Fond of working to the melodies of classical music, the janitor (Michael Coppola) is not entirely like what one would expect. Sure, he cleans bathrooms and mops floors, but mainly because there’s a dead body there, and he needs to take care of the body, leaving no trace of foul play. Things become complicated, however, when he responds to a hit job that was accidentally left unfinished. Now the janitor finds himself unable to clean up the mess, unless he finishes making it.
Mark Battle’s short film, The Janitor, tackles the moral questions that arise when a man who has gone about doing his job with a certain level of detachment is forced to engage in a more profound sense. Sure, the janitor has been dealing with the aftermath of murders and knows his way around a bloody corpse or two, but he’s not the one that sent the victim to their death. For the janitor, it can be rationalized away that it’s just a job, and he’s just cleaning up, so he hasn’t really done anything all that bad.
Then again, by helping keep the killers out of jail by covering their tracks, it’s not like he’s an innocent here; depending on your own interpretation and views, whether he pulls the trigger or not is hardly the determining factor in his culpability. Still, for him, there’s a line he supposedly hasn’t crossed, and now he’s up against it.
Shot in black and white, the film maintains the power of the contrast without succumbing to the grit and grime that sometimes accompanies black and white films (usually by design). Visually, the imagery only complements the moral complexities of the narrative; the cleanliness to the image works with the themes in the film, and the black and white nature of the moral considerations is appropriately challenged by the intrusion of the gray.
In the end, The Janitor is a nice moment in the life of a man with an unusual occupation, and the film lets that moment speak for itself. There’s no huge, out loud debate to be had, and there’s an appropriate level of ambiguity involved in the janitor’s decision. A quality effort all around.
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