Posts Tagged ‘Office Space’

(Part 3 of an ongoing series)

…it’s not that I’m lazy.  It’s that I just don’t care.

Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston)

If I wasn’t so convinced by the idea that we’re essentially helpless against the eternal, spirit-crushing march of industry, I’d shudder to think of how unimpressed- if not outright embarrassed- that 1999 would be by 2012.  Surely the future will see its share of dingbat preachers predicting apocalypses that won’t come, but 2012 is basically the last “official” apocalyptic year.  And while most people think of the apocalypse as the end of the world, the word “apocalypse,” as Alan Moore demonstrated in his millennial comic Promethea, actually comes from the Greek for “revelation.”  As our previous apocalyptic year, 1999 gave us a cornucopia of revelations for us to learn from, but so far 2012 hasn’t really applied those lessons very well.

The idea of corporate America as a heartless, soul-sucking behemoth wasn’t exactly novel in 1999, but the movies of 1999 did their best to bludgeon us in the face with more warnings and helpful tips.  When doing battle against The Man, 1999 protagonists often started by retreating into adolescent rebellion.  But where American Beauty, Fight Club, and The Matrix advanced into bleaker, more dramatic theaters of war, Office Space channeled its cubicle-fury into lighter, wackier, more optimistic wish-fulfillment.

There’s truth, for instance, in Mike Judge’s barb that those who are invited to climb the office ladder are often the least deserving.  Yet we need a powerful suspension of disbelief to buy that Ron Livingston’s Peter would get promoted after weeks of aggressive, devil-may-care slacking.  Try doing that at a job you hate in the real world and watch how quickly the axe falls.

Still, there’s a good lesson there: one of the first steps toward enlightenment is to stop giving fucks you shouldn’t be giving, while still giving the necessary fucks.  As they say in Richard Linklater’s Slacker– a 1991 film that’s one of 1999’s cool older brothers- “Withdrawing in disgust is not the same as apathy.”  In Office Space, Peter’s biggest mistake is that his withdrawal goes so far he becomes petty and criminal.  And though he eventually sees the error of his ways, he only gets off the hook because he’s lucky enough to have Milton torch all evidence of his misdeeds.

Milton’s deus ex machina may not be terribly satisfying in a narrative sense, but if Office Space is a fable, the resolution feels like a good moral.  As in, the cognitively-dissonant upper-management Lumberghs kept swiping our staplers and telling us yeah, I’m going to need you to go ahead and come to work on Saturday, and we the Peters didn’t do nearly enough to subvert the system. So inevitably, the Miltons will just burn the Initechs to the ground.  (Not saying I condone arson, necessarily, but seriously, the Lumberghs are totally begging for it.)  And in the end, maybe the best we can do is shovel up the rubble and construct another office building.

But hey, we’ve still got a whole quarter left in the year, and that whole Mayan calendar mythology says our apocalypse/revelation isn’t due til late December.  Maybe there’s still time for us to make 1999 proud.

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Part 2 Of An Ongoing Series

There is truth, and there are lies. And art always tells the truth. Even when it’s lying.

John Malkovich as John Cusack as Craig Schwartz as John Malkovich, Being John Malkovich

John Cusack’s Craig Schwartz has plenty of sick desperation in his laugh during the first act of Being John Malkovich.  We hear it when he flirts with Catherine Keener’s Maxine, the out-of-his-league co-worker he wants to have an affair with.  She’ll rip his pathetic ass down like it’s her favorite hobby, and he’ll often respond with that sick, desperate, 1999 laughter.

It’s not just because Craig’s intimidated by Maxine.  It’s also because Craig’s a lot like so many other notable 1999 protagonists: dispirited, frustrated, adrift, unfulfilled.  (See also Fight Club, American Beauty, Office Space, The Matrix, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Election, the ensemble of Magnolia.)  Like his own puppet, he’s stuck in a “Dance of Despair and Disillusionment.”

Funny thing is, Craig’s the protagonist in the most humorous of all those other movies- maybe the most hilarious 1999 movie that isn’t South Park– and yet he suffers the most tragic fate.  And that sums up why, if I were forced to choose the best 1999 movie, Being John Malkovich would barely edge out Three Kings and Fight Club.  Being John Malkovich is so great it baffled me with its greatness the first time I saw it, and its greatness still baffles me to this day.

It’s the type of movie you’d think would spawn a decade’s worth of imitators, like Pulp Fiction or There’s Something About Mary.  Only it didn’t, really.  Its fine balance of surrealism and poignancy is so perfect, it’s like the world’s filmmakers simply stood back in awe of Being John Malkovich and were like, “We’re just gonna let Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze handle this shit from now on.”

If the movie has spearheaded one trend of the past few years, it’s the one where actors play comically unflattering caricatures of themselves.  (Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kirstie Alley, Matt LeBlanc, James Van Der Beek, half the people who’ve appeared on Curb Your Enthusiasm.)  Of course, none of those actors went nearly as far down the rabbit hole as John Horatio Malkovich.

Then again, maybe other filmmakers will eventually get around to imitating the rest of Malkovich once they’ve finally finished processing it.  There’s a galaxy of ideas in this movie, all zipping by at madcap speed, and a lot of those ideas really started to mushroom in the new millennium.  It’s not merely about “celebrity,” it’s about the desire to attain celebrity, the emptiness of celebrity, the misguided sense of entitlement we often feel we have over celebrities.  It’s not merely about the quest for immortality, it’s about how the quest for immortality is not necessarily a bad thing- although it can definitely be a very bad thing.  It’s not just about the search for identity, it’s about fucking identity until identity forgets what gender it used to be.

Most of all, though, Being John Malkovich is about Craig Schwartz, and how not to end up like him. That means doing your damnedest never to drive yourself crazy from unrequited love.  It’s very bad for the skin.

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