Time for another review of one of my favorite movies with a message. This one is particularly relevant given the way the capitalist economy is exploiting workers. It sure does not seem fair that many workers are baring the brunt of the financial meltdown caused by corporate executives. Millions stuck in a dead-end and depressing job day-dreams about ways to rip off the corporation. The movie “Office Space” came out a decade ago and contains inspiration and information to help the alienated workers take back control of their lives and redistribute the wealth.
This wonderful film validates and popularizes key lessons from social science research about work and happiness. Enforced conformity to meaningless rules and bureaucratic processes breeds alienation – leading to lack of commitment and creativity. Themes in this movie tie directly back to the writings of Karl Marx (as I explained in an earlier article.) This is a very subversive and superb movie that encourages the proletariat to smash their machine and take back control over the means of production. This radical and revolutionary message is clearly why this movie received an “R” rating. There is no nudity or violence (except toward technology). Also the language is very mild. So clearly this movie is so threatening because it hopefully will make kids hip to the BS involved with most of the jobs in the capitalist system.
Enjoyment and Enlightenment can and will be ours!
This film chronicles the dreary life of Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), a software engineer cubicle dweller at Initech. Peter has a frustrating commute, tiresome coworkers, an inane boss and a girlfriend that he’s pretty sure is cheating on him. The only bright spots in his life are his two friends at work, Samir (Ajay Naidu), and the unfortunately named Michael Bolton (David Herman), his laid-back construction worker neighbor Lawrence (Diedrich Bader), and Joanna, a waitress at the local Chotchkie’s restaurant whom he worships from afar (Jennifer Aniston).
After enduring a morning at work consisting of repetitive reprimands about the minutia of TPS reports, the bleak office atmosphere takes a tense turn when the employees are informed that Initech is bringing in a consultant to help improve efficiency. All the Initechers are nervous about interviewing for their own jobs, but Milton (Stephen Root), a twitchy, mumbling long-time employee, is only concerned that he will either be asked to move his desk again, or that someone will notice he’s kept his beloved red Swingline stapler after the company had switched to another brand.
On Friday Peter attempts to sneak out early, but is caught by his arrogant boss, Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), and is roped into working over the weekend. Peter finally leaves the office and reluctantly joins his girlfriend, Anne (Alexandra Wentworth), at an appointment with an occupational hypnotherapist that he’s hoping can help him have a more positive outlook on life. The hypnotherapist does indeed get Peter into a very relaxed state, but suffers a fatal heart attack before he can bring him out of the trance.
The next morning, Peter ignores his alarm clock, blowing off working on Saturday. He also manages to sleep through the 17 messages left for him by Lumbergh. He takes an angry call from Anne, who’s demanding an explanation for his odd behavior. Peter responds by hanging up on her, and Anne responds by breaking up with him (yes, she WAS cheating on him). Peter returns to bed for the remainder of the day.
On Monday, instead of going to work, Peter goes to Chotchkie’s and finally asks Joanna out for lunch. They get to know each other and he tells her of his plan to not quit, but just stop going to work. They also discover a mutual appreciation for the TV series Kung Fu, and a date is made to watch it later at Peter’s apartment. Joanna has her own version of Lumbergh to deal with, her boss at Chotchkie’s, Stan (Mike Judge). He conveys his disappointment about the “flair” (the decorative buttons and the like) on her work uniform. He lectures that while the “flair” is her opportunity to express herself, she seems satisfied in only wearing the bare minimum of 15 pieces. Joanna, perplexed, assures him she will do more to express herself.
Mike Judge’s “Office Space” is a comic cry of rage against the nightmare of modern office life. It has many of the same complaints as “Dilbert” and the movie “Clockwatchers” and, for that matter, the works of Kafka and the Book of Job. It is about work that crushes the spirit. Office cubicles are cells, supervisors are the wardens, and modern management theory is skewed to employ as many managers and as few workers as possible.
As the movie opens, a cubicle slave named Peter (Ron Livingston) is being reminded by his smarmy supervisor (Gary Cole) that all reports now carry a cover sheet. “Yes, I know,” he says. “I forgot. It was a silly mistake. It won’t happen again.” Before long another manager reminds him about the cover sheets. “Yes, I know,” he says. Then another manager. And another. Logic suggests that when more than one supervisor conveys the same trivial information, their jobs overlap, and all supervisors after the first one should be shredded. …
Peter has two friends at work: Michael Bolton (David Herman) and Samir (Ajay Naidu). No, not that Michael Bolton, Michael patiently explains. They flee the office for coffee breaks (demonstrating that Starbucks doesn’t really sell coffee–it sells escape from the office).
