The next featured film of Murray State's Cinema International's Spanish-language film series is La mano invisible, or The Invisible Hand. Director of MSU Cinema International, Dr. Thérèse St. Paul, and assistant professor of English Dr. Carrie Jerrell speak with Tracy Ross about the film, which serves as a parable for the modern-day workplace.
"An industrial warehouse is turned into a stage. Eleven ordinary professionals are hired to do their work in front of an audience with apparent normality. Yet, in the darkness of the auditorium, dozens of visitors observe the show. Work of art, reality show, macabre experiment: they do not know what they've got into, nor who is the hand that moves the strings in that wicked theater. With a surprising ending, the adaptation of the novel by Isaac Rosa is an astonishing parable of work in contemporary society."
The viewer is placed into the thought-provoking world of The Invisible Hand with only minimally more information than the actors being filmed on stage. There is an entity called The Company, and Jerrell explains that "all we know of them is this one person with a clipboard in the film. They have apparently secured this giant warehouse where they have brought various workers of different kinds. It's dark, but they each have their own spotlight and their own work station. Basically, they do their one task over and over every day. The bricklayer builds a wall, and then he knocks it down at the end of the day. It's a show -- an artist show."
"There's an audience of outsiders who are coming in to watch it," Jerrell continues. "You can hear them every now and then; they kind of hoot and holler after a while at these workers, who they're treating kind of like actors. But you don't know very much about that. There are a couple of scenes where the groups of workers are together after work, and they're talking about their situation. They see a news clip about the show, so they see some reactions of the people watching it. Of course, [the news clip is] talking about them in their performance, which becomes metaphorical. It's your performance of work -- what we do at work -- but also this other level of performance that's happening in [The Invisible Hand]. It's a very thought-provoking film about the experience of work, what it is that we do and how we value it, how we value each other's work, and treat each other."
"There is a crescendo in this film where we gradually see that people are initially happy to get a job," St. Paul adds, "even if it's an actor of what they actually would do. Then they start realizing that they are being guinea pigs for something. They're getting more and more squeezed. There again, we see a microcosm of what's happening in the real world today where mostly blue-collar workers are being squeezed to work more for less pay and more stress. There's this subtext where we hear some people wanting to have a collective, like a union of workers for common interests [and] protection, and how it doesn't happen. People turn against each other, which is probably what the experiment's all about -- trying to divide people to fight for the same bone, fight for the same job. It develops in an interesting and surprising way."
The Invisible Hand raises questions related to the modern-day workplace like, "why do people work?" St. Paul says. "By whose standards do we work? Is the way we are told to do a certain work -- can it be changed? Can we work differently? The idea of a chaotic modern workplace is definitely brought to the floor."
All ages can appreciate this cog-in-a-machine concept, Jerrell explains, particularly post-pandemic. "When I was in school in undergrad, you were doing grunt work...stuff that's hard and often overlooked and underappreciated -- thinking even of this past summer of all the conversations about who becomes essential. Your grocery store clerk and the person who works at the gas station -- suddenly we have conversations about what they do and the value that it has in a way that we maybe had not had before. I think undergraduates, in some ways, understand that really well because those are the kinds of jobs that a lot of them have."
"There's also issues of discrimination that come into this mix. As I like to say, it's a microcosm of today's workplace that makes us think. I think it's a film to see. It's an artist experiment within an artist experiment, so it's modern theatre," St. Paul concludes.
The Invisible Hand will be presented in the Curris Center Theater on the third floor of the Curris Center on Thursday, September 24th, and Saturday, September 26th. Both of the free, limited-capacity screenings begin at 7:30 p.m. and are open to the public. For more information on the Murray State Cinema International program, visit their website.