Review: Compliance (2012)


I’m not one for conformity or compliance, I’ve been told it’s a character flaw!

Written By: Craig Zobel
Directed By: Craig Zobel

It’s hard not to come away from Compliance feeling dirty and disgusted. The dirty feeling can be explained away by having to sit through such horrendous actions. Things get more interesting when the disgusting feeling is considered. It is disgusting that events such as those in Compliance really happened. What’s even more disgusting is that people can be so utterly stupid. I’m naive I guess, because during every second of Compliance I kept thinking, “okay, this is the moment when they’ll realize they’re being idiots and stop.” It’s disgusting to watch a young woman allow herself to be violated. It’s disgusting to watch supporting characters stand by and do nothing. It’s disgusting to watch a grown man be seduced by the allure of naked flesh and power. It’s disgusting to watch a middle aged woman throw her life away in a desire to conform to what she thinks is expected of her. Compliance is disgusting, but it’s not as disgusting for its content as it is for the light it shines on the failings of humanity.

It was interesting watching Compliance because it is quite a ridiculous tale. The urge is present to believe that Craig Zobel has sensationalized events. I didn’t want to believe in the stupidity I was watching, or that events could get so out of hand. Mr. Zobel didn’t pull back though, and that’s what impressed me the most about Compliance. There had to be a point when dramatizing the real life events of Compliance seemed too out there to continue. And, as expected, many people had the reaction of refusing to believe what was being portrayed on screen. Where Compliance is the strongest is in its presentation of simple truths. There’s nothing sensational or salacious about the need for people to fit in and the lack of intelligence people can display when confronted with authority. Compliance relies on people assenting to authority and people not having the capability to think for themselves. In those two realms Compliance succeeds, and it’s almost sad to see how well the film does succeed.

There’s a harsh nature to Compliance, and that was another facet of the film I appreciated. This never felt like a movie that was afraid of making waves, just as it never felt like a film wanting to make waves just for the sake of making waves. There was a method behind everything that happened in Compliance, a comprehension of order, place, and time that made an indelible mark on me as a viewer. A shot of a straw in a fast food cup isn’t just a shot of a straw, yet at the same time it is that. It’s hard to put into words, but because of the way Mr. Zobel structures Compliance he ends up commenting on the luridness of the actions as well as the banality of the world said actions take place in.

At the end of the film there is an interview that takes place with the Sandra character. As my wife and I watched the interview we had differing reactions. She saw a woman broken, who had been taken down by her actions. I saw a woman who was still clinging to a need to stay in line with authority. When she is told not to answer a question she complies, because it is the safe action that an authority figure told her to take. This can be tied into the final moment when we see the Becky character, and how she is shown to not be an innocent. Terrible things were done to her, but she never said no, she never stood up for herself. When she meets with her lawyer she again does the same thing, not voicing her opinion but quickly acquiescing to what her lawyers tells her. In its final moments Compliance is just as much about people needing to fit into society as it was at the onset.

I didn’t expect to like Compliance as much as I did. Positive word of mouth had me looking forward to the film, but I did not think I would come away from Compliance as impressed as I was. Mr. Zobel shows a steady and true hand in his direction, and the cast are uniformly fantastic. Compliance is not an easy watch, in fact I can see a lot of people not having the stomach to deal with the realities of the film. However, films aren’t always easy, just like life, and that’s why a film like Compliance deserves to be seen and have its day in the sun.




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