Earlier this month, the University of Northern Colorado International Film Series program presented “Sorry to Bother You” in the basement of Michener Library. After seeing it for a second time, I have to acknowledge this film as one of the most unique filmgoing experiences of the year thus far.
“Sorry to Bother You” is about Cassius “Cash” Green, a man working a lowly telemarketing job with his friends who think they are getting underpaid. Everything changes as Cash hones his craft through the development of what characters in the film refer to as a “white voice,” which is portrayed by a white actor and allows Cash to start making a lot of sales. However, as he moves through the ranks, he leaves his coworkers and remorse behind in order to achieve “success.”
This film is at conflict with itself because it has a strong message, yet it doesn’t want to be taken literally. While this film is very funny and silly at times, there are also some serious moments that present issues with greed, working for minimum wage, microaggressions, society’s indifference to major events and how people on top treat those below them.
The symbolic nature of “Sorry to Bother You” is exemplified through the building Cash works in. There is a luxurious golden elevator on the floor of Cash’s crappy workstation, which goes up to an absurdly nice workplace. This golden elevator symbolizes Cash’s separation between grandeur and average, with all the occurrences on these floors relating to differences between social classes.
Despite how preposterous the plot occasionally gets, there is always a strong sense of realism in the characters. Some of these personality traits are a bit quixotic, like Cash’s girlfriend changing her earrings in every scene, but it ends up giving these characters a sense of charisma. These characters draw the audience members into the story, engrossing them in this implausible reality.
The entire film is a metaphor presented as a real-life story in a quasi-futuristic alternate reality. This world is ridiculous, from the unbelievable stupidity on television to the voluntary work camps of the WorryFree Corporation. But there is humor and different interpretive meanings in each different tiny moment.
Cash talking in a “white voice” is funny on a surface level because it sounds ridiculous, but it has a deeper significance as well. Cash is lucky to get this “talent” because it separates him from his contemporaries and allows this rise within the corporation. This voice represents a talent that separates Cash from his co-workers both in status and belief, and the higher-ups take advantage of him because he’s vulnerable.
The concept this film presents is an updated and objectionable tale about the American Dream. Cash gets put in a position where he can choose success or his friends, and he chooses the money. As he rises, though, there becomes a point where this lifestyle becomes not as desirable and he attempts to escape.
“Sorry to Bother You” is saying people only want to make a change to the system when they’re not the ones benefiting. The perspective of Cash selling out and becoming engrossed with the money he craves is very compelling, even though it’s not an entirely original idea. However, the way “Sorry to Bother You” enacts this change of heart is very believable and relevant because of his constant fickleness and mindless infatuation.
“Sorry to Bother You” has a unique take on how certain members of society maintain negative views of working-class people, treating Cash as the exception within the “mediocrity.” Cash’s higher-ups like him not for who he is, but because of what he can do for them. This success is a false prophecy because as Cash gets deeper and more involved in this corporate system, he loses roots with his friends, his heritage and himself.
The main focus of this film isn’t race, though; it’s business. Both messages play out hand-in-hand with one another, but the film is primarily about showcasing a very pessimistic and cynical view of society’s greed. All Cash wants to do is make some money, and all the corporation wants to do is take advantage of Cash’s talents to make even more money.
This film specifically critiques Amazon, one of the biggest companies in the world, and their business practices that minimize wages for their workers. It is very apparent with all the recent articles coming out against Amazon for unfairly treating their workers while making sure the profits are large for the highest positions. There is a consequence of an unforeseen trade-off when consumers pay very little for quality products.
While I have become more accepting of this flaw as time has passed, I do feel like this film rushed its ending. For a film so engrossed in making a statement, arguably the most important moment of the film is extremely simplistic and quick. It’s not necessarily a bad ending, but the film could’ve been something extremely special if there was a non-contemporary, riskier finale.
Overall, though, I liked “Sorry to Bother You” better than the first time I saw it. The creativity exuding from nearly every aspect of this film cannot be overlooked. The film is both fun and powerful, which is rare.
Also, this film never takes itself seriously enough to solidify these messages. The film feels like its segmented into two parts, one is very goofy and the other is horrifying and cynical. This film could’ve had a harsher conclusion to have a greater impact, but instead it seemed more frivolous because it continued being silly.
“Sorry to Bother You” defies genre by presenting a multifaceted world of shock, absurdity and horror. This film is not quite an instant classic nor a masterpiece, but it is definitely an interesting film with a lot to say and even more to show off.
IFS will screen “Welcome to Leith” at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct.18. For this screening, IFS is partnering with Diversity Advisory Board of UNC’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences. As always, the film will be shown in the Lindou Auditorium in the basement of Michener Library.