I’ve been on a movie kick lately. And not just ordinary average movies. I’ve done some research and asked some friends for some out of the ordinary movies. Movies that make you think or that have crazy plot twists or are just intriguing. I have a thing for movies like this. One of the lists I found was Great Movies That You Never Want To See Again. Requiem for a Dream made that list, and I agreed with the assessment, it was an outstanding movie, but I’m not sure if I want to watch it again. I recently watched another movie from this list, Compliance.
Compliance tells the true story of the events at the McDonald’s in Mount Washington, Kentucky. The manager of a fast food restaurant gets a call from someone identifying themselves as a police officer. This officer tells the manager that a customer is filing a complaint because one of the employees stole money from the customer’s purse. Further, the officer claims to have surveillance video implicating the employee. He offers a semi-generic description and the manager pulls the employee to the office. What follows is over three hours of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse of this terrified teenage girl.
As I do with all movies that I watch which claim to be “based on a true story” I researched the how true the movie really was. The events depicted in the movie seem to follow fairly closely the description on Wikipedia as well as other news reports about the event. The movie itself is quite shocking and, at time, horrifying to watch. It is nearly impossible to believe that events could possibly have occurred in real life as they did in the movie. Even now, I keep wondering whether there was something else going on. I simply don’t want to believe that adults (the manager and her fiance) could possibly be so gullible, or that the young girl (and really everyone else) would really be that, well, compliant.
The first thing that has particularly stuck with me from reviewing this is something the young girl said in an interview.
“Why did you follow their instructions?” the ABC interviewer asks.
“My parents taught me,” she replies, “when an adult tells you to do something, that’s what you do. You don’t argue.”
If I had a dollar, as the saying goes. Fortunately, I was never, ever taught this. I don’t think I ever taught my kids this. I would strongly suggest that if you have taught your kids this, you go back and tell them you were wrong. Tell your kids that if they every have a problem or if someone ever tells them to do something they are uncomfortable with, tell them to call you. In an age of cell phones and instant communication, they should be able to contact you at almost any time. Tell them they will not be in trouble for contacting you and that you will come to get them immediately (and will stay on the phone if they want you to). Never leave your children to the whim of someone who simply claims authority. Tell them to never do something just because an authority says to. Teach them to respect proper authority, but when inappropriate demands are made, tell them to refuse and ask for their parent or an attorney, whichever is more appropriate to the situation.
The second thing that I keep wondering is how far we’ve come in our country that people don’t comprehend basic civil rights. The manager should have had more than a clue. In her interview she repeats the idea that “unless you are in that situation, you don’t know what you would do.” I beg to differ. I have been a manager of a fast food restaurant, and I would never subject my employees to a strip search in the office based on a phone call. And yet, there is, with several of the people the “officer” speaks with, a genuine fear of being caught up in “police matters”. The manager seems reluctant to have the store and franchise attached to the public spectacle of police arresting the employee. The fiance seems reluctant to face the fact that he had a few drinks and was driving. Even the young girl submits initially because she expects it will prevent her from being arrested and held in jail overnight.
I think there is a two-fold problem here. We are far too naive about our civil rights as a people. The simple concept of innocent until proven guilty kept flashing in my brain as I watched the situation escalate more and more. But beyond that, we have a genuine fear of law enforcement. We’ve heard stories after stories of situations where the police have taken extreme measures and been exonerated. We genuinely fear any involvement at all. This is not how it should be. People who are doing wrong should feel that fear. But our system is so broken that a teenage girl would rather suffer a strip search in the fast-food manager’s office than risk the potential of being detained by police. She knows that she is innocent, and yet, the fear of law enforcement efficiency puts her in a place where she would rather suffer humiliation than take her chances with the system.
Compliance is a great film. I give the writer/director props for telling the story so accurately, and giving a voice to the many other incidents where this has occurred. Compliance is NOT for the feint of heart, and it is not a story with a happy ending. It is a very real portrayal of the psychological torment (and other abuse) that young woman suffered. I’m not sure I would ever watch it again, but I’m glad that I watched it. I’ve never suffered abuse (well none beyond bad religious teaching). That can make it difficult for me to relate to those who have been abused. I feel for them, and I am angry about how they suffered. But neither of those equate to experiencing abuse. This particular movie doesn’t qualify as “experiencing abuse”. It does put a very visible, visceral scope on the emotions and suffering of those who have experienced abuse.