“Excuse me, I believe you have my stapler…” – Mike Judge’s Office Space
It’s Monday. The alarm goes off. You hit snooze. It goes off again 10 minutes later. Remarkably you find the will to get out of bed (fighting the urge to sink back into its somniferous warmth). You brush the sleep out of your eyes, take a shower and have some breakfast, and make the morning commute to the office. And then you sit in front of a computer for 8 hours, looking at lines and lines of data, talking to people (for the most part) you have little or no concern for, before making the commute back home. After 4 hours you go to bed. And then you wake up and do it all over again. For the next 45 years.
Most of us are aware of this insanity, and are powerless to do anything about it. But it is always refreshing to see the white-collar culture dissected in a fictional medium. The Office is the most popular example of this, and yet there was something before Ricky Gervais’ creation that captured this sentiment so clearly.
This is Office Space, a film by Mike Judge, creator of the delinquent duo Beavis & Butthead and Texan based cartoon, King of the Hill.
Peter Gibbons (Band of Brothers’ Ron Livingston) is a thirty-something year old man who leads a disillusioned life as an office worker at Initech. He has a sneaking suspicion his girlfriend is cheating on him, and has to swallow orders from a micromanaging, insensible boss, Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole). So far, so relatable. But when Peter’s girlfriend persuades him to see a hypnotherapist about his cynicism, the film takes a bizarre turn. In mid-hypnotic suggestion, the therapist suffers a massive heart attack, leaving Peter to ‘wake up’ in a semi-blissful state. As a result, his attitude towards life loses all social or work induced anxieties.
And so it begins, with a plethora of phone messages, ‘I’ve been cheating on you!’ exclaims his girlfriend, along with several hilarious messages left by Lumbergh, asking in a mild mannered but increasingly frustrated tone why his employee has not showed up for work. Peter’s ‘screw you’ attitude is both funny and envious – who wouldn’t want to tell it exactly as it is?
The introduction of consultants to the company – those pesky ‘intermediaries’ we all come to loathe – works humorously on both sides, with one scene highlighting the often pointless roles people seem to find themselves in (one consultant, Bob Slydell, played by Scrubs’ John C. McGinley, asks an employee ‘What would you say ya do here?’) and another scene in which Peter remarks facetiously, ‘Good luck with your layoffs, all right? I hope your firings go really well.’
But Peter’s newly adopted detachment appears to dissipate when he realises two of his colleagues are in line for redundancy. It is on discussing the gravity of their situation that you find one of the best lines – a sentiment which is felt, if not by all, then certainly by many, ‘Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements.’
Indeed, in the second half of the film it appears that Peter regresses back to his former self. His paranoia over new girlfriend Joanna (Jennifer Aniston) as she mentions a previous – and seemingly familiar – conquest, sees his feelings very firmly rooted in reality again. Not to mention a plot that leaves him and his colleagues facing a potential lifetime in ‘Federal pound me in the ass prison.’
The pacing and characterisation is typical of a Mike Judge creation, and as such it is a film I have often gone back to. While the plot is a straightforward affair, it shares the same atmosphere as Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic, or even Napolean Dynamite (counting myself a fan, while acknowledging its ‘Marmite’ appeal). Simply put, it’s a great film to sit back and relax to. And you’ll pick up on new lines and references at least a couple of times over.
So please, fill in your TPS reports before you leave the office, and then turn on, tune in and drop out to this hilarious tale of a mundane culture that has defined modern man. ’Fucking A’.