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Fast Fashion In Lorcan Finnegan's Nocebo

Nocebo movie poster
Image Credit: IMDb

Nocebo opens with Christine trying to direct her fashion show. As the children bounce up the runway, she receives a phone call. We know it’s a “bad call” because Christine is dazed by the revelation. Immediately, the buzzy atmosphere that had dominated the plot turns eerie and an ominous ambiance is introduced by the appearance of a voodoo dog who shakes uncontrollably as it approaches Christine transferring some of its ticks to her. The dog later vanishes giving an illusion that it might have all played out in Christine’s head. The plot abandons the scene and jumps 8 months post the fashion show where we find the bubbly character we once knew, a shadow of her former self. There’s not much detail on how her empire has crumbled but we can connect the dots to the mysterious illness she suffers from.

At the heart of the mystery behind the illness is the incidence of fast fashion which is chipped in brilliantly. We get to enjoy this twist because of the way it is perfectly timed and cleverly balanced by the supernatural and mystical revelations that invade the story at every turn. Nocebo is a psychological thriller that retains pretty much every element of a psychological thriller; the mystery, the foreboding, the upbeat tempo and the ominous atmosphere but there's something that transforms it into the unique story that it is. Taking a cue from its dictionary meaning; Nocebo (noh-SEE-boh) is a harmless substance or treatment that may cause harmful side effects or worsening of symptoms because the patient thinks or believes they may occur or expects them to occur. The plot of Lorcan Finnegan’s Nocebo reflects similar characteristics to the meaning of the word however there’s a twist. Nocebo runs back and forth with a message mild enough to hide in plain sight but gradually it becomes obvious that the plot covertly hinges on this detail.

Nocebo cleverly makes an allusion to the price and cost of trendy for cheap (aka fast fashion.) Like the name suggests, fast fashion is predicated on the idea of getting the newest styles on the market as fast as possible. It trades quality for quantity and samples ideas from celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at an unhealthy speed to meet consumer demand. Nocebo propels us to look around and ask the question “At what cost?” Due to the speed at which these clothes need to be made, their production is often associated with exploitative and abusive labor practices. Nocebo brilliantly builds on these facts and borrows details from some of the nastiest fashion incidents that are associated with this concept. The New York Triangle Shirtwaist Factory incident comes to mind. A tragedy that saw a fire outbreak claim the lives of 146 garment workers, many of whom were young, female immigrants. We are also reminded of the 2012 fire at the Tazreen Fashion Factory in Bangladesh that killed at least 117 people and the Rana Plaza accident incident which saw 1,100 people perish and 2,500 injured. It was reported shortly after this incident that building inspections were done on 1,106 factories used by fast fashion companies and 80,000 safety related issues were found. When viewed independently and collectively these incidents reveal much of what is wrong with the fast fashion industry; the poor working conditions and the slave labor that is associated with it.

The fast fashion industry reportedly employs approximately 75 million factory workers worldwide. Of those workers it is estimated that less than 2% of them make a living wage. We also find many of these workers working up to 16 hours a day and 7 days a week. In Nocebo, we are reminded of this harsh truth which is vividly illustrated in the conversation between Christine and one of her employees whom she instructs to increase production from 25 T-shirts an hour to 30 per hour. The employee immediately advises against this stating that the quality of the T-shirts would suffer but she responds that where there is a will there's a way. Nocebo reminds us of all the fast fashion industry represents, the labor crimes and most importantly the lives it costs.

In portraying the fast fashion industry in such a deadly light, Nocebo forces creatives to reckon with their process of bringing art into the world, what it will cost themselves and those around them. Whether it be to illuminate what not to do, or clarify a way forward in your own work, Nocebo is worth the watch.

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