first saw Office Space when I was in High School – in this period of cynical teenage angst, something about this film spoke directly to me and my friends. Mike Judge’s black-comedy film focuses on a group of mid-90s wage-slave office workers tired of their monotonous jobs. It is perhaps unsurprising that their plight – their jaded attitude to work, their battle against bureaucracy, their frustration at their soulless employers – appealed to the early teenage me. Like practically everyone my age, I was dissatisfied with my school life and innately distrustful of authority. I felt that this film gave voice to my concerns. It seems I was not alone – the film became a cult-classic due to its mocking portrayal of cubicle culture.
Although I’d never even had a job at this stage, I thought – as everyone in my generation probably did – that when adulthood dawned, it was almost inevitable we would spend most of our lives trudging through unsatisfying jobs, ground down to brainless husks by stupefying tedium. And worse still, we were told by our betters to be grateful for this. Office Space, with its tagline “work sucks.” wasn’t afraid to confront these concerns head-on – it seemed to infer that it was OK to have qualms with being forced to spend a large portion of your time on Earth doing something you despise.
To me and my friends, the film’s characters seemed to be architypes lifted straight from our lives. The heartless boss, Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), in his monotone indifference seemed to epitomise every boring teacher we’ve ever had. Indeed, one particularly dull teacher inspired us to stick up pictures of Lumbergh all over his classroom, much to his confusion. I even dressed up as Lumbergh for my high school’s graduation celebration (I’m sure no one but my friends knew who I was supposed to be). I pitched “Office Space the Musical” to a group of theatre directors, as part of an assessment in Theatre Studies – even making a scale model of an office cubicle for the set design.
|Me as Bill Lumbergh|
The hero of the story, Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) was the middle finger to authority we aspired to – losing his cares in a hypnotherapy session cut short by the death of the therapist – he begins to speak his mind, ignoring calls from his adulterous girlfriend, not going into work, finally having the courage to ask out the girl of his dreams (Jennifer Aniston), and simply cutting out everything in his life that annoys him. His aspiration to just “do nothing” was viewed by us as an act of heroism. The mumbling, “squirrely” nerd Milton (Stephen Root) was an amalgamation of every geek at school, as well as our own dorky tendencies. The way Milton’s inner rage goes ignored, with disastrous consequence, made him a hero in his own right.
|“I believe you have my stapler?”|
On a simpler level, I love Office Space because it is funny. While I wasn’t at the time familiar with Mike Judge’s body of work, most notably in animation (Bevis and Butthead, King of the Hill) I have since visited them. While I chuckle at the vulgar immaturity of Beavis and Butthead, I much prefer the more subdued, authentic humour of Office Space. I am a huge fan of King of the Hill, largely because its more lifelike characters are comparable with this film – But I consider Office Space to be Judge’s crowning achievement.
When I took my first steps into the world of work, mainly working for the council – a series of dispiriting jobs doing mindless paperwork and being shouted at by angry residents in a call centre – Office Space’s portrayal of workplace dismay kept popping into my mind. On the surface, Office Space seems like a standard comedy movie, but delve deeper, and you find its comment on contemporary existence rings disturbingly true.