Posted in Culture, Film
March 15, 2019

The Equisapien Encounter – Reading Enrique Dussel In Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You” (Conor Ramón Rasmusen)

The following is republished from The New Polis, January 30, 2019.

When Boots Riley’s film Sorry To Bother You burst into U.S. theatres this past July, reviewers exclaimed that it was “going off the rails” and “crazy” but was absolutely adored by its viewers. While Riley’s film is both deeply conceptual and simultaneously materially critical of the exploitative nature of racism and capitalism, few have drawn the connection between Sorry to Bother You and the work of the 83-year old Mexican-Argentinian philosopher and theorist Enrique Dussel. It may seem unnatural to examine the film with a Dusselian analysis, yet the connection between the “absurdist dark comedy with magical realism and science fiction, inspired by the world of telemarketing” and the philosophical work of Dussel is indispensible to understand the philosophical ground on which the climax of the movie takes place.

In this essay I will examine how Enrique Dussel’s conception of the “irrational praxis of violence” located in the Amerindian encounter provides a theoretical framework to understand the flows of logic present in the Equisapien encounter in Boots Riley’s Sorry To Bother You (136). It is from this “encounter” which is based in a lengthy conversation between Mr. Lift and the protagonist, Cassius Green, that we are able to see Green not only reject the logics of modernity presented to him, but practice what I will call a rational praxis of violence. This rational praxis of violence birthed in the underside of the Equisapien encounter provides the moral framework in which to understand the subjectivity of the Equisapiens as well as their various acts of restorative violence.

To best understand the full depth of Dussel’s work on the Amerindian encounter we first must historicize the intellectual life of the philosopher. Dussel himself has noted that in his early life in Argentina he intellectually identified more strongly with Western culture rather than with a distinct Latin American one:  “The philosophy that we studied set out from the Greeks, in whom we saw our most remote lineage. The Amerindian World had no presence in our studies, and none of our professors would have been able to able to articulate the origin of philosophy with reference to indigenous peoples” (28). Interestingly, it was when Dussel finally crossed the Atlantic to study in Europe in 1957 that he was not met as a fellow European, but rather, he notes that he and his colleagues “discovered ourselves to be Latin American” (ibid.).

While this initial jolt of encounter may have startled him, decolonial political theorist George Ciccariello-Maher in his book Decolonizing Dialectics (108) as well as others have noted that it was his engagement with the work of Emmanuel Levinas that truly awoke him from his “ontological slumber” (20-21).

The importance of the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, specifically his work Totality and Infinity, cannot be understated in the early work of Dussel. For Levinas, the encounter of the I and the Other provide the core to his philosophical work. These two identities are not co-constitutive, but rather come from radical opposites and therefore should not be able to make any claim against one another. The encounter should “not form a totality [which] can hence be produced within the general economy of being only as proceeding from the I to the other, as a face to face, delineating a distance in depth–that of a conversation, of goodness, of Desire” (39). The encounter and the ability to see the face of the Other without totalizing it thus becomes the birth of ethics and just relationship. Dussel, interacting with this work, began to conceive of his Philosophy of Liberation.

In his Philosophy of LiberationDussel importantly noted the conquering logic(s) that were present. “Spatially central, the ego cogito constituted the periphery and asked itself, along with Fernández de Oviedo, ‘Are the Amerindians human beings?’ that is, Are they Europeans, and therefore rational beings?” (3) Dussel’s deep connection to the Levinasian concept of exteriority undergirded the philosophical work that he was seeking to create at the time, one that saw the periphery in ontological defiance to the center. In response to the dominating violence of the center (Europe and later the United States), Dussel’s Philosophy of Liberation seeks to depict a “metaphysics… demanded by revolutionary praxis” (15).

Whereas the ego cogito is prefigured by the ego conquero, Dussel locates the possibility of a philosophy of liberation “Only [in] the praxis of oppressed peoples of the periphery, of the woman violated by masculine ideology” (ibid.). This mode of doing philosophy centers not the theoretical concerns of philosophers alone, but rather bases itself on the daily, lived realities of those in the peripheries. As I have previously noted, for Levinas seeing the face of the other is of central importance. The face for Levinas is something that is purely theoretical, but for Dussel it is something far more material. Theorist Ciccariello-Maher in his article “Decolonial realism: Ethics, politics and dialectics in Fanon and Dussel” writes:

What is crucial is that Dussel refuses Levinasian abstraction and insists on formulating these positions concretely which becomes evident in what is, for him, the paradigmatic case of exteriority: hunger […] Thus, the ‘face’, for Levinas the absolute basis for a universal openness towards alterity is for Dussel neither absolute nor universal, but reveals a people before it reveals an individual’ (12).

