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  • (Un)responsible work — for us


    Bernd Käpplinger

    "Living - once really living" (2022) is the British remake of Akira Kurosawa's 1952 classic "Ikiru". The film addresses a central theme of the working world: taking responsibility. Bill Nighy, perhaps in the role of his life, screenwriter Ishiguro and the film itself have been nominated for several British film awards.

    The topos and the cor­re­spon­ding film scene are well known: The prot­ago­nist is diagnosed with cancer and is con­fron­ted with the shat­te­ring news that they have only a few months to live. Rodney Williams, bril­li­ant­ly played by Bill Nighy, has to face up to this news in the film “Living” (UK, 2022,  Director: Oliver Hermanu, Script: Kazuo Ishiguro). Unsur­pri­sin­gly, he initially seeks to find joy in his final days through gambling, alcohol abuse and women. However, this approach remains unsuc­cess­ful and fails to fill the void.

    For a long time, he searches vainly for the deeper meaning of life, before he finally comes across it, iro­ni­cal­ly, in work and in helping others. Employed in London City Council’s con­struc­tion depart­ment, he moves heaven and hell through personal com­mit­ment and advocacy within the admi­nis­tra­ti­on enabling a neigh­bour­hood initia­ti­ve to build their play­ground for children. He trans­forms himself from an employee who only does duty by the book into a person who takes respon­si­bi­li­ty and wants to make a positive dif­fe­rence even in the face of oppo­si­ti­on. The scene where the height of the stack of unfi­nis­hed work is con­si­de­red an unof­fi­cial work goal, in order to mark one’s own impor­t­ance at work sym­bo­li­cal­ly, is wonderful.

    Williams succumbs to cancer in the beginning of the second half of the film, the rest of the film is devoted to the work achieved in his last days and its positive impact on his fellow man. But if you think it’s going to be schmaltzy here and ever­ything resolves to a shallow happy ending, you’ll be bitterly disap­poin­ted with unex­pec­ted plot twists. A number of great speeches are made by his successor to his co-workers. One should swear in the name of his memory and act like him now. Yet, the actual actions of the successor are woefully different who falls back into the pre­dic­ta­ble routine of failing to take any respon­si­bi­li­ty. Another young employee — actually genuinely inspired and encou­ra­ged by Williams — also fails miserably in taking respon­si­bi­li­ty and remains silent when protest against the inac­ti­vi­ty in the bureau­cra­cy would have been an appro­pria­te response.

    The film irritates its viewers with the unsparing rea­liz­a­ti­on of how much easier it is not to take respon­si­bi­li­ty for and pride in one’s own work. Even good role models often do not have a lasting effect and it is difficult to anchor respon­si­bi­li­ty sus­tainab­ly and structurally.

    In our highly networked working world, where we often have to work together, it is easy to pass respon­si­bi­li­ty back and forth for any number of reasons. Moreover, in a working world that is incre­a­singly co-deter­mi­ned by algo­rith­ms and AI, it is becoming incre­a­singly more possible and com­mon­place to hide behind tech­no­lo­gy. CEOs have already sought to legi­ti­mi­se dubious business practices with algo­rith­ms that sup­po­sed­ly cannot be influ­en­ced. It is not unlikely that this will increase, as respon­si­bi­li­ty can now be shifted not only to employees, but also to AI.

    The film may make viewers sceptical about whether we will be better at dealing with respon­si­bi­li­ty in the future. Despite all the scep­ti­cism, however, “Living” ulti­mate­ly ends with a positive message. The hero’s final actions brought him joy and a ful­fil­ling end to his life. We should not take on respon­si­bi­li­ty just to help others, because we help ourselves in a kind of egoistic altruism when we show initia­ti­ve instead of sticking to the status-quo.

    Bernd Käpp­lin­ger is Professor of Con­ti­nuing Education at the Justus Liebig Uni­ver­si­ty in Giessen.

