“Sorry to Bother You” and leftist art

If someone had quickly summarized the plot of “Sorry to Bother You” for me before I saw it, I would’ve probably entered quite skeptically. In broad strokes, it sounds like a painfully cliche-laden leftist pamphlet entitled, “Why Capitalism is Evil and Here’s How We End It.”

So I saw the movie, and there is some of that, but fortunately it’s more than that. (No plot spoilers ahead.) I thought it had some flaws but overall it was quite good, because of the execution: Its humor and lightheartedness blunt the edge of the preachiness; the surrealism injects unpredictability and freshness into an otherwise paint-by-numbers depiction of class exploitation; the rapid, off-kilter pacing ensures that you are viscerally engaged.

It’s not that I would’ve disliked the politics of a radical leftie movie, of course. It’s that pure didacticism bores me, and seems to undermine the entire purpose of communicating through the medium of art. I’d rather read a pamphlet than watch a movie in the guise of a pamphlet. If you’re a leftist artist, respect your medium. A film allows you to stir emotions, to capture the nuances of lived experience, to use the power of fantasy to explore potential outcomes of the logic of our society, to force us to deeply reckon with existential dilemmas, and so on.

I don’t think I really learned a lot from watching “Sorry to Bother You” and it was a pretty straight-forward parable. But it was fun and visually inventive enough so that I enjoyed it. I’m also trying to keep in mind that movies address a lot of different audiences. This one might be just the right kind of provocation for people — especially young people — who feel that something is amiss but aren’t sure how to situate their class experience. Perhaps nuance isn’t always that important.

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