The Disrupted, a new documentary from Sarah Colt, wants to be about corporate greed and how regular people don’t have a chance, and it is about that for as long as you let it. The problem with the underdog lament is that it’s not very exciting, but, thankfully, the movie is saved by its three subjects, as each of them proves to be a wholly unique, captivating case study in uphill living.
We have a farmer, Donn, who owns hundreds of acres of farmland, yet can’t seem to turn a profit. When he’s first introduced to us, he’s rummaging through his home, proudly showing the camera the antiquated contraptions he’s inherited from his ancestors—a telling moment. We then meet Uber/Lyft driver Cheryl, who’s growing frustrated with her ever-increasing inability to earn a living through the aforementioned apps. Then there’s Pete, an ex-con, who was recently laid off from a factory job and must find a new way to provide for his family.
“… about corporate greed and how regular people don’t have a chance…”
As you watch the three struggle to quit struggling, your first impulse is sympathy. After the sympathy sinks in, and you start watching them objectively, you pick up on the more tragic aspects of their lives. To varying degrees, they all seem trapped in a cycle, and instead of attempting to break the cycle, they fruitlessly attempt to improve the cycle so they may return to some personal golden age. Pete is the only one among them that appears to have any ambition or personal agency. When Cheryl arranges organized protests of Uber and Lyft with her fellow drivers, you sympathize with her intentions, but you also question the usefulness of such a thing. If 20 drivers in Florida decide to stop driving for a day, Uber and Lyft aren’t going to notice. Symbolic gestures won’t pay the bills.
It’s most tragically prevalent in Donn’s story, as he’s firmly attached to his heritage and deeply set in his ways. He’s a battleship that’s not going to be making sharp turns anytime soon. To go back to that telling moment, his pride in the antiquated machines of the past is representative of a larger issue. In a scene where he sits down with his sons to discuss the future of the family’s generational land—and debt—you see how much collective misery is associated with the land, despite Donn constantly talking about how much it means to him. Funnily enough, that scene brought to mind the one from The Godfather, in which father and son are looking at each other, though past each other, as another generation knowingly inherits the sins of the last.
Colt doesn’t get in the way of the subjects too much. You’re left alone with them and are free to come to your own conclusions. By way of this approach, you come to know and understand the subjects in a deeper way than if their stories were fed to you in a premeditated fashion. The aimless narrative also serves to increase the dread of the next landmine life has in store for Donn, Pete, and Cheryl. As the tide rises to their necks, you start to feel the water tickle your chin, too. Such immersive storytelling can only happen if you’re free to explore, rather than on rails.
In the time you spend with the three stories, I can’t imagine anyone not having some sort of strong opinion about what they see. For that reason—and that reason alone—The Disrupted ends up as thought-provoking as it is sentimental.
"…what saves the movie from tissue box purgatory is its three subjects..."