By Anna Husted EBS Contributor
The aspect I love most about the science fiction/horror genre is its ability to comment on current issues and the social milieu of our times. “Sorry to Bother You” is really a dark comedy, but in the third act transitions into a freaky sci-fi thriller about which I can’t share too much detail in fear of spoiling the plot twists for first-time viewers.
Set in an alternate, dystopian interpretation of present-day Oakland, “Sorry to Bother You” follows African-American Cassius Green (aka “Cash is Green,” played by Lakeith Stanfield) on his journey up the corporate ladder at Regal View Telemarketing, where all employees start out selling encyclopedias. Green and his artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) live in his uncle’s garage and barely make ends meet, but it’s still a step up from the shanty towns that populate this Oakland—at least they have a TV and each other.
Green is thankful for his job at Regal View because at least he has work, but he still can’t pay his rent, which would help his uncle from losing his house. He and his co-worker friends, Salvador and Squeeze, decide to stage a walkout until a livable wage is granted to the telemarketers.
Before the walkout, Green finds success after veteran telemarketer, Langston (Danny Glover) tells him to use his white voice to make sales to white people. In the midst of the protest, Green gets promoted to the top floor where he finds himself selling slavery, but making enough money to pay rent at his uncle’s house and then some.
On the surface, “Sorry to Bother You” asks difficult questions like can one justify making money at the expense of another human being if it supports those in their personal life? On a deeper level it asks if providing the bare necessities to those at the bottom of a corporation rationalizes how that money is made, no matter how corrupt the practices. The problem with capitalism—and many “isms”—is someone is always at the bottom, no matter how friendly it looks on paper.
“Sorry to Bother You” is meant to make you uncomfortable. From the white voices of comedians Patton Oswald and David Cross dubbed over the black actors; to watching scenes from “I Got the Sh*t Kicked out of Me,” the most popular television show in this alternative universe; to the horrific plot twist toward the film’s end, it’s a movie that shook me to my core.
It made me ask, what racist stereotypes am I perpetuating? Does the throwaway culture of the United States keep some people at the bottom so we can buy the latest cell phone here at the top?
While I laughed a lot at the Terry Gilliam-esque gags and absurdist realism at play in the film, I am haunted by the places it took me and how that hilarious horror story translates to real life.
“Sorry to Bother You” is now playing at Regal Gallatin Valley Cinemas (no, not Regal View).
Anna Husted has a master’s in film studies from New York University. In Big Sky she can be found at the movies at Lone Peak Cinema or hiking up a mountain. When not gazing at the silver screen or watching her new favorite TV show, she’s running, fishing or roughhousing with her cat, Indiana Jones.