“A person needs a job to survive, but you need work to feel like you’re worth something.”
Working Man, from writer/director Robert Jury, reflects a story that has been playing out in many communities, especially in Middle America. When plants close, putting people out of work, there are many levels of loss. In this film we walk with one of those who seems to have lost not just a job, but a sense of purpose and worth.
Allery Parkes (Peter Gerety) has worked at a plastics plant for decades. Each day he makes his lunch and walks to work. He does his job. He comes home. But today is different. He makes his lunch and walks to work. At 2:00 all workers are called off the job to collect their last paycheck. Others grumble that they made them put in a half day’s work just to get their check. But Allery stays at his machine, doing his job as he has every day since forever.
He’s lost for a few days. His wife Iola (Talia Shire) worries about him. Soon he is back to his old habits. Make lunch. Go to work. Come home. Except the work part is breaking into the factory and working. With no power all he can do is clean everything. And so he goes day after day. Until a neighbor and co-worker, Walt Brewer (Billy Brown) takes notice and follows him. Walt figures a way to get the power back on. When other co-workers note that something is happening, Walt tells them that he’s called the customers, and they want them to finish the contract. They have a week’s work to do. Every one joins in to meet the deadline.
The workers are ecstatic to have this work, and the hope that the company will see the value of keeping the plant running. But there are serious wrinkles that bring that hope crashing down. Allery has never been a leader, but the community looks to him for vision. When he discovers the truth, he has the hard job of bringing bad news. Both Walt and Allery have parts of their past they don’t want to deal with. But they cannot move on with their lives until they confront their personal demons.
At the beginning of the film, we are drawn to Allery. Gerety does an amazing job of showing us his emptiness and loss during the first 20 minutes. All this with very little dialogue, just his portrayal of Allery’s daily activity. Allery’s sense of loss and lostness fill the screen.
It is important to note that as we await to see what the economy will be like in the months following the corona virus shutdown, it is not unlikely that there will be significant job losses. Even during the shutdown, there are many people who are out of work and may or may not have jobs to go back to. There will be small businesses that will not make it through to the recovery. Many of those people may well feel like Allery and his co-workers. They understand that jobs are important, but so too is having a purpose that we often find in the work that we do. It is more than about paychecks (although we surely need those); it is about getting up each day and having something to do that matters.