Who is the tougher, the ones that campaign for jobs they never worked, or the workers who struggle on through shifting tones of politics and managerial conflicts they’ve no chance of grasping? The Working Class Goes to Heaven shows the wrought conflict between the two, although it would appear they have a common goal at heart. Elio Petri directs with confidence and concludes with the idea that, no, they do not have their ideas and moral values in line with one another. Why would they? They are from hugely different walks of life. It is that unity Petri wishes to unravel and pick apart within The Working Class Goes to Heaven.
One wakes up at the crack of dawn, slaving away in a job that barely pays them enough to cover the beat-up flat they live in with their slapdash family and the other is those without prospects. They can choose to live free and fast or follow in the footsteps of those they are protesting for. The Working Class Goes to Heaven is not an inherently leftist film. A reading of it by the standards of today would certainly suggest so, with its gifted message of workers’ rights and rebellions. But, given the context of Italy at the time, it is more a fearful reminder than anything else. Petri instead captures the day in the life of dissatisfaction. We are not meant to live life along the conveyer belt. Manufactured goods we are not, but Petri concedes that this is the way people feel.
How we feel and what we do are inherently different choices. Had Lulù Massa (Gian Maria Volontè) gone with his gut and broken free of this nondescript life, his quality of living may have improved. That isn’t to say the man is miserable, he merely looks defeated. He has a wife and child who he seemingly loves dearly, but surely, we must all wish for something beyond the 9 to 5 grind? I know I do, but The Working Class Goes to Heaven tries to tell both sides of the story. Security in the face of mind-numbing meaninglessness, comfort clashing with the desire to dream big and move on. It is one or the other for Lulù and his family. They can have one or the other, but they are torn apart as they try to decide on one.
Working hard at the detriment of others but the survival of the self is such an exceptionally interesting thought to toy with, and it is Petri who dedicates himself to unfurling both sides of the debate. A desirable, thought-provoking piece that wishes to present its message, not as something an audience should accept, but understand and chew over. Those are the best of films. Work is hell, or so it would look it. Men shouting into megaphones as the others are marched to their meaningless jobs. They are kept inside until nightfall. “For you, today, the sunlight will not be shining” a protestor shouts, to the complete disregard of those who have no choice but to work, consume and die.