Peter is in love with the waitress at the chain restaurant across the parking lot. Her name is Joanna (Jennifer Aniston) and she has problems with management, too. She’s required to wear a minimum of 15 funny buttons on the suspenders of her uniform; the buttons are called “flair” in company lingo, and her manager suggests that wearing only the minimum flair suggests the wrong spirit (another waiter has “45 flairs” and looks like an exhibit at a trivia convention).
The movie’s turning point comes when Peter seeks help from an “occupational hypnotherapist.” He’s put in a trance with long-lasting results; he cuts work, goes fishing, guts fish at his desk and tells efficiency experts he actually works only 15 minutes a week. The experts like his attitude and suggest he be promoted. Meanwhile, the Milton problem is ticking like a time bomb, especially after Milton’s cubicle is relocated to a basement storage area. “Office Space” is like the evil twin of “Clockwatchers.” Both movies are about the ways corporations standardize office routines, so that workers are interchangeable and can be paid as little as possible.
Imagine a live-action version of the “Dilbert” comic strip with a touch of Hal Hartley’s deadpan absurdism, and you’re ready for the frequently uproarious “Office Space.” Written and directed by Mike Judge, creator of Beavis and Butt-Head and “King of the Hill,” this satirical comedy about white-collar wage-slavery is amusing and accessible enough to have wide-ranging appeal. But the pic should find an especially receptive audience among office workers of the sort represented in Judge’s cunning screenplay. Indeed, it’s easy to imagine a new trend: Friday happy-hour get-togethers topped off with visits to multiplexes for repeat viewings of “Office Space.”
Ron Livingston gives a breakthrough performance in the lead role of Peter Gibbons, a young computer programmer who tries to keep a low profile while marking time inside his cubicle at Initech Corp. Peter hates everything about his job — the stifling and spirit-killing routine, the relentlessly petty demands of procedure-obsessed superiors, the rampant paranoia inspired by efficiency experts with a license to downsize. Trouble is, Peter also hates the idea of losing a steady paycheck.
Desperate to make his life less miserable, if not more bearable, Peter agrees to a consultation with an “occupational hypnotherapist.” The therapist is felled by a fatal heart attack before he can revive Peter from an attitude-adjusting trance. But the tragedy has an unexpected upside: In addition to being freed of chronic anxieties about his work, Peter becomes totally immune to fears of unemployment. In short, he stops caring and starts living.
“Office Space” was filmed on location in and around Austin, but the locale is never specifically identified in the pic. The story could be taking place anywhere. And that, of course, will make it even easier for many ticket buyers to savor its universal resonances and experience ticklish shocks of recognition. You don’t have to be a corporate drone to enjoy Judge’s satire, but “Office Space” is even more fun if you can recognize the bitter truths beneath the hilarious gags. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 89 MIN.
Anyone who has endured work as a low-level cog in a corporate machine should appreciate the acute frustrations of the eager young beavers who rebel against the system in Mike Judge’s moderately savvy satire “Office Space.” The comedy, the first live-action feature directed by the creator of “Beavis and Butt-head” and “King of the Hill,” distills the pettiness of office life in its sneakily savage portrait of a quintessential middle-management boss named Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole). Puffed up with fake jocularity, Bill epitomizes the smiley, buck-passing, back-stabbing, passive-aggressive office dictator who fears and despises his underlings while prating nauseatingly about everybody being one big happy family.
The rebellion begins when Peter’s yuppie girlfriend, a control freak and therapy nut, drags him to a hypnotist to “work” on their relationship. Just at the moment Peter has been eased into a trance and told not to worry about anything, the therapist drops dead of a heart attack. Permanently suspended in a state of happy nonchalance, Peter is figuratively re-born as a carefree guy miraculously relieved of all anxieties regarding work, money and love. He takes days off whenever he feels like it and shows up at the office at odd hours, sometimes overturning office furniture just for the fun of it.
Interviewed by a pair of consultants brought in to downsize the company, he impresses them by gleefully confessing his own uselessness instead of desperately trying to justify his job. His candid sarcasm, of course, convinces them that he is definitely upper-management material. But Peter has no interest in corporate advancement. With his two cyberwise office mates, he concocts a nickel-and-dime computer scheme to embezzle small sums of money from Initech that over time should reap them a fortune without the losses ever being detected. He also fearlessly pursues a pretty young waitress named Joanna (Jennifer Aniston) whose boss is the fast-food restaurant equivalent of Bill Lumbergh.
Film Review by Andrew O’Hehir – SALON (Feb. 19, 1999)
Good writers of all kinds rely, I believe, on extremely basic observations about human nature. One of the things Mike Judge has noticed is that people — especially if they happen to be American males — have a deep-rooted desire to hang out and pretty much do nothing. What is Judge’s “Beavis and Butt-head,” after all, except a show about two guys doing nothing, aimed at an audience largely composed of guys doing nothing? This includes the embattled cubicle inmate Peter Gibbons of “Office Space” — a man with a “dream of doing nothing.”
