Movies That Settle: Office Space

Posted: December 3, 2015 in Movies That Settle

One simple sentence: “I don’t like my job, and I don’t think I’m gonna go anymore.”

Make sure you put the accent on “go,” as Ron Livingston’s Peter Gibbons did in the 90’s workplace comedy brought to us by the masterful Mike Judge,Office Space.

Like my last post, this isn’t a movie that I have recently re-discovered, but this is one that was always near-and-dear to my heart. When I first saw it in 1999, I loved it for the corporate zaniness, the Superman III-referencing thievery, and the awesome printer beat-down scene. But it was released in 1999, and I was just a spry 22 year-old, cock-eyed optimist with dreams of becoming the next Tarantino. I was actually still working two part-time jobs at the time, so I really couldn’t identify with the premise. In fact, even when I actually got a “real” job later that year, I didn’t have to deal with the cubicle-Hell madness that Peter and his colleagues do in the movie.

Alas, the year is now 2015, and as I stand on the precipice of 40, my job has changed somewhat, and I get a little more Office Space in my life than I ever wanted. I don’t have a boss like Bull Lumberg, but I am waiting for the day when I am asked to move my desk into the basement like poor Milton. (I do, by the way, have a red Swingline stapler.)

stapler

So, what’s all the hub-bub about? Well, Office Space follows Peter and his hapless co-workers , Michael Bolton and Samir Nagheenanajar (two of the best character names in movie history) as they trudge through life at Initech, a software company that is in the process of updating all their bank systems for the year 20o0 switch (remember that whole fracas?) Peter is annoyed at the clamor that arises when he makes one minor mistake, like not attaching a cover sheet to his TPS reports, and for being asked to work on the weekend. Meanwhile Michael Bolton has daily squabbles with the office printer. Samir is equally unhappy, but more because no one can pronounce his name.

tumblr_mfwcwqPRSC1s1kqrno1_500

To try and alleviate his malaise, Peter’s girlfriend takes him to an Occupational Hypnotherapist, who tries hypnotizing his blues away. Unfortunately, right as Peter is falling under, the hypnotherapist has a fatal heart attack and dies, leaving Peter in a happy haze. He awakens the next morning, er, afternoon, to several messages from his boss, asking him why he isn’t at work. He also receives a call from his girlfriend, who was wondering the same thing. Peter simply responds that he didn’t feel like going in. While she begins to berate him for flaking out, he simply hangs up on her, effectively ending the relationship. Peter then hilariously falls back into bed while she screams into his answering machine that she’s been cheating on him.

The following week, Peter still forgoes work, deciding instead to courageously ask out the local waitress, Joanna, played by Jennifer Aniston in full-on Friends mode. It is during this date that we learn of Peter’s epiphany: he doesn’t like his job, and he doesn’t think he’s going to go anymore.

Meanwhile, Initech has hired two consultants, “The Bobs,”played brilliantly by John C. McGinly and Cheers‘ Paul Wilson, to trim the fat at the company. As the go through the staff, they determine that Michael and Samir are expendable, and Milton, the mumbly, stapler-obsessed office wierdo played by Stephen Root, who was laid off but still receives a paycheck. will no longer receive it, so the “problem will work itself out.” Oddly enough, even though Peter told them how much he dislikes working there and how he hates having 8 bosses and how no matter how hard he works, his pay never increases, The Bobs feel he’s worthy of a promotion. Now super-angry at the company, Peter, Michael and Samir pull the  old “Superman III” heist, where they run a virus in the company’s computer system that will drop tenths of a penny into an account several million times, so that over a few years they will make a lot of money. This, of course, backfires, and the transfer takes hours instead of years. Peter decides to return the money and take the fall. Fortunately, Milton finds the returned money before his bosses do, and sets the building on fire, as revenge for his boss stealing his red Swingline stapler (among other things. Maybe being fired, but probably the stapler.) Peter ends up taking a job in construction, enjoying the outdoors. Michael and Samir go to work for the competing software company, while Milton ends up on a beach resort, having absconded with their money.

