One of the funniest and widely loved movies in recent times is Mike Judge’s 1999 comedy Office Space. Starring one of my favorite actors, Ron Livingston, the story centers around a stressed employee, Peter Gibbons, who gets hypnotized into no longer caring for his work, which ironically ingratiates him with upper management and leads to a promotion. By the end of the film, a series of events unfolds that results in the office building catching on fire.
Even if a viewer has never worked in an office environment, they could understand the tedious lifestyle because the film remarkably captures the routine of corporate work life. From rising at the same time every morning to making the commute back home, a work routine can appear repetitive if one does not take the time to appreciate the minor details that add spice and variety to a potentially monotonous life. The film tries to convey this idea. The movie relates this idea poignantly, which is what makes it so funny. In many ways, the office building becomes a site of enlightenment if one can manage to look beyond the cubicle to see the pictures pinned to the walls.
Even though the film goes to an extreme to demonstrate apathy for work, there are hints of optimism in disrupting life’s monotony by introducing a slacker stereotype. Peter Gibbons, post-hypnosis, re-enters the building in the same body but with an alternative outlook. This is an extremely useful metaphor that comments on how people can move through life merely existing without appreciating the potential for beauty in every moment.
The office space in the movie is dull because a pre-hypnotized Peter Gibbons does not see it for more. One of the key moments of the film is when Gibbons, after hypnosis, removes the screws from his cubicle and knocks the walls down. Gibbons quite literally gets a new view of the office building, which allows him to be both more relaxed and happier in his environment. In a satirical twist, Gibbons’ destruction of his space also becomes what leads to his promotion.
Although Gibbons receives a promotion after he begins slacking off, this was not merely a way for the film to poke fun at corporate structures. Instead, the promotion makes the argument that an appreciation of the seemingly monotonous is not only tolerable, but also favored. As Gibbons demonstrates, a more relaxed, optimistic outlook on life can lead to advancements in one’s career, which reinforces the idea that by changing how we conceive of the average routine, we can attain higher levels of satisfaction.
Office Space is a great comedy that does not necessarily have to be watched with much serious reflection. However, through its irony, it reveals some extremely useful insights that apply to both social and work life, which make the film even more deserving of its now classic status. So, if you find yourself stuck in an office building every day, fear not. You, too, can find enlightenment.