‘Office Space’ – Film Review and Analysis

“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.”

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.

The Why of Doing Mundane Tasks

“When the famous American inventor and politician, Benjamin Franklin, indicated that the two certainties in life were ‘death and taxes’, I think he forgot to mention an overlooked third one that we all experience at one point or another: mundane tasks.”

How much of our lives are made up of dull and repetitive tasks that we would rather not do? How often during the day, the week, the month, or the year are made of things that we have to do out of lack of choice but also an obligation? Whether it is an obligation based on our work, our homes, our hobbies, or our businesses; mundane tasks are simply part of life’s overall equation. When the famous American inventor and politician, Benjamin Franklin, indicated that the two certainties in life were ‘death and taxes’, I think he forgot to mention an overlooked third one that we all experience at one point or another: mundane tasks.

Whether it is going to pick up the newspaper or taking the mail in or dropping off something at the post office, these little errands or tasks are unavoidable and are not the most stimulating to go through. Other tasks like going to the supermarket, cleaning out a pool or cleaning your pool, doing the laundry, washing the dishes are all repetitive but if you notice how mundane they are, you will likely have a worse time doing them all and forget how important they are.

While we may think that we lack control over these dull tasks, the truth is we often do control our attitude to these mundane tasks and how we go about doing them. We control if we do them at all, how we do them, and how fast it will take us to do them. We can make them fun or enjoyable with the help of some music or even a game to see if you or a friend or a family member can do them faster than you. If you think about these tasks, we often feel better about ourselves for having done them afterwards and feel like our days were more accomplished because we were able to complete these tasks as a habit of ours rather than going out of the way to do them like an abnormal chore.

Tasks are meant to be completed but in many of these cases, without our actions, perhaps our lives will be more disorderly and disorganized without finishing these small tasks first. How can we accomplish great tasks in our day-to-day if we can’t get the little things done first? If we want to tackle issues in our community, our country, or even for the world, should we not start with making our bed first consistently first or being able to cook for ourselves with relative ease?

“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” This particular excerpt of a great speech by United States Navy Admiral and Former JSOC Commander William H. McRaven puts the utility of these mundane tasks in our daily lives in perspective. The focus of his commencement speech was about how by accomplishing these tiny tasks, preferably at the beginning of our day, you start to gain more momentum to complete bigger and bigger tasks by the end of that day. Making your bed is just one of those many mundane tasks that we are faced with in our lives and that we usually have control over doing or not doing.

If we choose to not do them, this lack of confidence or a lack of accomplishment can carry over to the bigger and more pressing tasks that we have to handle later on, often in the span of minutes or hours, at work or in our relationships. As a former Navy SEAL, McRaven saw the bed-making procedure as key to the rest of his day. While at first, he thought of the task of being forced to make his bed tedious and maybe beneath him as a future SEAL, it later taught him necessary skills such as compliance, confidence, and reinforced habits.

Our mundane tasks that we have to do our based on our autonomy in that no one else can do them for us. By doing these tasks on a consistent basis, we build upon our good habits instead of bad habits. Perhaps most importantly, we learn that we do in fact have some control over our lives. While the big things in life can challenge and thwart us again and again, we know that we can handle basic tasks that make us feel better and give us the confidence to try and try again at the bigger tasks that are more complex and complicated.

            If we cannot handle the small stuff no matter how tedious it is, we likely will not be able to handle the bigger tasks, which may be even more tedious. The mundane tasks are easy, repetitive, and do not take as much time usually. It goes without saying that if you can start to do them once or twice, you can start to build up that habit muscle and then you will be on your way to doing these tasks on a consistent basis making them easier and less daunting.

In a lot of ways, we overlook the little moments in life which tend to be the most endearing and the most special. It’s important to not do that as well with the little tasks such as making your bed, taking out the trash, or paying your bills. The little things are easy to accomplish when you measure them up against the harder tasks like running a marathon, becoming a millionaire, or having a successful business or career. Once you take care of the little things though, you may be in store for a positive ripple effect that could lead to wins or gains in the harder areas. Even if you have bad days or expectations of your day fall short, at least at the end of the day, you will know that you took care of the small stuff and can be proud of those small victories which keep us going during rough times, especially now in this perilous year of 2020.

Lastly, doing different mundane tasks on different days can help us as well give us that continued sense of accomplishment and meaning that we can often lack on certain days if we don’t have anything to do. Spreading out the mundane parts of life instead of saving them all for a weekend or one day in particular will also ease your stress levels and cause you to feel more evened out as you go through your week. You won’t be stressing out about 5 or 7 mundane tasks you have to do at the end of the week if you do one of them each day to balance it all out.

Nobody likes mundane tasks including myself, but they do serve a purpose in making you a more responsible adult and a better human being. You get better at them the more you do them and which also tends to make them less tedious over time. Unfortunately, we all find out in life that it is not all fun and games and part of life has to be drudgery, but it doesn’t always have to be doom and gloom. Throw on some music or your favorite podcast, use a cup of a coffee or a fruit juice to get you going and make your bed first thing in the morning to get the day started. I promise that with a little self-motivation and self-determination, life will look less daunting and your confidence will start to grow the more mundane tasks you accomplish on a daily and weekly basis.