By focusing on the concrete material conditions of the “the hungry” we are able to see the movement of Dussel’s own thinking from someone who has moved from identifying as a European in 1957 to a deeper level of consciousness and focusing his writings not on those in the Western cannon, but rather global movements of philosophy and the impacts of colonialism, neocolonialism and dependency theory in the early 1970’s.

Dussel’s concrete material philosophy therefore demands a charting of his own intellectual history onto larger social and philosophical movements as they were developing. Decolonial philosopher Nelson Maldonado-Torres stressed in a lecture in Barcelona that the timing of work on the “encounter” was directly connected to the Peruvian sociologist Aníbal Quijano’s work on coloniality. Quijano writing in the late 80’s noted the approaching date of the 500-year “anniversary” of Christopher Columbus coming to the “New World.” This “anniversary” served as an incredibly important marker to the Latin American Left of the day, as Maldonado-Torres notes: “Latin American intellectuals and indigenous intellectuals are already looking at 1992 and many indigenous activists in the world are waiting. Are you going to celebrate that? […] What kind of indecent ideas and discourses with the hegemonic majority come up with to celebrate this anniversary?”

While Dussel was invited to give a series of lectures in Frankfurt, Germany to “commemorate” the occasion, this commemoration turned more into a ruthless critique of modernity. Dussel took to task the types of theoretical frameworks that were deployed to totalize the so-called “invention of the Americas” as something inside of the project of modernity, rather than the violent experience of encounter that created it. He writes, “According to O’Gorman’s completely Eurocentric thesis, the invention of America meant that, “America was invented in the image and likeness of Europe since America could not actualize in itself any other form of becoming human” (32). By challenging some of these core European assumptions about the encounter, Dussel’s detailing of the movements of logic in his work The Invention of the Americas is essential for unpacking the climax in Sorry To Bother You.

In an interview with the New York Times Magazine, Boots Riley stressed his challenges about finding someone in the film industry who would take his project seriously. “Trying to get somebody to read your script and you’re a musician?” he asked. “That’s the last person whose script you’re gonna read!” Hoping to draw attention to the project, Riley finally published the screenplay for the film through McSweeney’s, which is a local publisher based in San Francisco.

The first page of the manuscript begins, “Kind people, I require your assistance.” Riley goes on to finish the request to the reader saying, “please do anything you can to help publicize this account. If you know any Hollywood executives, slap the banana daiquiri out of their hand, shove this in their face, and tell them that the human race is counting on them.” Eventually, the film was able to materialize and became one of the most talked about films at Sundance film festival.

Sorry To Bother You follows Cassius Green (played by Lakeith Stanfield) from his first day as a telemarketer at RegalView. After failing on his first few calls, another older black man, Langston (played by Danny Glover), suggests that if he employees a white voice he would be able to be more successful at soliciting. This white voice is not as much about pitch or tone but rather selling a state of mind:  “It’s about sounding like you don’t have a care. Like your bills are paid and you’re happy about your future and you’re about to jump in your Ferrari when you get off this call… Like you don’t need this money, like you’ve never been fired, only laid off. Its not what all white people sound like–there ain’t no real white voice, but it’s what they wish they sounded like.”

It is clear that this scene demonstrates Riley’s understanding of the social construction of whiteness as something that is essential to success as defined inside of U.S. capitalism.

As Cassius perfects white voice, he begins to come into conflict with his artist/activist girlfriend Detroit (played by Tessa Thompson). This conflict is based on their differing approaches to a strike that has been organized by a salter (union organizer) Squeeze (played by Steven Yeun). While Cassius was initially supportive of the strike and joined in its first action, after being promoted to the mythical status of Power Caller he distances himself from the strikers.

In the film, Power Callers are seen as titans of industry. Power Callers are not selling encyclopedias, as was Cassius’s responsibility when he first started working at RegalView, but now they are selling weapons and slave labor from the nefarious WorryFree company. WorryFree, run by techbro Steve Lift (played by Armie Hammer), houses and feeds people in exchange for their unpaid labor. In the film, there are numerous connections between WorryFree and slave labor. After Cassius repeatedly crosses the picket line and continues to sell WorryFree’s services to clients around the world for millions of dollars, Detroit is forced to break things off between her and Cassius.

