While I watched the exhaustingly devastating Sorry We Missed You, I couldn’t help but ponder the brief but shrewd remarks its two-time Palme d’Or-winning director Ken Loach made following the film’s premiere:
“One thing we have to do, is when things are intolerable, we have to change them. And now is the time to change them. And if we change them, then people will not be so angry. And if they’re not so angry, the far-right will disappear.”
Sorry We Missed You submerges us in a state of panicked desperation from its very first frame. The film opens on Ricky (Kris Hitchen), a thirty-something unemployed father interviewing for a zero-hour contract delivery job. We sense his restless fear before we explicitly know it- while the hulking brute of a manager (Ross Brewster) explains the job’s strict requirements, Ricky’s timid voice and darting eyes reveal a haunting existential urgency that will only plummet with the inertia of a sinking anchor as the film progresses.
Ricky is to work as an “independent contractor”, technically a franchise owner operating his own independent business delivering packages. As a “contractor”, Ricky is solely responsible for purchasing and maintaining his own vehicle. He will be fined if he misses any deliveries along his route, or if priority packages aren’t delivered within a limited time frame. He will be fined if the GPS scanner the company provides for him is broken or lost. He will be fined if he misses any days of work without finding a replacement driver. The list of grueling demands goes on and on. Still, his new boss insists, “You’re not working for us, you’re working with us”.
We understand within these first moments that there’s no way anyone with a family to support could feasibly work such stressful and prolonged hours six days a week. Yet it’s not even a question that Ricky won’t take the job. As such, he must now buy a truck, which consequently means selling the car that his soft-spoken wife Abby (Debbie Honeywood) uses to drive to her equally arduous job as a home nurse. It also means that neither Ricky nor his wife will be around much for their two children, Seb (Rhys Stone) and Liza Jane (Katie Proctor), the former of whom is developing- to the confused alarm of both parents- into a teenage delinquent.
Much to the credit of Paul Laverty‘s sharp writing and Ken Loach’s honest direction, Sorry We Missed You draws its characters so exceedingly well that you feel more like you’re living with Ricky and his family than watching them. Each character acts with such a remarkably realistic agenda- with their own sympathetic set of traits, desires, and fears- that I found myself thinking back on them later as real people rather than fictional conceptions. The family is so sincerely realized that you can’t help but root for all of them, making every angry outburst towards one another all the more heartbreaking. As their slim opportunity to crawl out of financial crisis closes firmly shut, so does their capacity for understanding and communication, both of which noticeably degrade over the course of the film. The evil of unchecked capitalism is the one and only real antagonist, even if every member of the family inadvertently contributes to their downfall with mistakes that in a fairer world could be forgiven or fixed.
Even at its most miserable moments, the film’s hopeless circumstances never for a second feel unearned or artificially sadistic. When a shocking scene of unexpected violence finally pushes the family’s situation over the brink of no return, there’s a tragic suspicion of inevitability- even if the film didn’t unfold in exactly the same steps, a similar outcome of inescapable debt and defeat seems likely. There will always be some emergency that materializes- life is never perfect after all- yet Ricky’s world unjustly demands perfection at every conceivable corner.
Loach’s statements after the premiere may convey an impression that Sorry We Missed You is an overtly political film, but its thesis is much broader in scope than any single concrete policy. More than merely scorning the inhumanity of zero-hour contracting, Sorry We Missed You angrily sues for an entire reconsideration of the type of economic system where one misstep can ruin a family forever. When the world reduces people to animals, who can ultimately blame them for wanting to burn it all down?