The short film “Shift“, directed by Jonathan Yi, is a slice of life film that follows a young man named Alex as he begins a new job working night shifts processing envelopes. Throughout the film, Alex experiences the way of life of a working class person and learns his co-workers’ outlooks on the world. By the end of the film, Alex has begun to recognize his privileged position and reject that lifestyle. In this way, “Shift” portrays differences in class and privilege between a young college student, like Alex, and the working class. It provides a window into a side of life that many are not familiar with and forces them to look the disparity of wealth and privilege right in the face.
“Shift” exhibits the class differences between Alex and the workers in many ways throughout the film. Firstly,there is the issue of financial stability and hardship. The audience learns that Alex is just working the job in order to pay for head shots for his acting career so he can continue with acting school. Meanwhile, many of his co-workers are working both day shifts at other jobs and night shifts there just in order to make ends meet. This is contrasted with his female acquaintance that helps him get the commercial spot, who lives in a lavish home with hired help and a sports car that she received for her 16th birthday. It is also ironic that the envelopes that the men who must work day and night are working with are from men with over five million dollars, as Alex’s boss reveals at the beginning. Alex is able to see both sides of the spectrum of wealth in this way and seems to realize the unfairness of it all by the end.
The difference in mindset between Alex and his co-workers is also shown throughout the film. Many of them buy into stereotypes and judge each other accordingly, such as when they question Alex about not eating rice as a Korean. They also don’t recognize the value of artistry or academics as Alex does. They question how much Alex is spending on acting classes and dismiss his work and his costuming for the commercial (“Makeup is for girls”). Perhaps the most poignant example of the difference in mindset is when Alex is talking about how expensive his head shot photographs would be and a co-worker suggests letting Wang take them for a low price since Alex will look the same no matter what the pictures cost. This really shows that to his co-workers, money is the only real concern and that quality is negligible. When Alex talks about his commercial, all the care about is if he made good money doing it. To them, it isn’t important to worry about artistry and artistic merit because money is the one constraining factor that dictates their existence.
Finally, the last main difference that the film shows between Alex and the other workers is their aspirations and views of the future. Alex has dreams and goals. He wants to finish his education, become an actor, and accomplish great things. This night shift job is just a stepping stone to larger goals for him. To the other workers, this job was their livelihood. There isn’t anything in life for them beyond working day and night to just get by each paycheck. They have no sense of a future or any aspirations. The one worker who sits in the background the whole film, reveals himself as Mark at the end and speaks with Alex. He tells Alex how he thought about driving his motorcycle off the road and killing himself on the way to work. To Mark, there is nothing to stop him from doing that, nothing to live another day for. He tells Alex, “That’s what life is, always getting stiffed”. Unlike Alex, who has dreams and aspirations for the future, Mark and the others have lost any aspirations they may have had and, in Mark’s case, may have lost faith in life itself.