On the day of the opening night of Detroit’s art exhibit titled “The New F*** You” (a homage to a song by Riley’s band The Street Sweeper Social Club), Cassius is told by his boss about a party at Mr. Lift’s house:  “I know it sounds like I’m asking, but actually, I’m demanding. You have to come. As you know, Steve Lift is the CEO of WorryFree. He throws a yearly party and it’s the kind of party that kings wish they got invited to. Puffy can’t even get an invite. Steve Lift wants to speak to our new star. That’s you.” His indispensability has completely disrupted the possibility for meaningful connection between him and his friends. After an awkward exchange with Detroit during her exhibit, Cassius ends up at Mr. Lift’s party.

Cassius is violently tokenized throughout the whole party culminating in Mr. Lift forcing Cassius to rap in front of the whole party. After feeling deeply ashamed about this performance, Cassius is invited downstairs where Mr. Lift has a proposition for Cassius. It is during this business proposition that clear connections between the logic of Mr. Lift and the totalizing logic of modernity are most apparent.

Dussel’s conception of modernity is incredibly critical of the Eurocentric understanding put forward by both Hegel and Habermas. Dussel takes to task the uncritical non-dialectical thinking present in both of their works. Hegel’s concept of world history is “the self realization of God, as a theodicy of reason and of liberty, and the process of Enlightenment” (20). His understanding of world history is one that demonstrates the dialectical movement of thought as internalized inside of the West.

This internal European dialectic means that “Europe is the end of universal history” (ibid.). Dussel, as a Latin American and a true dialectical thinker, is deeply critical of this notion, as well as Habermas’s notion of subjectivity, which states, “the key historical events for the implantation to the principle of subjectivity are the Reformation and the Enlightenment and the French Revolution” (25).

Dussel’s critique of the Eurocentrism of this understanding instead locates modernity as developing in 1492:  “Whereas modernity gestated in the free, creative medieval European cities, it came to birth in Europe’s confrontation with the Other” (12). By undermining the internal European dialectical movement, modernity then is spawned during the encounter in 1492 through the violent force of European logic’s attempts to totalize the “irrationality” of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. This understanding of modernity then takes a much more violent and political conception of progress than the definition as provided by Hegel and Habermas.

This claim that the conquest is “for the good of all” and of “great benefit” for the dominated, vanquished one, perfectly expressed the myth of modernity. One defines one’s own culture as superior and more developed and the other as inferior, crude, barbaric, and culpably immature […] Even the violence inflicted on the Other is said to serve the emancipation, utility and well-being of the barbarian who is civilized, developed, or modernized. This after the innocent Other’s victimization, the myth of modernity declares the Other the culpable cause of that victimization and absolves the modern subject of any guilt for the victimizing act (Philosophy of Liberation, 64).

As Cassius is invited downstairs to hear a business proposition from Mr. Lift, there can be a direct connection drawn between this scene in the film and what Ph.D. student Rafael Vizcaíno calls “economies of innocence.” It is important to note the positionality of the characters to understand the flows present in these economic transactions. As the CEO of WorryFree, Mr. Lift here could be understood as the type of “rational actor” that could embody Dussel’s understanding of the European colonizers.

Dussel notes that “the word ‘modernity’ carries two ambiguous significations.  For its first and positive conceptual content modernity signifies rational emancipation” (136). Mr. Lift manifests this type of rational emancipation from ethics through his whole-hearted support of capitalist logic. We can see this stance demonstrated through his retort that WorryFree was “providing jobs, we’re saving the economy.” This therefore locates Cassius on the underside of this exchange as someone who could be read as “irrational” or not operating inside of European logics.

For Dussel, the second ambiguous signification of modernity can be clearly charted onto the dialogue and actions that are seen in the conversations between Mr. Lift, Cassius and the introduction of the Equisapiens. Dussel states that while the first conceptual understanding of modernity is true, the second understanding of modernity must be read in lockstep with it. He calls this type of modernity the “negative mythic.”

It is this negative mythic understanding of modernity that “justifies an irrational praxis of violence.” From the powerful (read Mr. Lift here) against the “uncivilized” (read Cassius and the Equisapiens here), we are able to understand the characters’ positionality and can now unpack how the flows of logic in the scene demonstrate an irrational praxis of violence.

Mr. Lift invites Cassius to snort a line of cocaine before telling him that he should sit down to watch a brief documentary about the future of WorryFree. While Cassius is less interested about the film itself as he is about the financial opportunity that further partnership with WorryFree provides, before the presentation starts Cassius asks to use the bathroom. Mr. Lift seems hesitant but then says, “Fine, It’s the jade-colored door on your right. Hurry back.”

