PFS Film Review
My Name is Joe


In My Name is Joe, the problems of working-class Glasgow, Scotland, during the period of high unemployment under Margaret Thatcher’s era are highlighted. Although the film was highly acclaimed in Britain when released in 1998 and relegated to an art film theatre circuit in the United States in 1999, because the setting and dialog are unfamiliar to Americans, the message is far more realistic than anything recently produced in Hollywood about blue-collar Whites. Directed by Kenneth Loach, My Name Is Joe is on a par with Boyz ‘n the Hood, since it shows the consequences of insecure employment in a capitalist economy where the welfare of workers is subordinated to profits for management. What are these consequences? Clearly, alcoholism, an inability to pay the rent and buy the food to sustain families, which in turn are a seedbed for organized crime, especially the distribution and use of drugs and even the temptation of women to become prostitutes. The link between unemployment and crime is nothing new for sociologists, but the portrayal of how one develops from the other is the genius of the film. The individualistic mass society that the new capitalism in Britain seems to forge is nevertheless held at bay heroically by the way in which family and friendships remain glued together. Alcoholic Joe Kavanagh (played by Peter Mullan) insists on helping his best friends from debt and prostitution, whatever the cost to himself. Much of the movie also focuses on how much the down-and-out members of the working class turn to athletic competition as the one joy in life, so a particularly insightful point is made when one team demonstrates that it is too poor to afford decent uniforms and must take off its filthy shirts in the cold in order to play soccer. An interesting aspect of the film, that Scottish accented English has to be subtitled in order to be understood, demonstrates quite eloquently why the class structure in Britain resists upward mobility, as only those speaking the Queen’s English can rise to the position of the most prominent character in the film who is not subtitled—the social worker Louise Goodall (played by Sarah Downie) who is trying unsuccessfully to reintegrate those out of work into an economy that has no need for these otherwise decent citizens. Rather than the corruption of the working class, on which the film focuses so eloquently, the invisible corruption of the society by the economy is what we cannot see with our eyes. But the degregation is there, and only those prepared to see that corruption will find My Name Is Joe to be an eye-opening experience. MH

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