Wednesday, November 23, 2011

“It’s not that I’m lazy – I just don’t care:” Mike Judge’s Killer Office Satire

The topic of leadership in the workplace came up over lunch today, and naturally, Office Space came to mind. After all, the film’s got universal appeal. If you’ve ever worked in an office, or worked any place for that matter, you can surely appreciate how spot-on Office Space depicts workplace politics and corporate mentality, and it does so with such hilarity. Like Scott Adams’ Dilbert cartoon, Office Space succeeds so well at satirizing the notion that office life is a nightmare and that office work is spirit-crushing and soul-sucking.

Mike Judge made Office Space a smart, modern-day office comedy because he paid attention to the tiny details and satirized the things we’re all familiar with – things that even slightly exaggerated, generate the intended comic effect. Think about Peter’s commute to work. He’s sitting in his car stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic when a man with a walker slowly, traveling faster than anyone in a vehicle, bypasses him. Think, too, about Milton, Peter’s disgruntled co-worker, whose cubicle is relocated so many times that he eventually winds up in a cubicle that’s walled-in on every side. Recall when Peter’s supervisor reminds him that all reports must now come with a cover sheet. Then another manager comes along and reminds him of the same thing. And then another. Judge’s insinuation is that when the jobs of managers overlap and the same information is being relayed repeatedly, there’s no real need for all those managers.

Office Space succeeds because it recreates the office work environment so accurately. The vapidity of the corporate world and the blandness of cubicle life are rendered so familiar by the simple yet effective cinematography and set design and by the cast of characters that surround Peter. The four gray walls that house the guy who’s just happy to be working and the guy who’s on the verge of losing his mind resonate with any former or current cubicle workers.

Office Space grossed unremarkable numbers at the box office, but thankfully, it found life on video, DVD and cable so though very few people saw it in theatres, everybody’s seen the film. It’s a memorable movie that succeeds due to its sly and smart satirical comedy rather than on physical or gross-out humour. Judge’s view of office life as a banal, meaningless and unsatisfying culture where the minutiae of corporate beaurocracy is overwhelming and the work sucks – makes for a funny, entertaining and smart observation and the fact that a comedy can ring true and be funny is a pretty rare feat. On paper, a scene with three guys smashing a printer with baseball bats in a field may not sound all that compelling or funny, but that scene is easily one of the funniest in the film and Judge brings to life what has surely been a fantasy of many an office worker who've felt completely fed up by paper jam error messages on printers that have no paper jam.


  1. After years of listening to people talk about this movie and how funny it is I finally saw it. There were a few funny parts but I've gotta say, I wasnt all that impressed. I just dont see what all the hype is about with this film.....

  2. It's every office workers wet dream. Peter's transformation creates a hero for modern times. Ignoring your boss, undermining him, and finally quitting to do something much more satisfying! It was worth the death of one hypnotist!

  3. "Coporate accounts payable, Nina Speaking. Just a moment...Coporate accounts payable, Nina Speaking. Just a moment". Bahahaha, I LOVE Office Space!

  4. I reviewed this recently too. I am always surprised by how easy it is to re-watch. Countless classic moments (the photocopier, any scene with Lumbergh), and Peter is a great every-man hero.

  5. Hey JBT, how about those TPS reports? You see, mmm, we need those by next Monday mmm-kay. Great... and if you're... um... up for an office party... yeah... could you finish those reports early... yeah... that's great.

  6. "You've been missing a lot of work lately." "I wouldn't say I've been *missing* it exactly."

    A few years ago I mentioned this movie to a woman I had worked with since before Office Space had come out. Neither of us had ever mentioned it to the other before. Without a moments hesitation, she did a dead on impersonation of the boss, complete with all the hems and haws. It had me laughing for the rest of the day.

    I was in the IT industry, so this movie hit even closer to home for me. The whole Y2K thing, the scam to shave off the fractions of cents - all of it had been topics of discussion in IT departments for years.

  7. @Phips - Understandable. I've had that reaction before too. I work in an office and I think that's why I find the satire so amusing.

    @Pete - Peter is definitely an every-man hero who rebels against the corporate beaurocracy and comes out smelling like a rose.

    @Squasher88 - that is a great bit. The movie's got so many!

    @Andy Buckle - I haven't watched it in awhile. It came to mind out of a discussion about work, but now that it's been on my mind, I definitely want to check it out again. I've no doubt it will still make me howl with laughter.

    @thevoid99 - Yeah. I got the memo. And I understand the policy. And the problem is just that I forgot the one time. And I've already taken care of it so it's not even really a problem anymore.

    @Chip Lary - Ha! Another classic line from the film. It's amazing how many people can immediately quote/imitate the film when it's mentioned. As an office worker, so many aspects hit close to home and it's so bang on!


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