Once Cassius enters through the door he quickly encounters what looks to be a monstrous half-human half-horse thing: an Equisapien. Cassius is incredibly frightened, screams, and then runs out of the door. Once outside, Mr. Lift meets him shouting. Cassius had apparently entered the olive door and not the jade door.

While for Mr. Lift this error is incomprehensible, he uses the chaos to his advantage saying that seeing the Equisapiens is just a big misunderstanding and that the presentation will explain everything. While he says this, he pulls out a gun, clearly indicating that Cassius has no choice but to listen to the presentation.

Dussel notes that the first and second step of establishing the negative mythic qualities of modernity are that “(a) Modern civilization understands itself as most developed and superior, since it lacks awareness of its own ideological Eurocentrism. (b) This superiority obliges it to develop the most primitive, uneducated barbarous extremes” (136). Mr. Lift here is demonstrating these two characteristics almost patently in this conversation with Cassius.

Cassius is rightfully scared after seeing the Equisapien, yet for Mr. Lift there is nothing to fear because it is just a big misunderstanding. This use of the word “misunderstanding” demonstrates the type of ontological ground upon which Mr. Lift centers his positionality as a CEO. He quickly dismisses Cassius’s fear and ignorance in choosing the wrong colored door because he knows better and realizes that it is his duty to “educate.” His Eurocentrism is present here because in this brief exchange he notes himself to be “developed and superior” and therefore understands what he should and shouldn’t fear, whereas Cassius in Mr. Lift’s mind cannot fathom a moral choice.

By using the term “misunderstanding,” he denotes a striking ontological difference between himself and Cassius:  not as equals that can engage in mutual dialogue, but rather Mr. Lift constructs himself as the sole possessor of knowledge and therefore unrequited power. Because he is the rational one, it is his role to develop the thinking of Cassius. It is in the encounter with the Equisapiens that Cassius and Mr. Lift most clearly demonstrate that they are polar opposites in the irrationality of the violence of modernity.

After holding Cassius at gunpoint during the documentary presentation, which depicts the creation of Equisapiens as the next stage of productivity promising to usher in a new stage of profitability for WorryFree, Mr. Lift turns to Cassius and says, “I just didn’t want you to think I was crazy or something. I’m doing this to help turn a profit–it’s not irrational.” This absurdist logic is only possible in the violent colonizing mentality of modernity.

To literally breed a new species from humans just to further exploit them represents the highest level of delusion, yet Mr. Lift follows perfectly with Dussel’s next step in understanding modernity. Dussel writes, “this development out to follow Europe’s since development is unilineal according to the uncritically accepted development fallacy.”  According to Mr. Lift, breeding a new creature perfectly continues along the lines of European and Western capitalist logic, which is in need for cheap and productive labor. Abolishing this labor shortage by any means necessary is therefore something that is clearly rational in capitalism’s logic.

The complete lack of ethic thought for the Other is justified for the logics of capitalism that are inherent in modernity. For Cassius, this “rational” logic is completely distant even after watching the documentary presentation. He is trapped here, not interested in anything that the totalizing logic of modernity has to offer, yet held by the violent force of gun that Mr. Lift has aimed at Cassius during the entire scene. Dussel notesthat, “Modern praxis must exercise violence only as a last resort, in order to destroy the obstacles impeding modernization” (472).

While Mr. Lift does not kill Cassius, the gun as a representative of the force of modernity and is strikingly similar to what Eduardo Galeano in his book Open Veins notes as, “The Sign of Cross on the Hilt of the Sword” (21). The imagery both for Galeano and in Sorry to Bother You is striking:  either accept the colonizing logic, whether that be the Equisapien labor force or Christianity, or perish. With the gun still firmly pointed at Cassius, it is clear that he has little agency against Mr. Lift’s ridiculous ideas and must continue to be subjected to the violent praxis of modernity.

Cassius, clearly afraid for his life and wanting to leave calmly, states, “I understand and I would like to leave now. Please.” But Mr. Lift is having none of this. He forces Cassius to uncomfortably sit through his proposal of how he plans to control the Equisapiens to realize their fullest economic value. “They’ll develop their own identity and customs. They may wish to rebel, organize. We need someone to represent WorryFree’s interests. Someone they can relate to… An Equisapien Martin Luther King. One that we control. One that we create. We want to frame the discussion. Give them a hero.”