     

    Living, UK, 2022, Oliver Hermanu, Trailer 

    Bill Nighy, Kazuo Ishiguro & Oliver Hermanus on Living, Film4 

    Living, UK, 2022, filmstill

    Living, UK, 2022, filmstill

    Living, UK, 2022, filmstill

    Living, UK, 2022, filmset

    Tags

    (Un)responsible work — for us

    Bernd Käpplinger

    "Living - once really living" (2022) is the British remake of Akira Kurosawa's 1952 classic "Ikiru". The film addresses a central theme of the working world: taking responsibility. Bill Nighy, perhaps in the role of his life, screenwriter Ishiguro and the film itself have been nominated for several British film awards.

    The topos and the cor­re­spon­ding film scene are well known: The prot­ago­nist is diagnosed with cancer and is con­fron­ted with the shat­te­ring news that they have only a few months to live. Rodney Williams, bril­li­ant­ly played by Bill Nighy, has to face up to this news in the film “Living” (UK, 2022,  Director: Oliver Hermanu, Script: Kazuo Ishiguro). Unsur­pri­sin­gly, he initially seeks to find joy in his final days through gambling, alcohol abuse and women. However, this approach remains unsuc­cess­ful and fails to fill the void.

    For a long time, he searches vainly for the deeper meaning of life, before he finally comes across it, iro­ni­cal­ly, in work and in helping others. Employed in London City Council’s con­struc­tion depart­ment, he moves heaven and hell through personal com­mit­ment and advocacy within the admi­nis­tra­ti­on enabling a neigh­bour­hood initia­ti­ve to build their play­ground for children. He trans­forms himself from an employee who only does duty by the book into a person who takes respon­si­bi­li­ty and wants to make a positive dif­fe­rence even in the face of oppo­si­ti­on. The scene where the height of the stack of unfi­nis­hed work is con­si­de­red an unof­fi­cial work goal, in order to mark one’s own impor­t­ance at work sym­bo­li­cal­ly, is wonderful.

    Williams succumbs to cancer in the beginning of the second half of the film, the rest of the film is devoted to the work achieved in his last days and its positive impact on his fellow man. But if you think it’s going to be schmaltzy here and ever­ything resolves to a shallow happy ending, you’ll be bitterly disap­poin­ted with unex­pec­ted plot twists. A number of great speeches are made by his successor to his co-workers. One should swear in the name of his memory and act like him now. Yet, the actual actions of the successor are woefully different who falls back into the pre­dic­ta­ble routine of failing to take any respon­si­bi­li­ty. Another young employee — actually genuinely inspired and encou­ra­ged by Williams — also fails miserably in taking respon­si­bi­li­ty and remains silent when protest against the inac­ti­vi­ty in the bureau­cra­cy would have been an appro­pria­te response.

    The film irritates its viewers with the unsparing rea­liz­a­ti­on of how much easier it is not to take respon­si­bi­li­ty for and pride in one’s own work. Even good role models often do not have a lasting effect and it is difficult to anchor respon­si­bi­li­ty sus­tainab­ly and structurally.

    In our highly networked working world, where we often have to work together, it is easy to pass respon­si­bi­li­ty back and forth for any number of reasons. Moreover, in a working world that is incre­a­singly co-deter­mi­ned by algo­rith­ms and AI, it is becoming incre­a­singly more possible and com­mon­place to hide behind tech­no­lo­gy. CEOs have already sought to legi­ti­mi­se dubious business practices with algo­rith­ms that sup­po­sed­ly cannot be influ­en­ced. It is not unlikely that this will increase, as respon­si­bi­li­ty can now be shifted not only to employees, but also to AI.

    The film may make viewers sceptical about whether we will be better at dealing with respon­si­bi­li­ty in the future. Despite all the scep­ti­cism, however, “Living” ulti­mate­ly ends with a positive message. The hero’s final actions brought him joy and a ful­fil­ling end to his life. We should not take on respon­si­bi­li­ty just to help others, because we help ourselves in a kind of egoistic altruism when we show initia­ti­ve instead of sticking to the status-quo.

