The Mill, directed by Sean King O’Grady, questions the perspectives held by the majority in modern-day society. It makes you introspect your sensibilities and asks if your purpose in life is actually something that you want to achieve or if you have been brainwashed into believing that. The film is a critique of the process of commodification and the corporate culture that has made people slaves. The Mill takes an extreme viewpoint, which might not hold true for every person, but we believe that it is a kind of choice that the director ended up making because you want the essence to come out clearly. Though we knew what sort of ending it was going to have, the execution kept us on the edge and hooked at all times. The symbolism and imagery used by Sean King O’Grady in The Mill reminded us of a Netflix psychological thriller, The Platform, and the things it ended up saying about today’s corporate culture, made us stop and ponder what we are doing with our lives. So let’s find out what was happening in the life of Joe, how he got stuck in that prison, and if he was ever able to escape from there.
What tasks were given to the inmates?
Joe woke up and couldn’t remember how he had come to that holdout. He was in a state of panic as last he remembered he was working at Mallard, his company, and making strategies for climbing the ladder of success and getting a promotion. His wife was pregnant, and he had come to know that he was going to have a baby boy. All his plans were now spoiled as he was stuck in prison for no apparent reason, and he didn’t know how to get out of there. Just then, Joe heard the voice of another inmate coming from the small ventilation area, and he got to know that apart from him, there were a lot of other people present there, too. There was a digital board installed on the wall in every cell, and on it, the daily tasks of the inmates were displayed.
There was an AI in place that gave tasks to the inmates, and the parameters were set according to the algorithm, which changed every day. There was a mill at the center of the cell, and the AI told Joe that he had to rotate it and make sure that he got the required quota every day. Now, the catch was that even if you exceeded the quota, you could be terminated if your score was the lowest as compared to all the other inmates. The day started at 6 a.m. in the morning, and the inmates had time to put in the maximum number of rotations until 10 p.m.
Now, because nobody knew how much the other was scoring, there was always this insecurity and anxiety that they felt, and they just couldn’t stop unless there was no energy left in their body to push that Mill. The inmates got a bottle of water and a limited amount of food early in the morning, and after that, even if they felt hungry, they didn’t get anything. On the first day, Joe’s quota was only 50 rotations, but he went on till 100 as he just wanted to make sure that he was safe, considering he had heard the screeches of the people who were terminated the other night. Joe’s neighbor kept feeding him information; he never told Joe his name and asked him to keep doing whatever he was being told if he wanted to survive.
Was Joe able to come out of prison?
Joe got a penalty in the first few days itself, in The Mill, and he was told that for that particular day, two rotations would be counted as 1, and his quota for the day was increased to 370 rotations. Joe couldn’t understand what kind of advanced career training the AI was giving them and how he would be able to complete that task. Even doing 100 was a hassle, and it had drained out every ounce of energy from his body, and now he had to do seven times more than that. The first day, Joe was not able to complete it, and then the AI named Mallard, threatened him that to motivate him, they were going to bring his wife into prison. That’s when Joe got really paranoid, and he did those 700-odd rotations the very next day.
Joe’s neighbor had told him that the guy named Alex who lived in his cell before him was the only person who was able to escape from there. There was a blind spot for the CCTV camera behind the pillar, and Alex had made a mark there on the wall. Joe started scraping the wall with the pen that the AI had given him earlier to complete his task. Joe found out that there was a narrow tunnel behind the walls, and he decided to go inside and find out if he could escape from there. Joe crossed the tunnel, but he was caught by the guards, and the next day, he found himself back in his cell. Joe came to the conclusion that if he could convince all the inmates not to do even one rotation, then all of them would be at the same score, i.e., zero, and then the AI wouldn’t be able to terminate either of them. It was for the first time in The Mill that Joe believed that he could get the better of the AI, but that plan also failed because of the lack of trust between the people. The inmates got insecure and anxious, and they started rotating The Mill just when the day was about to get over. Joe was miserable and disheartened, and he didn’t know what else he could do to stop the torture.
Meanwhile, he got to know that the neighbor with whom he had been talking for all that time, was Alex, though he, too, was thrown back to his cell after he had tried to escape from the same tunnel. Alex had to pay a huge price for conspiring with Joe, and the guards broke his legs. Joe, by the end, had just given up. He was done listening to the advertisements that played on the screen throughout the day. He was done seeing his kid and his wife lead their lives without him. It was too much torture, and so one day, he decided that he wouldn’t follow the commands of the AI and let it do whatever it wanted to. As expected, a guard came in with 12 witnesses, as was the mandate to execute Joe. Joe brutally bashed the guard named Johnny, and moments after that, he woke up from his slumber in the real world and realized that he was part of a simulation being run by his company. Joe just couldn’t process things since he was told by Johnny, who also worked for the company, that he had been there in the simulation for only 60 minutes. Joe’s wife was still pregnant, and everything else was still in place. The simulation was supposed to make a candidate go through a process of self-evolution where they could stretch their limits and work for the company, but it had the opposite impact on Joe, and his sensibilities had changed completely.
What will Joe do with the company?
Joe was told that he was being promoted and that he had performed exceptionally well in the simulation. But now Joe had realized what he had been doing in the name of being productive. A lot of people make their work their life, and what they don’t realize is that it is just a very small part of their lives. A person’s life consists of many other things, and the people who are a part of it feel demeaned when you prioritize your work each and every time over them. Yes, it gives you a means of sustenance, but the problem arises when you give it more importance than you should. Ranks, promotions, and productivity are terms that are used by any and every corporate house to brainwash a person. Alex told Joe in prison that, though they were being awarded for the work they did, they hadn’t created anything tangible.
The rotation of The Mill symbolizes the nonsensical things that, a lot of times, people have to do sitting in their air-conditioned cubicle, which does nothing but put them in shackles. In an ideal world, there should have been no debate about work-life balance because work shouldn’t have ever come in the way of life. Joe saw how commodification hadn’t even spared human emotions, and during the simulation, there were advertisements for various products that sponsored even the death of a person. It left us scared of how everything was about money and how the true essence of happiness and success was lost in oblivion. It was a world where “enough” was never enough, and the individuals were made to compete in a rat race where, apart from insecurity and perpetual anxiety disorder, they didn’t get anything.
People in developing nations have excruciating working hours, and they have surrendered to their circumstances, and somehow, it has become the normal code of conduct. You are given a puny reward at the end, maybe a festival bonus, so that you are part of that eternal recurrence where you constantly reduce your quality of life.
During The Mill‘s ending, Joe took the resolve to destroy Mallard, the AI, and come out of this botched-up system. We don’t know if he would be able to shut down the company, but surely, he wouldn’t be a part of the proceedings, as he didn’t want to be a part of the lie they were selling and ruin his life anymore.