It’s a sad, cynical day in these United States. With elected officials seemingly hell-bent on depriving people of health care for the worst reasons they can muster, things seem a bit gloomy.
Of course, there is an occasional, fitful awareness that this monstrosity of a bill, which no one voting on has read, can’t make into law in its current form, and that we’re still engaged in the shadow theater of masturbatory spectacle.
But the anger is still there, everywhere I look: why are we targeting the sick and the poor, with a special vendetta against women? What is that?
As usual in moments of crisis and confusion, I turn to film and fiction. The Dardennes’ Two Days, One Night seems to have only become more relevant, despite being set in Liège, Belgium rather than, say, Scranton, PA.
Two Days, One Night might not immediately present itself as a “health care movie”, if such a genre can be said to exist. The narrative, about a woman named Sandra who can only get her job back by convincing her co-workers to forgo their own bonuses, seems likelier to be understood as a moral parable focused on the ravages of capitalist dislocation — the ways in which workers are compelled to weigh their own interests against their solidarity, and the ways we fight each other over the scraps our employers deign to toss us.
But, in typical Dardenne fashion, the film stealthily sneaks in from a different angle. Sandra has been absent from work, grappling with depression. Its root is never specified — nor does it need to be. It could be any number of things (all of which are probably considered non-starter “pre-existing conditions” under the current U.S. health “care” bill.) Everything else proceeds from there.
As Sandra tries to shake it off, regain agency, assert herself and the need for solidarity, we are forced to face the basic notion that the people who monetize (i.e. “steal”) our labor do not care about us. They never have. The glimmers of hope in Two Days, One Night arise from the individual human interactions: her patient but pained husband Maru’s insistence she try to engage, a co-worker’s near-collapse in relief, thanking her for the opportunity to do what he knows he should’ve done in the first place, eventually Sandra’s own self-redemption in the face of workaday callousness.
This is how things go under late-capitalism. We elect wealthy people selling populist platforms only to watch them steal from the poor to give to the rich, over and over again, while we argue with each other about whether we matter individually. That’s a deeper sickness. It’s also one not covered under the health care bill.
Two Days, One Night — and the Dardennes’ work more generally — can help make this clear. Like all good art, it starts from the premise that we can see ourselves — our desires, our interactions, our fears and realities — in scripted fantasy, and perhaps emerge from it with a different understanding.
It ought to be shown in Congress. That is, if they’re not too busy triumphantly entering to the theme from Rocky.