I was browsing the library a few weeks ago, and came across this movie called C.O.G., which is based off of an essay from author David Sedaris’ essay collection Naked (I have not yet read it). I rented it because I had already seen quite a few other movies in the theaters and wanted to try something I hadn’t heard of before.
Turns out that the lead actor in C.O.G., who looked familiar and also looked like an old acquaintance of mine, voiced Kristoff in the film Frozen. In C.O.G. Jonathan Groff plays a college-aged version of David Sedaris, but to deal with his homophobic mom not talking to him and to find himself after dropping out of Yale, he goes to work at an apple orchard in Oregon. He takes a long bus ride to the state and endures wild conversations with other passengers, and when he arrives he doesn’t fit in, being the only white guy working at the orchard. The individuals who work at the orchard are mostly Latino and not paid fair wages, and they are really just trying to make ends meet. But David (he goes by Samuel to protect his identity) acts as if it isn’t a hard job. He reads Thoreau, feeling it’s okay to take a break, and expects to drive a car to get butane for the farm owner’s machinery when he ends up lugging it manually across hilly terrain. His friend Jennifer comes to the orchard with her boyfriend Rob and tells David to come with them to San Francisco, but David says he has made friends at the orchard and is staying put. She asks him what he is doing with his life, and he asks her what she is doing with hers. Pedro, one of the employees at the orchard who befriends David, leaves for Los Angeles with some other employees so they can find better paying employment. David, however, sticks around and ends up working in the apple packing plant and moving to a trailer. At lunch he tries to make friends with the other plant employees but they make fun of his book-smart personality. Brian (nicknamed “Curly”) makes friends with David and the two immediately hit it off at work, so they go out drinking and then Brian brings him to meet his mom. He tries to make advances towards David when they are alone, but David panics and runs away.
David remembers that a man selling pamphlets about Christianity approached him when he was lugging that heavy container of butane for his boss. At first David isn’t interested, but then as the film goes on, he starts believing in God because he feels lost in life and needs a solid belief system on which he can base himself. The film deals a lot with the topic of faith and the individual. David identifies at first as an atheist, but he is wandering around not knowing what to do with his life. This film makes a great commentary about finding one’s purpose because in real life, there are people who don’t know what to do with their life so they travel in order to “find themselves”. It kind of reminded me of the time a college professor laughed at me for working at Starbucks after I had gotten my degree in philosophy (he asked what I was doing after college) and I told a friend of mine about it, and he said that had I maybe said “I’m taking time off to find myself”, he probably wouldn’t have reacted the way he did. But as I thought more, I realized I wouldn’t have “found myself” by traveling any more than I had paying my bills and working in food service.
In fact, I “found myself” while working in food service: I learned I could be great at sales. I learned to smile. I learned to not take minor things personally, such as when people threw their money at me. I also learned to be a human being and study other human beings. Working in low-paying entry-level jobs after graduation taught me about sticking things out, and they also taught me to better appreciate people who have careers in service jobs. Food service is actually the perfect Psychology/Sociology/Philosophy/Economics course there is, because you learn not just to improve your interpersonal skills, but also you gain insight into consumer habits, the psychology of spending on coffee every day. Of course, I’m not judging people for buying coffee every day, it was just interesting to observe. David ends up being miserable working at the apple packing plant, and when he bites into one of the apples on the conveyor belts, immediately spits it out, his coworker screaming at him that the apples are sprayed with pesticides. He tells Brian that he now knows after working this job that people work in miserable low-paying conditions to harvest and ship our produce to our grocery stores, so he has a deeper appreciation for those who work in the produce industry. In a Vulture interview, Groff says that he grew up in rural Pennsylvania near an Amish community, and his dad woke him up every morning to shovel horse excrement in the stalls, so when he got to New York City and waited tables as an actor, it was nowhere near as strenuous as working on a farm.
The film’s message about faith is also pretty interesting. It reminded me of the movie The Miseducation of Cameron Post because that film also deals with the ways in which people’s interpretations of religion and religious texts can be harmful. in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a young woman’s aunt sends her to gay conversion therapy, where the participants attempt to use religion to suppress their sexuality. At first, Cameron is one of a few outcasts in the program who doesn’t believe in God, but as the film goes on, the tactics of the camp counselors turns out to harm the other participants in very disturbing ways. What I have learned from educating myself on religion is that people’s interpretations of what faith is can obscure the actual philosophy of faith itself. In both of these movies, Christians are depicted as homophobic, and both Cameron and David in these movies wrestle with their faith in God and whether they can still be gay and Christian. Of course, any one of any religion can misinterpret a religious text just because they feel they can, but that doesn’t make it right for them to do so and that doesn’t mean that everyone who follows that faith believe the same thing. People have different ideas based on their biases, and these subjective viewpoints condition how people approach religious texts, such as The Bible and The Quran. For every Westboro Baptist Church touting homophobic posters and songs, there is a church with an LGBTQ+ flag waving proudly outside its doors.
Overall, it was an intriguing film.
C.O.G. 2013. Rated R for language and some sexual content.