The United States of America in 2018 is a weird place. Every day something happens that just sounds completely made up. Did you hear the one about the billionaire who was trying to build a mini submarine in order to misguidedly help a bunch of Thai boys that were trapped in a cave? Remember when that same guy was in a twitter argument with people about working conditions in the plant that manufactures his electric cars? Or how about how the United States Executive branch is seriously considering creating a “Space Force” and the people of northwest Ohio still don’t have drinking water coming out of their pipes. Oh what about how workers in Amazon distribution centers can’t take time to pee because machines are about to take over their jobs because everyone is ordering everything with free two day shipping. Read those last couple of sentences back and imagine saying that to yourself about 10 years ago.
Sorry To Bother You is an absurd movie, but in regards to the sentences above it’s only one click more absurd and therein lies its greatness. It’s unclear when it takes place but it could totally happen next month. Cassius, the main character, is obsessed with finding meaning in his life but gets a job at a call center because he needs the money and wants to be more interesting to his artist Girlfriend, Detroit, but his landlord(and uncle) is about to lose the house due to rising costs. When he gets the job he becomes a part of the rat race and is encountered with the conflict that arises between wanting to make more money to make life easier and standing up for what is right. That’s the base of the story but the absurdity of the whole thing takes over and reveals many of the anxieties of living in the contemporary United States and how the dynamics of rich/poor are viewed in this country.
The absurdity of Sorry To Bother You works because it is when we see a heightened or distorted situation of the real world that it enables us to see that the real world isn’t that far off. For example, one of the scenes that most stood out to me is very short, odd, and disturbing. It happens when there’s a group of people on the streets proclaiming that Steve Lift, played by Armie Hammer, the CEO of Worry Free the big evil conglomerate in the company that literally deals in slave labor is in fact Jesus. THE Jesus. Upon first view this is ridiculous, and yet we’re not that far off. The American Nationalist Church has through the pushing of an exaggerated Prosperity Gospel equated financial well being with the favor of God. The poor are poor because they steal from God, and the rich are smiled upon by a God who has enlarged their territory because of their faithfulness. That’s not to say this is the case of all churches in America but it is the case in SOME churches. This is the American Christianity that has CEOs on their Sunday pulpits and reality TV show stars come through as part of their promotional book tours. It’s the type of people that assume the personification of God would be a triumphant and incredibly competent CEO, and not you know, a homeless guy with twelve homeless buddies that went around telling people that the meek shall inherit the earth. When the reality presented in Sorry To Bother You is put up against the real world we can see that it’s ridiculous AND eerily close. It’s powerful.
The movie is filled with a lot of these moments. I’m gonna talk about a couple of them really quick.
There’s a moment when Steve Lift is talking about his nefarious plans he justifies them all by saying they’re going to be incredibly profitable and that he’s not just doing it to be evil. Again, this is ridiculous but it’s highlighting that any decision that’s made with profit in mind in a capitalistic society is ultimately moral within it. That’s why Papa John’s can’t pay for health insurance for its employees or why the aforementioned Amazon employees can’t take bathroom breaks.
There’s a protest going on in the movie and Cassius crosses the picket line to go to work and when he does so on one occasion he’s hit in the head with a coke can. This is IMMEDIATELY meme-fied and is all over the place. From daytime tv, to commercials, to halloween costumes on children. Again this seems ridiculous, but just think about every meme in the last….2 years? How many people have been totally de-humanized and made into a joke just because of one moment in their life. Worst how many of these memes have been turned into #content and monetized and how many people are dreaming of going viral?
The most popular TV show in the country is watching people get beat up, and tell me that’s not the case in the real world either.
The whole white voice thing is brilliant too. When Danny Glover is teaching it to Cassius he pretty much says the white voice is that of white privilege and not so much that of a white person. It’s an attitude, a way to see the world. It’s a “whiteness” that transcends the real world of white people in America and goes more into the whiteness they’re sold.
To say Sorry To Bother You is a perfect movie for 2018 in America is not an understatement. It encapsulates the absurdity of our modern society and the anxieties of real people in a completely unique and powerful way. It’s a work of art that is packed dense with so many thoughts and moment that it will no doubt reward repeat viewings, I could talk about so many other things like the weird performance art piece Detroit performs or the discussion about white people spaghetti, or when Cassius is forced to rap and so many more. Go watch this movie. I personally can’t wait to watch it again.