Sorry to Bother You, the directorial debut of Boots Riley starring the infectious Lakeith Stanfield, is that strange reoccurring dream you have had your whole life. You know the one, maybe it starts with that darkly lit bathroom or those shadowy figures you never fully see or some room from your childhood that you have memorized by small detail. The one that has that feeling of something amiss despite everything around you seeming normal. That dream that you try to tell other people about but you can’t quite piece the details together. Actually you can. Because you’ve had the dream countless times. You know exactly what happened but it’s too weird to say out loud, in front of your coworkers or your loved ones. Lest you be judged for whatever your subconscious is capable of cooking up.
This is one of those movies that sticks. You walk into the theater, sit in your seat, silently observe for a few hours, stand up, leave. You say bye to your friends and maybe you get in your car, or maybe you start walking home. It’s dark out and you notice the silence. You feel the air and you sense something is different. You notice but you try not to. You want this feeling to wash over you and to never leave. It’s calming and spooky and freeing and all encompassing. Much like your reoccurring dream you feel desperate to wake up but oddly content with never leaving.
And the thing is, you aren’t thinking about the movie necessarily. Because you can’t. You are unable to, or maybe unwilling, because you hate it. No you actually love it. You try to just forget about it because the truth might reveal something about you to yourself. You also notice you can’t stop it from infecting what you’re feeling. You want to tell everyone about what you saw and you also want to lock it away like a secret, lest you be judged for admitting that your conscious self actually enjoyed something so…
That’s how the movie makes you feel. Nothing and everything. Depressed, happy, lonely, loved, contradictory. It unabashedly subverts what you think a movie should be or what you want it to be. It doesn’t say anything important. Or maybe it does, maybe it embodies the saying “the years are short but the days are long” and gives it a modern spin and turns it into, “the news cycle is quick but the effects are long”. Maybe it somehow takes the apathy of the modern world and makes you feel it. But you’re not quite sure because it’s a realistic unreal reality, it’s batshit crazy. And just when you’re in a dreamlike, depressed state of mind the movie completely…
The words don’t come. Not for days anyway. Because the film is stuck in your brain, marinating. It’s spinning around and around. You’re convinced it has all the makings of a cult classic. Then you realize it was all bullshit and you shouldn’t waste anyone’s time talking about it. But then you remember that scene where Cassius is starting to fall asleep after a long day of work but he is longing for a joint he just lit up while ignoring his artist girlfriend after the premiere of her art show.
The scene is innocuous and yet it’s stuck, no that’s not right, it’s jammed in your brain. It speaks to your exhaustion of balancing your job and your family and your friends. You feel the pressures of capitalism that force you to do things that you truly don’t want to. The force that drains you and distracts you and pulls you in even though you hate it and you want to escape. Except maybe you love it because it empowers you and gives you more than you could ever dream. But it also takes from you, your time, your energy, your willpower, your motivation, your attention. It gives, it takes, you hate it and love it because you, like this movie, are an emotional pit of contradicting feelings.
You can’t prepare yourself for the experience that Sorry to Bother You is. It’s splendid and dumb. It’s beautiful and harrowing. It’s a cult classic or it’s stupid. Your experience will vary but it’s nothing you will soon forget.