I know I’m late to the party, but I just watched Sorry to Bother You, and I thought it was the easiest movie I have ever rated. It gets an even 66.6%. The first two acts were nearly flawless—the cinematography, the white-voice, Lakeith freaking Stanfield! These were the makings of a phenomenal afro-futurist tour-de-force. But then, to my sheer amazement, Boots Riley made a choice that ruined the entire third act—a choice that irritated me to such an extent that I basically wished the movie stopped after the second act. You know the choice. Spoiler alert: it’s the goddamn horse people.
Boots Riley explained the equisapien’s raison d’etre was to wake Cassius out of his complacent enabling of the fascist overlords at WorryFreeTM. They are so shocking that Cassius sees the error of his ways and the true evil of the corporation. In this sense, they are a valuable tool for the narrative. They let Cassius (and the audience) know how crazy Steve Lift and WorryFreeTM are, and Cassius breaks free from his capitalist induced haze to start the revolution.
But I’m still unclear as to why, on god’s green earth, did anyone, anywhere in the production process of this movie think that horse people was the best way to shake Cassius awake? Instead of drowning in the elegant cinematography that gripped me throughout early stages of the movie, I spent the last ⅓ confused, and honestly, kind of grossed out. I’m not one to get squeamish from movies (I’m a big fan of the Cronenberg aesthetic, at large) but the naked, slimy, writhing horse was a little upsetting. The shift from a movie that is playing with color, structure and comedy, to a movie starring a giant, live action BoJack was just too drastic. I’m sure Cassius got shook, but it also shook me—out of my suspension of disbelief!
I know that was corny, but the equisapiens really did take me out of the movie. They also, seemingly, took out all semblance of narrative cohesion as well. As soon as they are introduced, all of the other story lines and symbolism seemed to fly out the door. Cassius’s “white voice”? Disappears. The awkward love triangle between Cassius, Squeeze, and Detroit? Irrelevant. Detroit’s performance art piece? Who cares, because now the movie involves goddamn HORSE PEOPLE!
More than anything though, I’ll never forgive Boots Riley for dropping the earrings. Throughout the first two acts, the camera regularly zooms in on Detroit’s earrings. They scream, “Murder Murder Murder,” “Kill Kill Kill,” and feature men in an electric chairs. But, after the equisapiens are introduced, we never pay attention to her earrings again. They are dangling signifiers, never to be resolved. There isn’t even a payoff at the end of the movie! Shouldn’t Detroit have a new set of earrings, maybe with horses or something? Instead, she makes up with Cassius, he turns into a equisapien, and the rich symbolism and narratives from the first two acts are left on the cutting room floor.
In the grand scheme of things, Riley’s equisapiens do as he intended. I was certainly disturbed from my capitalist-induced stupor brought on by “the cinema,” and had to face the grossness of a real world built on the back of an unrecognized and unappreciated labor force. But, that’s not really why I watch movies. I want my narratives to be cohesive, and for my symbolism to wrap up, because, for the most part, I watch movies to escape the already-too-gross real world. When a naked, slimy, prosethetic horse cock appears on screen, the escapism is over, and the movie should have been too.