    Bernd Käpp­lin­ger is Professor of Con­ti­nuing Education at the Justus Liebig Uni­ver­si­ty in Giessen.

     

    Living, UK, 2022, Oliver Hermanu, Trailer

    Bill Nighy, Kazuo Ishiguro & Oliver Hermanus on Living, Film4

    Living, UK, 2022, filmstill

    Living, UK, 2022, filmstill

    Living, UK, 2022, filmstill

    Living, UK, 2022, filmset

    Tags


    Unfiltered working realities. The apprenticeship of a skilled canner

    Unfil­te­red working realities. The appren­ti­ce­ship of a skilled canner

    A critical look at archival vocational guidance films can sharpen one's view of major changes in the world of work and occupations. Making, taking a closer look at a Swiss television report on the apprenticeship of canners from the 1960s, worth it.

    Dystopias of the working world

    Dystopias of the working world

    After more than a century, Katharina Gruzei's reinterpretation of the very first film in film history, ‘Workers Leaving the Factory’, shows a grim picture of the world of work and gives food for thought: Has the situation of workers deteriorated so much and what kind of worklife are we even heading towards?

    Night Mail - The focus on work

    Night Mail — The focus on work

    "Night Mail" (1936) was commissioned as an image publicity film by the British General Post Office and went down in film history as a ground-breaking documentary. Directors Harry Watt and Basil Wright succeed in creating an ode to workers and modern technology by enriching their naturalistic style within the film with poetic elements and always keeping the human aspect in mind.

    Night Mail - The Poetic Gaze

    Night Mail — The Poetic Gaze

    When the eminent film scholar Amos Vogel was forced to flee Vienna to the United States in 1938, the 17-year-old had already made the decision to devote his life to film. One experience that would define his future was a screening of "Night Mail" (1936) and this film still doesn’t fail to impress today.

    Bossnapping à la Cantona

    Boss­nap­ping à la Cantona

    In the last two decades in particular, disputes between management and workers in France have become increasingly intense. The so-called "bossnapping", the hostage taking of management, masterfully staged by Éric Cantona in the Netflix series ‘Inhuman Resources’ (2020), provides a telling example.

    Eastern German Women. Self-realisation through employment

    Eastern German Women. Self-rea­li­sa­ti­on through employment

    As a woman you always have to be better than the best man in the team. That's the minimum for a successful woman, where patriarchy works." This is how Maria Gross, a cook and restaurateur from Thuringia, sums up the situation of East German Women (2019) in a MDR-documentary by Lutz Pehnert.

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    About this blog

    By selecting a film or an image, this blog literally illus­tra­tes the vast sphere of work, employ­ment & education in an open collec­tion of academic, artistic and also anecdotal findings.

    About us

    Konrad Wakol­bin­ger makes docu­men­ta­ry films about work and life. Jörg Mar­ko­witsch does research on education and work. They are both based in Vienna. Infor­ma­ti­on on guest authors can be found in their cor­re­spon­ding articles.

    More about

    Inte­res­ted in more? Find recom­men­da­ti­ons on relevant festivals, film collec­tions and lite­ra­tu­re here.

    About this blog

    With picking a film or an image, this blog literally illus­tra­tes the vast sphere of work, employ­ment & education in an open collec­tion of academic, artistic and also anecdotal findings.

    About us

    Konrad Wakol­bin­ger makes docu­men­ta­ry films about work and life. Jörg Mar­ko­witsch does research on education and work. We both work in Vienna. Infor­ma­ti­on on guest authors can be found in their respec­ti­ve articles.

    More about

    Inte­res­ted in more? Find recom­men­da­ti­ons on relevant festivals, film collec­tions and lite­ra­tu­re here.