No one dies in Sorry We Missed You, but the fight to survive has no end in sight

Sorry We Missed You is the latest film by Ken Loach, the poet laureate of the United Kingdom’s working class, who won the Palm D’Or just three years ago with I, Daniel Blake.  If not for Parasite, Loach should have won in 2019, for Sorry We Missed You is among his best work—better than I, Daniel Blake by a mile.

The film begins with a familiar conversation in the modern gig economy—a man, desperate for a job, is told, in the most empowering and dynamic possible terms, that he is not technically an employee of the company he is about to become the exclusive employee of, that he has no rights, no limits to his work hours, no safety net if anything in his life should go wrong. He’s to be a delivery truck driver, he’s to buy his own truck, and all of this is presented as a great opportunity, one he obsequiously says that he’s been waiting on for a long time.

It turns out that the man, Ricky (Kris Hitchen), is a great worker. He suffers the stresses of the demanding job quietly, sells his wife’s car to afford his truck, and promises his family that maybe in a year’s time, when they have enough money to put a down payment on a house, he will be able to cut down from 12 hour days six days a week. His wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood) is exemplary too, a caretaker of the elderly who takes the bus from house helping people who the world, and sometimes their own families, have left behind.

The two are kindhearted and still madly in love. They love their two children, the oldest of whom, a teenage boy named Seb (Rhys Stone), looks at their lives, and wants nothing less than to become them. In his view, society wants his parents to be automatons who sacrifice their lives, families and selfhood in order to work themselves to death. His parents are complying, something he can’t forgive. As he begins to rebel—skipping school, doing street art and shoplifting—his minor infractions start to unravel his parent’s fragile lives immediately. The truth is worse than his son knows—if Ricky misses even a moment of work, he could lose everything.

As the situation at home deteriorates, Ricky begs for one day off, and his job refuses to grant it. To add injury to insult, he’s mugged while making a delivery, and still, bloodied and bruised, can’t afford to miss a day. Tempers flare, and his family begs him to stop working, to come home, to do something to avoid sending himself to an early grave. He won’t, because he can’t—he has no other options. The only way he can keep his family in house and home is to abandon them, their wishes, his health and his own well-being.

The depot he works for is the most successful in the country, his boss explains. Their success is a model for how a business should be run. He knows he’s ruthless; he knows he’s heartless. To him, this is the only way forward in the modern world. The sad part is he’s right—he’ winning. People don’t want happy deliverymen—they want their packages on time. Ricky might die, but it’s the business whose life society cares about now, not one father and his family.

The best Ken Loach grabs your heart, squeezes it as hard as you can bear, and doesn’t let go even after the credits have rolled. This one surely won’t, but not because of the trauma of watching people’s pain. Rather, what will linger is your connection to these characters, one’s you’ll yearn to spend more time with, even if it means suffering the hard times with them.

I, Daniel Blake saw a man die to indict the system that killed him. No one dies in Sorry We Missed You, but their fight just to live has no end in sight. Why is this more visceral, more devastating?