpetrator.
To give you the reader’s digest version, director Craig Zobel found interest in the infamous experiment known as the Milgrim Experiment. For those who avoided everything psychology in high school and college, Stanley Milgrim ran an experiment in the 1960’s where he had people administer what they thought to be severe electrical shocks to someone in another room essentially because someone of authority was telling them to do so. The motive behind this experiment was to determine whether Adolf Eichmann and his Holocaust accomplices were operating under mutual intent. Zobel did not concoct the premise of Compliance on his own out of pure fascination with Milgrim’s experiment. Instead, he studied a hoax that actually happened in 2004 in Kentucky when a man would call restaurants (68 of them in 32 states) posing as a police officer and making false accusations about young female employees, demanding that other staff to do private, inappropriate things to the falsely accused. Staff complied with his orders.
Several movie-goers were disgusted by Zobel’s attempt at independent film making and for displaying such crude acts of violence against women on the big screen. One woman was quoted as saying, “This is not the year to make violence against women entertaining,” and several others left the movie announcing that it was ridiculous. It is interesting to me that this is the movie that people decided to speak out about and get up and leave half way through. This movie is based on a true story — depicting a reality that Milgrim tried to illustrate 50 plus years ago. Zobel did not try and make this about “glamorizing” violence against women, nor did he choose the route of Hollywood to tell this story and make millions. Instead, he told it through independent film making. Having not seen the movie, I cannot 100% say whether he is worthy of this outrage or not, but from what I have read, I think he has created a movie that should lead to very important dialogue, not lashing out against the film’s director.
I am also a little confused about the comment “This is not the year to make violence against women entertaining.” I get the context — every news headline is either about a war against women or is feeding into the war against women. I get it. But the quote implies that another year would be better to make violence against women entertaining. I think not.
Furthermore, why the outrage over a film based on a true story? Why is there not outrage about Law and Order: SVU, which victim blames, depicts the criminal justice system so falsely it’s laughable, and uses entertainment and Hollywood to illustrate violence against women? Why didn’t people walk out during the graphic rape scene in The Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo? Why aren’t (more) people disgusted at the glamorization of the commercial sex trade in Pretty Woman? Why did Push (later changed to Prescious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire) win the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize for Best Drama at Sundance in 2009? This movie was extremely violent, graphic, and emotional in that it tells the story of a young, illiterate teen who was raped and abused by her father, resulting in two pregnancies, and physical and emotional abuse of her mother. The movie was considered to be so good that Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey provided promotional assistance to the film, Precious. I could go on for days with a list of movies that were solely for entertainment purposes that depicted rape, domestic violence, sexism, and murder against women that went on to win awards and drew millions to the movie theatre to partake in the entertainment.
I think Zobel’s movie can allow us all to have a very serious and necessary conversation about authority & morality and how they intertwine with the violence against women movement. I also think the audience’s reactions should be discussed in light of the questions I have raised comparing other movies.
I open the floor to my readers — please leave your thoughts & questions in comments!