Mr. Lift trying to convince Cassius to take the role of the Equisapien Martin Luther King to mitigate the type of revolutionary action that is possible for the Equisapiens can be seen as an attempt to limit the oppressed’s “opposition to the civilizing process” (472). This is a preventative step to make sure that the Equisapiens are not able to seriously challenge the modernizing logic of Mr. Lift and therefore limits any possibility of freedom or ethics for the Equisapiens. Not only has Mr. Lift foreclosed on Cassius’s autonomy, but he also seeks to define the Equisapiens’ existence from the beginning.

By installing an “Equisapien Martin Luther King,” Mr. Lift is able to maintain the innocence of WorryFree over and against the possible rebellious Equisapien response. This maintenance of innocence is essential to the project of modernity because it allows for its logic to remain pure and intact. By attempting to create a spy inside of the Equisapiens, Mr. Lift is making sure that he will continue to be read as innocent. Lift’s proposal to instill Cassius as a false leader would thereby ensure that there would be no serious confrontation that could question his power or authority.

The scene ends with Cassius convincing Mr. Lift that he needs to go home and think about the proposal. Instead of following the movement of the totalizing logic of modernity, Cassius reveals the evil plot to the world appearing with videos of the Equisapiens on multiple news channels.

Dussel importantly notes that unmasking the false innocence of modernity for what is it is, violent praxis, is essential to overcome it. He writes, “This overcoming of emancipatory reason as a liberating reason is possible only when both enlightened reason’s Eurocentrism and the developmentalist fallacy of the hegemonic process of modernization are unmasked” (473).

Contrary to liberal belief however, simply unmasking these issues is not enough to solve them. Only direct action can do that. After the videos of the Equisapiens are released, WorryFree’s stock rises quickly and with bipartisan support (there is an image in the film of a triumphant Mr. Lift on Wall Street surrounded by many smiling Democrats and Republicans).

Squeeze, Cassius’s organizer friend, importantly notes that simply unmasking social issues without a plan to solve them simply creates apathy in the public and actually allows the issues to scale up in their intensity. Squeeze says, “It’s not that people don’t care. People think that there’s nothing they can do. We have to show them.”

Cassius, realizing this is correct, quickly rejoins the strikers and thinks to utilize his high school friends who were on the football team (the team comically appear throughout the film practicing at all hours of the day even though they graduated several years ago), as well as the Equisapiens. After holding off the initial line of strike breakers with the football players, more riot police are called in to the strike hell-bent on breaking the picket line.

The Equisapiens show up just in time to save the day and fight off the riot police. The embrace of the Equisapiens in this scene mirrors Dussel’s own methodology of resisting modernity, “when one pronounces innocent the victims of modernity (the Equisapiens) by affirming their alterity as identity in the exteriority.”

Instead of trying to control the actions of the Equisapiens in the interest of capitalistic modernizing logic, Cassius embraces them in their alterity. Cassius is not the only one who recognizes their alterity. The Equisapiens do so themselves.

Although the Equisapiens are often seen as abominable objects throughout the film, the decolonial turn of Dussel and Fanon as well require us to see them instead as subjects. Political theorist John Holloway keenly notes that, “the beginning is not the word, but the scream” (1). Rejecting the false rationality of modernity requires that the Equisapien subjects, who are viewed as irrational by the totalizing violence of Mr. Lift and capitalism itself, assert themselves antagonistically against the very ontological and political chains that attempt to pacify them.

Here a turn to Frantz Fanon’s text Black Skins, White Masks is essential to see the type of ontological relegation into which Mr. Lift attempts to place the Equisapiens and the manner in which the Equisapiens assert their own ontological independence against this violent categorization. Fanon’s own challenging of the ontological violence of white supremacy causes him to formulate “a decolonized and open ended master-slave dialectic in which universal reconciliation is infinitely deferred” (50).

Against the violence of rationality and white supremacy, Fanon understands that his ontological self is not determined inside of himself but rather through the ontological violence of whiteness: “The white gaze, the only valid one, is already dissecting me. I am fixed. Once their microtomes are sharpened, the Whites objectively cut sections of my reality. I have been betrayed. I sense, I see in this white gaze that it’s the arrival not of a new man, but of a new type of man, a new species” (95).

Fanon quickly realized that as white supremacy had created him into a new species, it simultaneously rejected his rationality. “So, they were countering my irrationality with rationality, my rationality with the ‘true rationality” (111). The categorization of Fanon from a human being to an alternative species in the logics of white supremacy echo true with the type of logic that Mr. Lift exercised against the Equisapiens throughout the film.