Maybe the most startling thing about Judge’s first live-action movie (he of course directed the marvelously psychedelic animated feature “Beavis and Butt-head Do America”) is how effortless it seems. His satiric vision is as sharp as ever: In the first scene we watch a white guy stuck in traffic, popping and flowing with the gangsta lyrics pumping from his stereo, then nervously rolling up his windows and locking his door as a black flower vendor approaches. So is his ear for the monotonous, petty absurdities of life under capitalism: Within five minutes of Peter’s arrival at the sprawling suburban offices of Initech, the woman two cubicles away has chirped, “Corporate accounts payable, Nina speaking” at least a dozen times.
But “Office Space” doesn’t depend solely on its gags or its near-perfect parodic pitch, as hilarious as those are. Its plot may be a standard-issue office drone’s revenge fantasy, but its characters and its nowheresville setting are uncannily realized. (“Office Space” is loosely based on Judge’s “Milton” shorts for “Saturday Night Live.”) It’s not a cartoon in any sense, but an honest-to-God movie with some fine, understated acting and a human heart. Its finest moment, not surprisingly, is a particularly anarchic celebration of doing nothing. When Peter and two other rebellious Initech employees get drunk, haul their hated copy machine out into a field and smash the damn thing to bits, the result is pure, electric cinema, as headlong and wordlessly giddy as anything in Godard and a hell of a lot easier to understand.
We never learn exactly what Initech is or what clean-cut everyguy Peter (Ron Livingston) and his friends do there, except that it’s somewhere in Texas and has something to do with bank software. Who cares, anyway? The point of “Office Space” is that none of us actually want to spend our time in anonymous, soul-crushing environments, constantly being told we put the wrong cover sheets on our reports or chided for having “a bad case of the Mondays.” Many of us, however, don’t have other realistic choices, and so the idea of doing almost anything else — or nothing whatever — looms like a vision of paradise. Peter’s persecuted colleagues include Michael Bolton (David Herman), the rap fan from the first scene whose unfortunate name provides him with limitless opportunities for humiliation and bitterness; Samir (Ajay Naidu), whose surname no one at the company can pronounce; Tom (Richard Riehle), a 50ish functionary who lives in constant — and justified — terror of being downsized; and the fateful Milton (Stephen Root), an impossibly nerdy misfit who is storing up an endless list of grievances behind his Coke-bottle glasses and permanent shaving rash.
“Office Space” is a satire of office culture in America, and it’s not an affectionate one. Take the laugh lines out and what’s left is a stinging portrait in which bosses are evil, corporations are heartless and workers are ruined, first emotionally, then financially. …
Judge presents a corporate culture that is the enemy of kindness, individuality and any other human value. Livingston is nicely cast as Peter, a young guy whose imagination and capacity for happiness are the very things making him miserable. At one point, he asks a hypnotist if he could be put in a trance so he won’t feel the horror of being at work. He doesn’t realize that his fellow workers are in a similar trance, though without hypnosis.
Judge’s satirical eye puts Peter and his friends in tiny apartments with bare walls, as though the sterility of the office were infecting their daily life. Judge’s loony sense of the ridiculous also serves him well. Just one example: David Herman plays a programmer named Michael Bolton, who goes through life aggrieved that there’s a pop singer by the same name. “Why should I change my name?” he asks bitterly. “He’s the one who sucks.”
Trivia for Office Space (1999)
- Director Cameo: [Mike Judge] Stan, Joanna’s boss at Chotchkie’s. He’s listed in the credits as “William King.”
- This movie has gained cult status on video. Mike Judge has said more people talk to him about this movie than any project he has ever worked on. Also, he doubts there will be a sequel, due to poor box office.
- When Peter is in the meeting room, on the white board behind him there is a complicated flow chart titled “Planning to Plan.”
- The set for Chotchkie’s is actually the restaurant “the Alligator grille” in Austin, Texas.
- Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) lives in the “Morningwood Apartments”, a reference to a frequent theme of director Mike Judge’s “Beavis and Butt-Head” (1993).
- Chotchkie’s gets its name from the Yiddish word meaning a cheap trinket or knick-knack.
- Chotchkie’s is a take-off on the popular T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant chain. The T.G.I. Friday’s waiting staff wear striped shirts and suspenders adorned with buttons and name tags. The restaurants themselves are frequently decorated with assorted knick-knacks and memorabilia. A reference is made to T.G.I. Friday’s when someone mentions “Thank God it’s Friday” while at the restaurant.
- The iconic red stapler coveted by Milton was created for the film by the prop department. They needed a bright enough color to be seen on film and chose red. After the film was released, Swingline began to receive requests from customers for red staplers. Having stopped offering red a number of years before, they made the decision to start offering the color once more.
