Sorry We Missed You a Reminder of Class Bias

Sorry We Missed You (2019)
Directed by Ken Loach
Entertainment One, 100 minutes, Not rated (language)

What does it mean to be an undereducated worker in a society with weak labor unions? Can you trust CEOs, line mangers, and investors to look out for your interests? How come Whole Foods employees called a strike? Why has Amazon replaced Walmart as the symbol of a heartless clutchfist corporation? Why is the working class so angry? Watch Sorry We Missed You and you’ll have your answer. Then be thankful we still have 83-year-old Ken Loach to remind us what fools we are to entrust our well-being to unbridled capitalism.

Perhaps you think being your own boss solves capital/labor conflict. That’s what Ricky Turner (Kris Hitchen) thought. He and his wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood) were thrown into debt when the 2008 housing market crash stole their dreams. They went from homeowners to down-market renters swimming in an ocean of debt, but they are trying to do their best for their kids, Sebastian (Rhys Stone) and Liza Jane (Katie Proctor) through the hard work politicians tout as salvation. (They also claim to care about people like the Turners, but that’s a campaign gambit. Secretly they loathe pumping the flesh with the working class.) The Turners are spinning their wheels. Abbie is a home healthcare worker who gets paid by the job, not by the hour; Ricky works with his hands.

Who could blame Ricky for wanting to vault off the treadmill? Especially when a delivery firm promises he can be an independent driver who calls his own shots. He likes what he hears from distribution center head Maloney (Ross Brewster): “You don’t work for us, you with us. You’re master of your own destiny…. Like everything around here, it’s your choice.” If anyone ever says those words to you, walk out the door. Do not look back. This is forked-tongue bizspeak that sidesteps attached strings like needing to sell the family car for a down payment on a van, 14-hour days, taking responsibility for finding a replacement driver if you can’t do your runs, or having to juggle within-the-hour deliveries that would strain a track star. Nor is there mention that the warehouse supervisor can impose £100 fines, dun you £1000 if your scanner is lost or damaged, and tell you that you can’t use your van on off hours because it has the company logo on it. Plus there’s your £400 monthly payment for said van. Want time off to pick up your son from the police station because he was nicked for shoplifting? Split child care with your exhausted wife? Need time to heal because you’ve been mugged by hoodlums who smashed your scanner and left you bandaged and bloodied? It will cost you. Need to work fewer hours because you family is falling apart? In Maloney’s words, “That’s not my fucking worry, mate.” 

Loach’s film is set in Newcastle, England, but lest you think none of this happens in the United States, let me remind you of those Whole Foods and Amazon workers. Or the 1997 UPS strike. This is not just a movie; let the credits roll and you’ll see that Loach based the film on interviews conducted with actual delivery van drivers–most of whom withheld their names for fear of reprisal. Sorry We Missed You is Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times on wheels. In each case, workers are replaceable cogs in machines fueled by greed, not need. It makes us uncomfortable to consider it, but contract and gig workers are akin to immigrant labor; they do the jobs no one else wants.

The Turner family is emblematic of families across the globe blown to bits trying to practice the hard work ethos preached by monied interests from the comfort of their McMansions on the hill. The only break Loach gives viewers is that he subtitles the film for those unaccustomed to Newcastle accents. On the other hand, he does not romanticize the Turners; they are victims, not heroes. The easy out would be to blame them for their own bad choices. Yeah, and were this a criminal case, they’d get off for entrapment. The term “wage slave” has fallen from fashion in our (overly) PC times. Some assert that the word slavery is reserved for race-based chattel bondage. I respectfully disagree; families like the Turners are bound by economic shackles that make them the de facto property of their debt holders.

Perhaps this review doesn’t make you want to see Sorry I Missed You. Don’t turn away. Ken Loach dares remind us that social class is still a thing. You need to understand this, or don’t be surprised if the losers in the class war don’t give a damn about someone else’s oppression or turn to demagogues who at least agree that they’ve been tossed to the bottom of the social heap.

Take you medicine and watch this film. It’s gritty, sad, raw, and real. Like all Ken Loach films, it bleeds. And if you whine the next time a package is late, shame on you.

Rob Weir

Note: This film is still in theaters, which are closed because of the COVID-19 virus. Google to see who one in your area is offering it on pay-for-view. Amherst Cinema is one and you need not be a member to watch it.

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