Sometimes I think there are certain movies or bits of entertainment from the past that I’ll never fully enjoy because of their historical context. The movie Alien is a good example and so is Full Metal Jacket both of which are movies that are highly acclaimed but I’ve never felt as engaged with them as others. Maybe it’d because I’ve been “spoiled” by so much technology or horror/thriller/war moves in the time since these movies come out.
It’s possible that having this sort of vantage point on the movies gives me a significant benefit of perspective. I mean, I know a lot of the major twists, turns and themes of Alien and Full Metal Jacket and presumably the audiences back then didn’t and had never seen anything like either, etc.
None of which is to say I can’t (or don’t) appreciate these movies.
But they certainly don’t have the influence on me than they would for the people who watched them when they originally came out. And that’s okay, of course. It makes sense that I wouldn’t be affected as much by movie plots I’ve already seen or heard about online or seen done with shinier gadgets.
I suppose Office Space is another one of those movies.
Folks who are older than me (and some folks who are about the same age as me, to be fair) say that they love the movie. That it’s one of the funniest movies they’ve ever seen, one of the funniest movies of the 90s and so forth. I wouldn’t really go that far in either of those categories, personally. The movie has some chuckle-worthy lines and most of the characters are quirky and weird enough in their own ways to warrant a laugh, but not a particularly loud one.
Now, if you’re reading this blog I just want to assume you know the plot of Office Space…
But just in case: It’s about a man named Peter who hates his job and finds little to no pleasure in it. It’s basically a film that revolves around Peter’s struggle for meaning when most of his life is dedicated to activities that don’t hold much meaning for him. There are some colorful side characters, a few girlfriends, an asshole boss and a very lackadaisical feel to the general plot of the movie, as is appropriate I guess.
As appropriate as that may be however, it also makes for a fairly disjointed film.
Given this, the film seems to be split up into three major acts:
- Peter hates work
- Peter doesn’t care about work
- Peter cares a lot about work (in a negative sense)
To me, the movie seemed more like a scripted play with cameras and Hollywood stars, then a fully fleshed out movie. Certain plot points that seemed pivotal to point 2. for instance, were dropped in an instant for the sake of convenience.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit (why me?) that I’m not big into Mike Judge’s work.
I’ve never really watched Beevis and Butthead (I think I saw their movie once or twice on Comedy Central but don’t remember being super impressed), I haven’t watched much of Silicon Valley (maybe an episode or two) and in general I’m just have not gotten into any of his stuff.
Which…that’s kind of weird, right?
Judge is well known for writing slacker characters and people who intermingle within the context of work. Usually he’s satirizing work in some fashion or another and poking fun at it. And of course I like that sort of work and am happy to see more of it happen within media. But at the same time it’s what you do with that satire that matters as well.
And at least with Office Space I don’t feel like Judge really takes critiques of work very far. He critiques the (now) outdated cubicle model, corporate hierarchy, the mundane struggles of traffic, the small inanities of life and so on. These are all well-deserving of criticism and I think Judge does alright for whatever it’s worth.
Even so, it doesn’t really amount to anything.
The end of the movie doesn’t quite feel like it’s really gotten us anywhere important or noteworthy. I mean the results in location terms are rather drastic but overall the characters don’t actually end up changing that much with regards to how they feel about work. And I’m well aware the movie isn’t much more than a work-based comedy, I get that.
But at the end of the day, I would’ve liked more character resolution towards my own biases.
Is that so much to ask?
To be fair, yeah, it kind of is.
But there are still plenty of finer details to relish in.
For example the companies of Initech and Initrode being so similar was an obvious nod to the fact that faceless and bureaucratic corporations can often be highly analogous to each other. The constant overview shots of the workers throughout the film as well as the fact that most folks can see, hear or talk to each other creates this sort of environment where you feel simultaneously policed and like you are policing.
Especially early in the film we see multiple characters of lesser note dismiss the fact that people are struggling with their jobs. This is something that we all tend to do and showing how annoying it can be for the people involved to hear that sort of feedback is a great feature of the film.
One of my favorite parts of the film is the “jump to conclusions” mat which is definitely not the stupidest idea.
Past all of the silly conversations and observations there are also sometimes deeper (well “deeper”) questions in play during Judge’s film. “What would you do with a million dollars?” If everyone had that sort of money would society simply collapse because no one would do the shitty work? In the time of automation, that seems unlikely.
There’s a few tactics discussed about how to deal with work:
- Come up with a great idea
- Avoid the boss, duck out early and turn off your [mobile device]
- Fall in love
- Work just hard enough so as not to be fired, no more than that
One thing that movie does is exceptionally well is show the hazards of emotional labor and how bosses tend to police it. They’ll tell you that you can express yourself however you want but of course it has to be done in just the way that they want or else it’s “the bare minimum”.
Doesn’t matter what you see
Or into it what you read
You can do it your own way
If it’s done just how I say
The typical corporate environment ravishes in this sort of logic as well as still promoting “the good of the company” over the individuals. But don’t worry, because you can still wear your Hawaiian shirts (if you want to) next casual Friday!
Isn’t freedom grand?
The film is worth a mandatory watch if you’re anti-work, especially if you happen to be at work itself.
But personally, I’d say watch it once and put it back on the shelf.
If you donate to my Patreon I promise you it will be everything you thought it’d be.
Not really, I just wanted an excuse to misquote the movie.
And if you don’t donate, “…Well…okay…but that’s the last straw.”