- After the movie became a cult item, Mike Judge was offered a chance to make a sequel called “Office Space 2: Still Renting”. But Judge said that he had been through enough anguish over the first one that he didn’t want to put himself through the experience again.
- Began as a short animated skit on Liquid Television, Fall 1992. Directed by Mike Judge, it consisted of Lumbergh telling Milton to move his desk and then he takes his stapler, then Milton wants to burn the building down. This was later followed by the same on Saturday Night Live.
My Favorite Songs from Great Soundtrack
- Shove This Jay-Oh-Bee by Canibus with Biz Markie
- Big Boss Man by Junior Reid
- 9-5 by Lisa Stone
- Down for Whatever by Ice Cube
- Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangsta by Geto Boys
Memorable quotes for Office Space (1999)
Peter Gibbons: Boy, I’ll tell ya, some days… One of these days it’s just gonna be like…[He mimics the sound of a machine gun. Brian, a waiter, walks up and does the same and laughs]
Brian (Waiter): So can I get you gentlemen something more to drink? Or maybe something to nibble on? Some Pizza Shooters, Shrimp Poppers, or Extreme Fajitas?
Peter Gibbons: Just coffee.
Brian: Okay. Sounds like a case of the Mondays.
Peter Gibbons: It’s not just about me and my dream of doing nothing. It’s about all of us. I don’t know what happened to me at that hypnotherapist and, I don’t know, maybe it was just shock and it’s wearing off now, but when I saw that fat man keel over and die – Michael, we don’t have a lot of time on this earth! We weren’t meant to spend it this way. 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 about mission statements.
Joanna: So, where do you work, Peter?
Peter Gibbons: Initech.
Joanna: In… yeah, what do you do there?
Peter Gibbons: I sit in a cubicle and I update bank software for the 2000 switch.
Joanna: What’s that?
Peter Gibbons: Well see, they wrote all this bank software, and, uh, to save space, they used two digits for the date instead of four. So, like, 98 instead of 1998? Uh, so I go through these thousands of lines of code and, uh… it doesn’t really matter. I uh, I don’t like my job, and, uh, I don’t think I’m gonna go anymore.
Joanna: You’re just not gonna go?
Peter Gibbons: Yeah.
Joanna: Won’t you get fired?
Peter Gibbons: I don’t know, but I really don’t like it, and, uh, I’m not gonna go.
Joanna: So you’re gonna quit?
Peter Gibbons: Nuh-uh. Not really. Uh… I’m just gonna stop going.
Joanna: When did you decide all that?
Peter Gibbons: About an hour ago.
Joanna: Oh, really? About an hour ago… so you’re gonna get another job?
Peter Gibbons: I don’t think I’d like another job.
Joanna: Well, what are you going to do about money and bills and…
Peter Gibbons: You know, I’ve never really liked paying bills. I don’t think I’m gonna do that, either.
Michael Bolton: Peter, you’re in deep shit. You were supposed to come in on Saturday. What were you doing?
Peter Gibbons: Michael, I did nothing. I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything that I thought it could be.
Bob Slydell: You see, what we’re actually trying to do here is, we’re trying to get a feel for how people spend their day at work… so, if you would, would you walk us through a typical day, for you?
Peter Gibbons: Yeah.
Bob Slydell: Great.
Peter Gibbons: Well, I generally come in at least fifteen minutes late, ah, I use the side door – that way Lumbergh can’t see me, heh heh – and, uh, after that I just sorta space out for about an hour.
Bob Porter: Da-uh? Space out?
Peter Gibbons: Yeah, I just stare at my desk; but it looks like I’m working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch, too. I’d say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work.
Peter Gibbons: The thing is, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.
Bob Porter: Don’t… don’t care?
Peter Gibbons: It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime, so where’s the motivation? And here’s something else, Bob: I have eight different bosses right now.
Bob Slydell: I beg your pardon?
Peter Gibbons: Eight bosses.
Bob Slydell: Eight?
Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. 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.
[Peter is wearing shorts, sandals and a paisley shirt, with his feet up on his desk, munching chips and playing tetris on his computer]
Bill Lumbergh: So, Peter, what’s happening? Aahh, now, are you going to go ahead and have those TPS reports for us this afternoon?
Peter Gibbons: No.
Bill Lumbergh: Ah. Yeah. So I guess we should probably go ahead and have a little talk. Hmm?
Peter Gibbons: Not right now, Lumbergh, I’m kinda busy. In fact, look, I’m gonna have to ask you to just go ahead and come back another time. I got a meeting with the Bobs in a couple of minutes.
Bill Lumbergh: I wasn’t aware of a meeting with them.
Peter Gibbons: Yeah, they called me at home.