Alert: Spoilers in article.
The press screening for Craig Zobel’s Compliance was probably about half an hour in when the murmurs began. “Oh, come on!” someone loudly sighed. Much of the audience had become audibly uncomfortable with the representation of true events in which characters behave in seemingly inexplicable ways. Several—including one woman who yelled out “Give me a fucking break!”—walked out before the movie’s most disturbing moments had even occurred.
In a Q&A afterwards, psychologist Stanton Peele cited the Sandusky case as a recent example of shocking compliance with authority, and the editor-at-large of Psychology Today, Hara Estroff Marano, pointed to the famous Milgram experiment, which showed that subjects were overwhelmingly willing to administer increasingly high voltage “shocks” to their peers whenever they incorrectly answered a question.
The most important reason anyone should watch the film, is that THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED. This is not some sort of skeevy fiction, but a fictionalization of something that has happened probably more times than any of us can count. People who are conditioned not to question authority, or who fear the consequences of questioning authority to an extreme degree, are incredibly vulnerable. When your cumulative experience teaches you that you will not be believed, that you are powerless, and you are already in a vulnerable position: compliance with authority is about survival. If you make yourself small, or give the person abusing power what they want, maybe they’ll let you go without hurting you, imprisoning you, or causing you to lose everything you have.
Walk in those shoes for a minute, identify with that powerlessness. If you vomit afterwards, try to imagine living your entire life like that.