1999 was an incredible and unique year for movies in America. In an era where Hollywood would regularly produce thought-provoking content that did not dumb it down for audience and would tackle tricky real-life topics without a filter, it may have been the golden age of film for those of us in the Millennial generation. While not as ‘politically correct’, these movies such as ‘Office Space’ challenged our assumptions, made us question our modern comforts, and perhaps most importantly showed us the ridiculousness of having flair as a waiter or waitress at a chain restaurant as a part of the service given.
Poking fun at chain restaurants is far from the only good thing about ‘Office Space’, one of my favorite movies of all-time. During that year of 1999, two other excellent movies placed a mirror in front of our society and made us reflect on whether ‘modern’ was really that good and whether ‘materialism’ was that spiritually enlightening. While not as complex as ‘The Matrix’ or as serious as ‘American Beauty’, ‘Office Space’ is a comedy but not your average one. It chides you with wisecracking humor but also lays bare certain aspects of American adult life that are not just unpleasant but downright silly.
Whether it is a loud co-worker talking too much over the phone, a crappy printer that just won’t do its job, meaningless reports to file each week, or an obnoxious boss who makes you come in on the weekends, ‘Office Space’ is an ode to the white collar worker who despite the good health care benefits and the steady salary is unfulfilled with his life and is not sure why.
Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) is exasperated with his office job in IT (Information Technology) at a software company, Initech. He goes out of his way to avoid his obnoxious and micro-managing boss, Bill Lumbergh, who insists on him working on the weekends but also indicates wanting covers on the TPS reports, which is a mindless and meaningless task. Peter is comfortable with the job but knows deep down it isn’t satisfying him and he comes into work dreading it each day. Peter dislikes most of his co-workers including a lady who says to him, “Somebody has a case of the Mondays” to downplay his frustration of commuting to a suburban office park each and every week while dealing with traffic and the lack of purpose involved.
Probably the only reason Peter stays at his job are his two friends at work who sympathize with him, Michael Bolton (no relation to the singer as he makes clear) and Samir Nagheenanajar (who is obviously frustrated that no one in America can pronounce his last name). They are not as depressed as Peter but they also understand where he is coming from. Peter also gets sympathy from his neighbor, Lawrence, who lives next door. Lawrence does not work in an office and works on construction projects outdoors so he can’t relate to Peter so much with his drudgery at work but he emphasizes how nobody ever told him that he ‘has a case of the Mondays.’ He makes clear in a hilarious way that if somebody ever did that to him, they would get their ass kicked for that.
Peter’s unsatisfying life is also compounded by his girlfriend who is cheating on him and the fact that he is forced to go see a hypnotist who she thinks can help Peter get out of the funk that he is in. In perhaps the funniest scene in the film, the hypnotist / psychotherapist who is extremely overweight is in the process of hypnotizing Peter to snap him out of his lethargy regarding work and seemingly drops dead in front of him and his girlfriend.
Because the hypnotist died before taking Peter out of his temporary state of ease and relaxation, Peter’s whole personality changes and he stops worrying about work and his performance there with hilarious results. He starts to be honest about his work, his boss, and his forced weekend workdays and shockingly, instead of him getting fired, he gets promoted. Even though his girlfriend leaves him because of his lack of concern for the hypnotist’s death, Peter meets a new love interest shortly after.
His meeting with Joanna at an Applebee’s clone as he grabs a long lunch one day while skipping work; he is drawn to her because of her beauty, humor, and the fact that they both love kung-fu. Unbeknownst to her, she is also working a crummy job which is demeaning, and Peter starts to show her how to take control of her working life by caring less and being more honest.
After the hypnotist’s unfortunate death, Peter’s life does a complete 180 as he is more relaxed, less angry, and strangely more confident. He sleeps in more, gets a pay raise from two of his eight bosses (the Bob’s), and he devises a plan to steal a little bit of money from his company over a period of years. While not a good move on his part, Peter and his two co-workers, Michael and Samir, are also tired of the monotony and mistreatment at the hands of their bosses and co-workers. If they can get a little bit of money before quitting, they figure it won’t backfire on them.
While I do not want to spoil the rest of the movie, Peter is not innocent and bites off more than he can chew which causes him to wake up in a number of ways and to really fix his life instead of floating through it or resorting to a criminal action. He does realize that he is responsible for his own happiness or unhappiness and it is up to him alone to make his life fulfilling rather than meaningless. Peter is a likable character who a lot of people can relate to who have worked in an office type of setting. Still, what is blasé and unappealing to him, may be amazing and meaningful to others.
‘Office Space’ is not just about the negatives of office work and that kind of lifestyle but it is a meaningful referendum on a life not well lived. The film is a dark comedy by genre, but it also holds some deep truths within it. Director Mike Judge reminds everybody watching that you only get one life to live and how you really should consider spending it before time runs out. In addition to the fact that it is both a reflective and entertaining comedy, it is also of course a really funny movie worth a repeat viewing or two to catch all of the jokes.
While not very successful when it first released in 1999, it later became a cult classic film thanks to Blockbuster, DVDs, and the Internet’s growth. ‘Office Space’ is very quotable and I have myself referenced it multiple times especially when a printer I’m using is not working. The soundtrack of hip hop and rap from the 90s also makes it a true film from that decade. As many of America’s working men and women went from being in factories to office parks, this film has really hit a cord with not just Generation X but also the Millennial generation.
I would like to think that when you watch this film, you start to examine your own working life to figure out if it is ‘working’ for you or not. Maybe you prefer to be in another environment when you work or you prefer to work alone, this film probes the question of what office work is usually like and the downsides that it comes with. When this film was made, there were no remote work options and now it seems to be more popular. I like to think that one of the major effects of ‘Office Space’s later popularity in the 21st century is that it got more and more people to realize that cubicles aren’t and shouldn’t be for everyone. They just aren’t.