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Ann Dowd: Exploring the Dark Side of Authority in Compliance

A Still From 2012 film Compliance (Photo: Compliance)

The 2012 film Compliance, directed by Craig Zobel, is a haunting and uncomfortable exploration of the complex dynamics between individuals and authority figures. Based on a real-life crime that occurred at a McDonald’s in Kentucky in 2004, the film delves into the psychology behind people who are manipulated into committing horrific acts. The story follows the events of a day at an unnamed fast food franchise, where the manager, Sandra, receives a phone call from a man claiming to be a police officer, who accuses one of her employees, Becky, of committing a crime.

As the film progresses, Sandra, desperate to avoid trouble, becomes increasingly compliant with the demands of the caller, known as “Officer Daniels,” who convinces her to inflict a series of punishments on Becky, which eventually crosses the line into sexual assault. The film raises difficult questions about the nature of compliance and the dynamics of power and authority, suggesting that the American workplace trains us to blindly obey authority. It argues that Sandra’s complicity in the abuse of Becky can be attributed to her fear of customers and her regional supervisors.

A Still From 2012 film Compliance (Photo: Compliance)

However, the film’s portrayal of the power dynamics and the true horror of the situation is incomplete. The film changes certain details from the original story, and the performance of the actor playing Becky is inconsistent, blurring the power imbalance between her and Sandra. The film ultimately suggests that anyone would comply with the demands of authority, a safe answer that fails to honor the true complexity of the story.

Despite its shortcomings, Compliance is a thought-provoking and uncomfortable film that challenges viewers to consider their own reactions in a similar situation. It is a precursor to later films such as Experimenter and The Stanford Prison Experiment, which also explored the theme of authority figures who can manipulate people into doing terrible things. The film’s exploration of the dark side of authority is a timely reminder of the importance of critically evaluating our own responses to those in positions of power. With its themes of manipulation, compliance, and authority, Compliance is a film that will linger in the minds of viewers long after the credits roll.

Rollie D. Eldred
Written By

Rollie is a film aficionado from LA, USA. He loves exploring international cinema and writing insightful reviews. He also looks like Chuck Norris, he gets that a lot. Get in touch with him at [email protected].

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