But that’s just the surface stuff. The part that really resonates with me now that I missed back in ’99 is the conversation Peter has with the two consultants.  After telling them comically that he comes in 15 minutes late every day, and then spaces out for an hour, staring at his desk, appearing to be working, the conversation then turns to what I feel is the film’s main message, as much as a comedy can have a message. Remember, nothing is written into a movie by accident. Peter illustrates that the reason he hates his job is “a problem of motivation,” that if he works really hard and the company makes more money, he still doesn’t see any of it in his check. He points out how annoying it is to have all 8 of his bosses come down on him for making one small mistake. And the part where I feel Mike Judge was really trying to get his point across, Peter closes his rant with

That’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

I won’t say that he is speaking for all of us, but let’s face, he’s speaking for a lot of us. I’m pretty sure that for every person who just loves their job, there’s one or two who are just doing it to not get hassled (or if you’re like me, for health insurance.) Think about it; how many people do you know who do their job just hard enough not to get fired, or because they’re afraid not to work, or most likely just for the money? What does it say about the world we live in when there are literally thousands of employed people who at this very moment are probably only working just hard enough not to get fired? And I’m not knocking them. They are probably all like Peter Gibbons in that no matter how hard they work, they won’t see another dime in their paycheck. This isn’t exactly an epic revelation, I know, but it’s still something that hasn’t been put into words quite as succinctly as it is here. And when you think about it, it does kind of suck. The American Dream of getting a good education to get a job and get married and buy a house and have kids and then retire after 30-some years kind of seems wasteful when you may have spent most of that time working just hard enough not to get fired.

The movie tacks on a sort of Hollywood Ending by having Peter admit to Joanna that he doesn’t know why he can’t just go to work and be happy. Joanna echoes his statement by saying that’s just what people do. Basically find something you sort of like and soldier on. Now, according to the DVD extras, Judge faced a lot of studio backlash while making this movie, and I’m willing to bet my meager salary which doesn’t go up when I work really hard that these lines were shoe-horned in at the behest of the 20th Century Fox people, who just needed the hero to not seem so bad. The weird thing is that Joanna also had a bout with her boss (played by Judge himself, in his most Hank Hill-iness) regarding her uniform. In a total T.G.I.Friday’s send-off, Joanna is required to wear 15 “pieces of flair,” or buttons to the non-corporate folks, on her person every shift. She gets spoken to for not “expressing herself” enough, because she is wearing only the required 15 pieces. Joanna is chastised for only doing the bare minimum, so for her, even doing what she’s supposed to isn’t enough. She eventually quits the job, expressing herself by flipping off her boss. However, at the end of the movie, we learn that she has gotten another waitress job at a competing restaurant. Presumably, there is no flair involved, but I still find it odd that they wouldn’t find something else for her to do. Or perhaps this is another statement by Judge that it doesn’t really matter. And maybe that’s what she was communicating when she was speaking to Peter about soldiering on.

Of course, even though everything in the movie is true, we still have to work for money, right? Office Space tackles that topic, as well, when the characters debate that silly test most high-schoolers take about what they would do if they had a million dollars. Michael rightly posits that the entire concept is ridiculous, because no one would put down janitor, because no one would clean shit up if they had a million dollars. Peter’s neighbor Lawrence, eloquently states that if he had a million dollars, he would simply do “two chicks at the same time, man.”

lawrence-from-office-space

 

When Peter says that, if he had a million dollars, he would do absolutely nothing, Lawrence the Wise points out that you don’t need a million dollars to do that, as his cousin is broke and he “don’t do shit.”

I suppose that is what the movie has taught me as it has settled. It’s not about one man’s quest to do nothing, or a botched, Superman III-style heist, or even about three guys slaving away for a faceless corporation. It is about all that stuff, but also a lot more. The main idea is, as the tagline at the bottom of the poster says, “Work Sucks.” It sucks when you have to answer to eight bosses. It sucks to comply to the uniform requirements and get criticized for it. It sucks that the magazine salesman, who is a former programmer for Initech‘s competitor, makes more money selling subscriptions door-to-door than he ever did as a corporate worker bee. It all sucks. Even the dream job is still hard work. So, what’s the answer? I’m not sure. Maybe find something you like and stick with it?

Maybe the studio had it right, after all.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s