New SA-Irish film explores the complexity of globalised society

Sifiso is a teenager who dreams of escaping his shack in a Cape Town township in Phil Harrison’s indie movie The Good Man. (Supplied)

Sifiso is a teenager who dreams of escaping his shack in a Cape Town township in Phil Harrison’s indie movie The Good Man. (Supplied)

Indie film The Good Man, made as an innovative crowd-funded film by Ireland-born Phil Harrison, offers a view into seemingly disconnected worlds. 

Our lives are full of contradictions, some of which we are aware of and try to reconcile. More often than not, we become lost in our daily lives, trying to do the best we can for ourselves and our families, unaware of the ways in which our good intentions play out within the matrix of our increasingly globalised society. 

On of the twoThe Good Man protagonists, Michael, is an upwardly mobile young Irishman whose life takes a turn for the worse after an act of selfishness causes a freak accident. 

Sifiso is a young shack-dweller living in Cape Town. He is intelligent and headstrong enough to be one of the few in his community who is on his way to university. 

Both Michael and Sifiso are faced with the same predicament: how to be good when so much in the world is bad.

The Film
The film brilliantly weaves through the lives of both individuals and tells not just a story of the struggle to be dependable and honourable people, but also the struggle for survival itself. 

How can Michael overcome the guilt and alienation that begins to pervade his consciousness after the “accident”? Does he tell his wife the secret that is eating him up? What can he do to assuage his guilt?

Will Sifiso be able to persevere with all the financial and social barriers in his way? When his community’s electricity is cut off, does he choose to focus only on his studies or to join the anti-eviction campaign and risk jail to make sure his neighbours are reconnected?

The Good Man has subtitles for those who do not speak isiXhosa.
But for anyone who does speak the language and is acquainted with ekasi, the film is a linguistic treat. Despite the director being European, the film accurately portrays local mannerisms, humour and slang. On the other hand, subtitles are unfortunately not provided for the thick Irish accents that take up half the movie.

The Good Man goes deeper into a specific juncture of our co-dependency with people we have never met. It reminds us that the fate of the murdered miners in Marikana has been intimately linked with the decisions of Lonmin shareholders in London. 

A family priced out of their home of 40 years in Cape Town’s gentrifying Woodstock neighbourhood is intertwined with the passion of Netherlands football fans watching the 2010 World Cup semifinals on television. 

In a world increasingly interconnected by predatory finance, exploitative industries and profit-driven media, no action we take can be purely innocent and devoid of consequences for others, no matter how “good” we try to be.

The more global inequalities are augmented and huge swaths of capital are accumulated into fewer and fewer hands, the more the effect of these flows becomes progressively one-sided and repressive.

This is why one can be an “upstanding citizen” like Patrice Motsepe, who donated half his net worth to charity while, at the same time, remaining culpable for the unseen destruction of families exploited through African Rainbow Minerals’ investments. 

His philanthropy cannot be divorced from the meagre wages mines give to miners for doing one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Nor does it make up for the fact that the migrant labour system creates unserviced shack communities rife with violence and prostitution, inside and outside the mines. 

Even more to the point, “giving back” does not mean that Motsepe and other executives like him did not benefit from the slave-like labour of others while they sat in comfortable air-conditioned offices telling other people what to do. Motsepe wants people to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” when most of the money he makes comes from his political connections and the hard work of others.

Of all people, Peter Buffett seems to realise rthat his own philanthropy cannot account for the central role his billionaire father, Warren Buffett, plays in destroying people’s lives. He says of wealthy philanthropists: “All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left.”

Near the end of the film, both protagonists overcome a range of obstacles in their way. Ultimately, however, good intentions — in fact, real acts of charity — cannot mitigate the way capitalism destroys the lives of the poor. In this world, everyone is culpable.

Perhaps it isn’t the Hollywood ending you may be used to, but The Good Man delivers a powerful truth about they ways in which capitalism's insatiable drive for profit simultaneously builds and destroys our world.

What makes The Good Man so exceptional is that it clearly illustrates how global inequalities play out in everyday life, without the dense academic jargon or the typical mainstream oversimplification.

Jared Sacks

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