The Rule of Diminishing Marginal Return

There is a well-known law in economics called the ‘Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility’, which states that as consumption of a good or service increases per unit, the satisfaction derived from consuming an additional unit or more will lead to a subsequent decline in its overall utility. In other words, the more you consume, the less satisfied you will be with each additional product or service you purchase. The first thing you buy, use, or consume will be the most satisfying but the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th unit of the same item you utilize will not be as useful and could even not satisfy you at all.

This fundamental law in basic economics is one that is worth memorizing because it makes total sense. The first chocolate bar you consume will be delicious and fulfilling. You may not be satisfied with just one chocolate bar so you may end up eating another one since the first one was so tasty. However, anyone will tell you that the 2nd chocolate bar will not be as tasty or satisfying as the 1st one and you may even end up with a stomachache from eating too much chocolate if you are not careful.

The ‘Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility’ does not just apply to economic principles but goes far beyond that in terms of being applied to human psychology. The act of consumption, I would argue, is not just an economic one but also applies to the psychology of choice and how we live our lives. Everybody is a consumer in one way or another whether it’s the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the food we eat each day. Without any consumption, we would not survive but it is our choices that define our consumption habits and how we behave not just as economic actors but as human beings.

In a psychological context, instead of calling it the ‘Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility’, I would refer to it as the ‘Rule of Diminishing Marginal Return’, which is similar but discussing more how it’s a rule of life that the more we buy of something, the less return on that investment we will get out of it. The first of something whether that’s the purchase of a new car, a first trip to a new country, or the first time you try a new cuisine. These experiences will captivate you and do its job of putting your happiness level to a 9 or 10, but it’s a rule of life that it won’t stay there. While the memory of that experience will provide you with satisfaction and joy in its remembrance, your psychological state will revert to the norm of being level in terms of happiness or satisfaction with life. You may try to buy or consume more of something to recapture that feeling of happiness but that would actually be counterproductive in the long run and actually create false expectations compared to the first time you purchased or consumed that activity, experience, food, or drink.

How do you avoid the marginal returns of consuming, buying, or eating too much? Well, that is not easy to do but that is part of being a mature and responsible adult. You must have enough willpower and be able to reason with yourself that one more plate of food, one more drink, or one more car will not do the trick in giving you happiness. You must realize that your base level of happiness as a person won’t change as a result of consuming more and it may end up backfiring by causing your satisfaction to be lower because you consumed too much in the first place.
Being able to limit your consumption and controlling your vices will make you better off. If you can master your desires or your urges, then you can focus on bettering yourself or making you happier through more sustainable means. If you are working on personal projects, devoting yourself to a volunteer cause, or working on improving yourself mentally and/or physically, that kind of satisfaction will have a higher return on investment than just mindless consumption.

Consumption of goods and services may spike your happiness and satisfaction levels in the short run, but that kind of joy is short-lived and can often feel isolating if you are not sharing in that joy with others. That is why a meal with friends or family is often much better than eating by yourself. It’s why travelling with a close friend will generate more memories than a trip by yourself. It is not wrong to sometimes treat yourself to a nice meal, a nice trip, or a new gadget but shared experiences will make you happier and create more memories than those times that you were on your own in consuming.

One should carefully watch what they consume and monitor how much per day, per week, per month, and even per month they are consuming whether that’s food, drink, goods, etc. Everything in moderation is a good way to be as an adult and if you want to abstain entirely from consuming something, then that is an admirable thing to do as well. The worst thing you would want to do is to become overindulgent or overly reliant on a consumable good to make you happy or give you long-term satisfaction in life. You know better than anyone else the limits of your consumption and that true happiness is derived through shared experiences in life and of challenging yourself to be a better and more developed person.

In the long-term, I believe you get increased rather than diminished return through producing instead of consuming, by challenging yourself mentally and physically, and sharing yourself with others whether that’s through a good meal, a volunteer experience, or a worthwhile group project. All the chocolate and ice cream in the world won’t add to your happiness but would rather detract from it. A bowl of ice cream or a chocolate bar will satisfy you for a few hours, but you eventually will be back to that same level of happiness homeostasis that you had previously.

Instead of looking to keep yourself content or happy all of the time, know that happiness is not everything in life and that you benefit more from the hard work and the struggle that you put yourself on a daily basis than of just sitting on the couch and eating ice cream until the end of time.

When you get to that 2nd or 3rd bowl of ice cream, you should realize that you’re starting to get a stomachache and that you should stop yourself before you get sick. The diminishing marginal return of trying to seek out happiness through ice cream should be counteracted by getting off the couch and into the gym to start working out those extra calories you just gained.

By embracing the struggle of a gym workout and burning off all that ice cream, you’ll be sacrificing that short-term happiness for that long-term struggle but eventual satisfaction of improving yourself physically as a person and making yourself happier and healthier in the long-run as a direct result of your choices and decision-making. You should not be afraid to indulge a little bit every now and then but remember that life is better experienced in moderation and you should always watch what choices you are making as you go through your life as both a consumer and a producer.