For a guy who started out making little animated shorts by himself in his garage in Texas, it’s pretty amazing Mike Judge turned out to be one of the great chroniclers of American life. I guess if animation does nothing else, it forces you to pay attention to the details. One of the first animated shorts Judge made for himself in that garage was a short film called “Office Space”.
In the live, full length version, The office space in question is Initech, a software company that seems to exist for no other reason that to torture its employees. One of these employees is Milton (Stephen Root duplicating the character from the original short), a programmer who’s been there so long his brain has melted and his pleas and threats go unheeded. The rest of our heroes consists of Samir (Ajay Naidu), Michæl Bolton (David Herman) but not THAT Michæl Bolton, and Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston). While all four suffer under the endless petty humiliations of their droning satanic boss, Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), Peter is the one about to crack. Commuting between his cookie-cutter apartment (with its paper-thin walls to contain all the IKEA furniture), his office cubicle, and his cheating girlfriend Anne (Alexandra Wentworth), every day seems worse than the one before. That would make every day the worst day of his life. Now that Lumbergh has brought in a pair of “efficiency experts” to downsize the company, that may be true.
One Friday night, Anne drags Peter to an “occupational hypnotherapist” to deal with his stress. When the therapist dies while Peter is still under hypnosis, the hapless programmer never seems to snap out of it. Instead, Peter develops a new outlook on life. From this point on, he’s only going to do what he wants. If something annoys him, he just ignores it or walks away from it. Peter is completely relaxed and enjoying life for the first time. When he goes back to work, hilarity ensues.
Based on the first hour, this would have been a five-star movie. Writer/director Judge begins with the most brutal portrayal of the workplace since “Joe Vs. the Volcano”. I spent eight years as a lead programmer for two different companies. Anyone who’s logged time in an office will be laughing hysterically at all of the little indignities.
When Peter forgets to rout a memo with an esoteric cover letter, all eight of his bosses come by to reprimand him, individually. As in the real world, evil greets you with a pleasant smile under fluorescent lighting. When Peter has his conversion, the film is suddenly drop-kicked into anarchy. As he makes his boss’s life a living hell, you can’t help but to giggle at the thought of doing the same. The problem, though, is the main characters lose their nerve and seem to develop some morals in the last thirty minutes. It derails all the momentum of the film. Did the Delta brothers have a change of heart in “Animal House”? What about “Ferris Bueller”? Bill Murray in “Stripes” or almost any other film he made in the ’80’s? NO. They had the all-important PURITY OF VISION. Sure, they had to deal with complications to their plans, but they had the nerve to carry them through. A movie like “Office Space”, especially, is about audience wish fulfillment. I don’t want a moral to the story. I want to be reminded why I’m never going back to that kind of environment, because I tell you, OFFICE LIFE SUCKS AND PROGRAMMING SUCKS. Life is about more than 60 to 80 hour work-weeks. My dad spent 25 years working in an office at a gigantic plastics manufacturing plant in West Virginia, and it did not make him the happiest camper in the world, or even in any given room. If I’m watching a movie about this kind of hellhole, I don’t want the hero doing the morally and legally acceptable thing, I want to see creative use of explosives. It’s a COMEDY. We don’t have to take it seriously. “There’s Something About Mary” is a comedy about STALKERS. There was a whole lot of morally and emotionally questionable activity in there and that was JUST FINE.
For the most part, the film is brilliant. I’m looking forward to anything Mike Judge does next. Even if someone lost their nerve, any film that features nerds with an all gangsta rap soundtrack and rips off Scorsese when depicting white collar crime deserves at least three stars.