This past week, I stumbled across a movie called “Compliance”. It is a deeply disturbing film about how far someone will go to obey an authority figure. What makes it even more disturbing is that it is based on fact. You don’t know this until the end, however, when you find out that what happens in the movie has taken place over 70 times in 30 different states. For real.
Without giving away the entire plot, we the audience are given a front row seat to how human beings can be brainwashed into doing things to other human beings. Even when they have doubts. Even when what they are being asked to do seems questionable at best. When they are reassured that they must do what they are being told to do by a person they believe to be in authority, they comply.
Having myself been in a situation where I questioned what an authority figure was asking, I found this movie to be fascinating in that it shows a psychological profile of human nature and how easily we can be led to doubt ourselves when manipulated by someone who we believe is in charge of a situation and more knowledgeable than ourselves.
On the other hand, at the same time, the concept is terrifying.
The movie begins in a fast food restaurant. Here we have a very stressed manager who is trying to deal with a food shortage crisis and trying to keep the restaurant running smoothly without drawing the attention of the corporate manager. Anyone who has worked in the food business or in retail knows how stressful it can be to keep the customer happy while dancing through the corporate hoops and whims….usually for minimum wage pay.
So we are already looking at vulnerability here as most employees are just trying to get by without trouble and pay their rent. They may be trying to get through school or raise a family and they are used to not having much say about their job as they can easily be replaced. There is a definite lack of power in their situation.
When the already stressed out manager gets a phone call from someone claiming to be the police saying they are working with her manager on the other line regarding theft by one of the employees, she has no reason to doubt that the situation is real and that she better do as she is told.
Dissecting things further, when the manager expresses doubt that the employee would do such a thing, she is made to feel threatened and stupid and is told there is proof and then her intelligence and management skills are questioned as well.
Gaslighting. When she expresses doubt, the caller uses threats and undermining techniques. When she is “compliant”, her intelligence and her skills are praised and she is made to feel safe and in good standing with the police and her boss. And when she has questions, there is always an open-ended answer with no real details to placate her doubts.
As a viewer, we sit there saying to ourselves “No way this can happen in real life”. But as I said, it did. For real. Again and again.
We see the people in the movie push past their own sense of discomfort and loyalty to someone they know. Each time they pause to question the need for the action, they are blasted for being disobedient with the threat basically of “don’t make me….or management…come down there”, or praise such as “I truly appreciate your making my job easier for me. I can’t get there right now because I’m investigating her other activities”. The caller also shares personal info about their life and swaps stories with the manager, getting to know her as a person and making her feel like she is talking to another good person just doing a job.
It really hit home for me. Watching this movie made me say to myself….”Yes…that!” It made me feel like everyone who has ever been conned or coerced or has ever trusted the wrong person should see how easily someone who knows how to play people like a fiddle can pull a con.
Start out with something reasonable and believable. Push a little further. If there is resistance, pull back but make the person feel bad about their resistance and make them feel foolish and mean and stupid for resisting. Make them feel they are doing the right thing by complying.
And this caller pushes these people into doing degrading and illegal things in the name of the law. And although the victim in this situation pleads for someone to help her, it is not until a pair of fresh eyes sees the situation for what it is that the charade falls apart. Even the employees who work with the victim, who refuse to participate, stay working at their counter and do nothing to go against authority.
And after the fact, when being interviewed by an actual real detective, the victim is asked….”Why didn’t you just ever say no?” And the manager said she did what any other person in that situation would have done. Were you brainwashed, she is asked. She is unsure. She feels bad but feels that she was also a victim.
After watching this movie, I thought that maybe it would help someone who blamed themselves for falling for the manipulation of an evil person with an agenda to destroy. So they could stop blaming themselves. So they could see that they are human beings who were led down a garden path into a chamber of horrors. That we are just human beings who live in a world with other human beings and that we live in a world where we have to be compliant in order to peacefully exist. And that can be used against us.
If you do happen to watch this movie, be warned that it is upsetting to watch. There is also coerced sexual activity. Rape. Let’s call it what it is. Rape.
And there are permanent after effects of guilt and remorse that all involve must live with as there was more than one victim. And it happened. It happened many times.
And that, as we know, is flippin’ scary as Hell. It happens. And it is still happening.
Take care of yourselves. I wish we could protect everyone. But knowledge is power. Have a good week.