An Analysis Of Blue Collar Essay, Research Paper
The Life of the Working Man
In the 1978 film by Paul Schrader, “Blue Collar,” the relationship between the blue-collar worker and his union is explored. The film takes the side of the working man and exposes the union for what it is really doing. It is keeping the working class down by keeping it divided. There are many signifiers in the film that explain what the characters, the union, and what the blue-collar life is really like.
The first, and one of the most important signifiers in the film, is the blues music at the very beginning. It is a real working man’s blues, and it is very repetitive. It has a real slow grinding feel to it like it is an exact portrayal of the workers lives and jobs. During the opening sequence of the film, while this blues tune is played, the camera shows the men working inside the car plant making taxis. The factory is dark and hot, and the men are covered in grease and sweat. Their work is very monotonous, as is the music. Once the workday is over, all of the workers head straight to the bar.
The bar is also a main signifier in the movie. It is just a dive bar right next to the plant, but it is like a second home to all of the workers. It is a place that the workers can relax and escape for awhile between their jobs, and their family lives. However, it is not really a place they go for fun. It is a necessary break from all of the work in their lives. At the bar, the main characters are introduced. Zeke, Jerry, and Smokey are all having a drink together when a man claiming to be a college professor approaches them. The man insults the worker’s union and Jerry almost gets into a fistfight to defend it. The film shows that the workers defend their union to someone outside of it, but when they go to the union meeting itself, it is a different story.
At the union meeting, the film shows that the workers are really not happy with their union at all. Zeke says that the “plant” is just short for “plantation.” The workers all fell like slaves because they can’t get anything done. Zeke explains to the union representative that his locker has been broken for six months and no one will do anything about it. The rep tells Zeke that he will look into it, but Zeke doesn’t believe him. Zeke goes to the president of his union to ask him to get it fixed. The president then makes a phony phone call and tells Zeke that it will be done. This call was a strong signifier about how much the union really cares about its workers. The union obviously had a policy of cutting corners when it concerned their workers.
The houses of the three main characters have some of the films more important signifiers. Zeke’s house is probably the worst of the three. He has three kids and no extra money to use on his home. The furniture is covered with plastic to make it last longer, and nothing in the house seems to work right. There is also a point were Zeke says he is going to watch the TV no matter what is on it because it is the most expensive thing in the house and he wants to make sure he gets his moneys worth.
Jerry’s house is much nicer looking. It is a two-story house that is relatively clean. It looks almost middle class. What Jerry lacks inside his house is food. His son complains at the dinner table about not having enough to eat so his mom gives him some of her food. Another signifier that takes place in Jerry’s house is when his daughter gets sent home from school because of her teeth. She tries to make her own braces and cuts up her mouth. Jerry promises to get her braces, a definite middle-class luxury at the time, even though he can’t really afford them.
Smokey’s house is very different from the other two. He has a total swinging bachelor pad. He doesn’t have a family to spend any money on, so he spends it all on himself. He invites Zeke and Jerry over for a party at his house that is not just good clean fun. The three of them do coke and then Zeke and Jerry cheat on their wives. The movie definitely sides with these three workers, but they are never really glorified at all. They are shown as real people who do things that might not be considered wholesome by everyone.
When the three men decide to break into the union office to steal some money, we start to learn how bad the union really is. They only walk away with six hundred dollars, but they find a notebook that contains information about the unions illegal activity involving loans to bookies in Las Vegas at extremely high interest rates. Before the union even realizes that the notebook has fallen into someone else’s hands, they are already claiming that ten thousand dollars was stolen from the office. This later turns into twenty thousand dollars that the union will try to claim from the insurance company. Then union is shown as dishonest in everything that they do.
Once in the union starts to catch on to the three main characters, the real awful stuff starts to happen. The union realizes that Smokey is the smartest of the three men and will try to screw over the union as much as possible. The union then murders him by trapping him inside the car painting room until he suffocates. An interesting signifier during this scene is the fact that all of the paint is blue while all the previous cars they were shown working on were yellow. Zeke gives in to the union and takes a job as the shop foreman in exchange for him keeping his mouth shut. Jerry knows that he is in danger and narrowly escapes an attempt on his life. He then goes to the FBI in exchange for protection.
The most important scene in the movie comes at the very end. Jerry is going back to the shop with some FBI agents to pick up his stuff that was left behind. Zeke has become just like any other union man. He is the foreman, and all of the other workers dislike him. The most important signifier in the movie is the fight that happens between Jerry and Zeke in the last shot of the movie. It reiterates the whole point of the movie and the philosophy of the union portrayed in the movie. The union is trying to keep the working class down by keeping it divided. The union pits blacks against whites and workers against workers just so that the working class cannot build up the strength to move forward. The men are slaves to the union and have no power to change it.