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Movie Review: “Office Space”

Movie Review:  “Office Space”


By Anne Bernays


It’s hard to believe that almost twenty-five years have passed since this prescient movie appeared with an unknown in the male lead. This actor—Ron Livingston—turned out to have just the right kind of muted talent to bring his heretical character—Peter Gibbons—to life.  (As a name aficionado, I  notice that these two names have a lot in common, both being American and vaguely British).  [Editor’s note:  Anne Bernays and her husband Justin Kaplan co-authored “The Language of Names: What We Call Ourselves and Why It Matters.”]

Rather than a traditional plot, this movie guides us through discrete mini-dramas,  each  a variation on the  theme of tech work as killer of the soul. For example, during an interview with two men named Bob, hired to increase the company’s output,  Peter blithely admits that he does no actual work from the time he arrives  until  he leaves for the day; the Bobs immediately recommend him for the management track.  Encounters between boss and worker underscore the fact that drones simmer with suppressed rage and  bosses  are dismally clueless and casually cruel.   So hateful is Peter’s immediate boss, Bob Lumbergh, that within minutes of his smarmy appearance we hate him too. His sing-song opening gambit — “What’s happenin?” betrays a disregard for the answer to his own question; all he has in mind are longer hours and more obedience from Peter and his peers.

The movie is actually a series of set pieces, all of them funny on top and tragic beneath, each mini-drama a fresh look at how it’s possible to remove human attributes from the Worker.  Finally, Peter, under the influence of a recently dead therapist, declares “I don’t like my job and I don’t think I’m going to go any more.”

When his new girlfriend, played to perfection by Jennifer Anniston as a waitress in a fast-food restaurant, asks him how he’s going to pay his rent and buy his food, he  answers that he never liked paying bills either, turning the impossible inside out. Peter is a genius of ridiculous clarity.

Toward the end of the movie, Peter and two pals take several computers and printers to an open field and savagely “kill” them with feet and bats. Not once in the entire movie is the word “computer” uttered. The satire is obvious in the action and not in the dialogue, which shows the best artistic restraint by the writer, Mike Judge, who incidentally is the creator of “Beavis and Butthead.”

One of the last lines, spoken by Peter, who has finally quit his job: “You know, most people don’t like their jobs.” Shall we all destroy all our contemporary means of communication? Not such a bad idea.

My guess is that it was always thus. In 1936, Charlie Chaplin in his movie “Modern Times,” assumed the same stand vis a vis the “new technology.” We probably should be frightened by the birth of new toys designed to make life easier, better.

Our skepticism is not displaced: if only we knew when to stop.