In a similar manner to Fanon’s struggle against the violence of the white gaze, the Equisapiens recognize themselves as in “the zone of nonbeing” (xii). “This zone of nonbeing is a realm inhabited by the subterranean beings.” (58). For Fanon, as for the Equisapiens, the only option to assert one’s ontological position is the act of explosion. For Fanon, the shout against the totalizing violence of whiteness creates the ontological ground in which he can assert his own personhood.

Similarly, for the Equisapiens, their joining of the strikers demonstrate their ontological and social resistance against the modernistic logics of Mr. Lift and WorryFree. Cassius importantly sees the Equisapiens and recognizes their innocence against the colonizing logic of modernity and therefore deeply respects their autonomy and Otherness by not replicating violent patterns of totalization. The scene closes with Squeeze telling the Equisapiens, “Same struggle. Same fight,” which as an act of solidarity locates both the strikers and the Equisapiens against the totalizing modern logic embodied by Mr. Lift and WorryFree.

Normally, this would be where the movie ends. Justice is restored and hope for a better tomorrow wins out. But when Cassius turns into an Equisapien (turns out the cocaine that Mr. Lift offered Cassius wasn’t actually cocaine, but the special serum that turns a human into an Equisapien), this type of traditional happy ending is thrown into chaos.

Riley resists a happy, prepackaged logic that is usually present in movies while still believing that the film has a happy ending. He detailed why he chose to write the ending as he did in an interview saying, “I think that it is a happy ending, but it’s a different kind of happy ending. It’s one that says nobody gets out of this clean and there’s no way we can’t be affected by this world.”

Although violence has been a common appearance throughout the film, the ending certainly punctuates this point. We see a group of Equisapiens, led by Cassius, break into Mr. Lift’s house with the clear intention of killing him. The shock of this scene is indeed intense.

Devyn Springer, in his excellent essay on the film, notes the importance of violence in the film. He asserts, “Here, Riley ruptures the idea that violence must rest within the dichotomy of avoidance or fetishization, and instead uses the final scenes to reclaim and transform it into a tool of emancipation […] wherein the subjects of the video he shared—possibly the most marginalized folks in the entire society of this film—violently save the day.”

In lieu of the irrational praxis of violence found inside of modernity, the revolutionary Equisapien violence could then be considered a rational praxis of violence as it actively destroys the colonizing logic that is found inside of modernity as represented by Mr. Lift. Riley smashes the hegemony of thought which sees only nonviolent means of protest as “legitimate”, and thereby forces the viewer to not take sides based upon violence or non-violence but rather reframe the conversation about what is a just, truly rational praxis of violence.

Returning to Fanon, one is able to see his connection from ontological autonomy in Black Skins to his conception of decolonizing violence found in Wretched of the EarthEarly on in the book Fanon notes that, “Decolonization is always a violent event. At whatever level we study it […] Decolonization is quite simply the substitution of one “species” of mankind by another” (1).

By seeing the continuation of ontological decolonization as only possible in lockstep with political decolonization, the violence in the final scene makes perfect sense as the Equisapiens continue to assert their Otherness against the totalizing violence of Mr. Lift. By choosing to include this final scene, Riley is countering the sacrificial myth trope found in Dussel’s conception of modernity by proposing a type of violence that is in fact restorative.

While many published film reviews saw this to be a strange and off-putting end to the film, for Riley it is the best possible outcome. He has stated in an interview that the end is indeed happy because no matter what, “the point is you keep fighting. And that’s the happy ending.”

Riley’s brutal honestly in depicting racist and capitalist logic as manifested in the character of Mr. Lift and its colonizing efforts turn this film into not only an enjoyable artistic experience, but also one that causes the viewer to deeply and critically think about the everyday violence inside of contemporary society.

By locating the climax of the film onto Dussel’s identifications with different aspects of modernity, we are able to see Riley not only challenge the logics of racism and capitalism but also directly take on the types of power found in modernity. Power separated from the base of the masses is for Riley something that is unstable and should be challenged through the embrace of the invisiblized in society. It is only through mutual respect between one another that the marginalized and oppressed in society can create the conditions for their own liberation.

Conor Ramón Rasmusen is a graduate student of Christian Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. His current work focuses decolonial ethics, theology, and the end of the world. He is currently writing his thesis on decolonial theory, violence, and the Zapatistas.

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