I never thought it would be this difficult.
Companies lure you in with the prospect of “being your own boss,” sweeten the pot with the added incentive of “making your own schedule,” and then profit off your labor from the comfort of their office. And you buy-in because the potential is there if you put your head down, work hard, and pray there aren’t any unforeseen setbacks completely outside your control. The capitalist dream is built upon this idea that success happens for those who “earn” it and yet the majority that follow these rules and try their damnedest still find themselves drowning in debt while watching their families fall apart and their children fall prey to a system relying on them to be the next in line to suck dry before they too inevitably fail.
Our lives are thus a gamble—a spin of the roulette wheel with everything we own placed atop the space with the longest odds. Sometimes you win and rise to the next level of the game. You’re still disposable to everyone above you, but now you have someone to treat with the same amount of disdain too. Success is therefore a means of replenishing the middlemen rather than ascending to a position to change anything. You see the system in all its transparency at the bottom and then watch it grow more opaque during your rise as the oft-quoted line “If it’s not you, it’ll be someone else” runs through your head. And nobody can blame you for compromising your morality to simply keep food on the table.
An opportunity to be immoral is the goal. That’s what we’re being sold: a pathway to becoming the exact thing keeping us down. No wonder we’ve become so selfish as a society. We’re told we’re entitled to things we aren’t and then pitted against each other to win the lottery of achieving the tiniest sliver of what we were promised. It’s how Maloney (Ross Brewster) recruits drivers and how he dupes Ricky Turner (Kris Hitchen) into justifying the sale of his family car—the vehicle his in-home caregiver wife (Debbie Honeywood‘s Abby) needs to meet clients’ demands—to go further into debt on a truck that merely holds profit potential months down the line. Even then it only works if everything else in the Turners’ life runs perfectly.
Longtime collaborators Ken Loach (director) and Paul Laverty (screenwriter) understand that “perfect” isn’t a luxury anyone earning less than a livable wage can afford and portray why via their latest film Sorry We Missed You. Following the equally heartbreaking and timely I, Daniel Blake, this look at the Turners goes further than the corrupted system itself to highlight the personal avalanche too many families combat within. They provide every consequence inherent to Ricky taking this job despite its high risk, low reward reality. There’s Abby having to lengthen her workday by taking the bus, young Liza (Katie Proctor) enduring more lonely nights of doing her homework and eating dinner alone, and teenage Seb (Rhys Stone) rebelling after recognizing his own future’s futility through his parents’ present.
Things look okay at first. Ricky takes to the new job and gains enough experience to add responsibilities once a co-worker’s luck runs out. Abby makes due by sacrificing her two-hour mid-day break to give her patients the dignity they deserve despite her bosses’ refusal to pay. And Seb even returns home to keep his sister company after spending the day skipping class to graffiti walls with friends. While it appears to be working, however, we can see the gradually expanding cracks of stress, anxiety, and fatigue grabbing hold. All it takes is one customer comment card here or one school suspension there to initiate a chaotic downward spiral that exposes how the rhetorical “be your own boss” really means “shoulder full liability when tragedy strikes.”
That’s the dark truth behind a gig economy: workers are only as comfortable as their worst day. Maybe your employer is late on a paycheck. Maybe you misplaced a piece of company property you lease from them and are on the hook for replacing financially. Maybe there’s an emergency at home you need to deal with, but your actual worth as a freelancer is dictated by meeting a series of deadlines. You become a slave to a clock manufactured by executives who couldn’t do what you’re doing until you’ve barely the time to pee into a bottle while driving let alone kiss your kids goodnight. And then you hear those who’ve recently eclipsed the working wage barrier blaming you as though they don’t know you have no choice.
It’s a tragedy that could be solved if only we were able to recognize who actually does the work. The hope is that our current state of COVID-19 pandemic quarantine tips the scales as we realize delivery drivers, caregivers, fast food workers, and custodial staff are crucial cogs to our nation who are treated like dirt and paid even less, but it’s tough to be optimistic when our entire culture hinges on the idea that businesses create jobs instead of one that acknowledges how employees fulfilling those jobs keep the lights on. The sadder truth yet, however, is that some will watch Sorry We Missed You and shake their heads and shrug their shoulders because they’ve ignored their privileged reality to buy into a bootstrap fallacy.
Loach’s penchant for dramatic realism means no angels are swooping in to save the Turners from the fate foisted upon them by the machine that is their first world capitalistic state. Maloney isn’t going to grow a heart and help his employees because his entire job is holding their feet to the flame. Customers aren’t going to do a one-eighty and suddenly become empathetic since they’re directly or indirectly paying for services. Seb and Liza will continue getting backed into a psychologically and emotionally draining corner as Ricky and Abby drown beneath the impossibility of their circumstances. It will get worse before it gets even worse and Hitchen and Honeywood embody that grim guarantee to perfection. “Better” is often a foreign concept to those who aren’t already “best.”
courtesy of Zeitgeist Films