Office Space is essentially about boredom at work. How most people hate their jobs and will do the bare minimum needed to not get fired. This is especially visible at larger companies, where the incentives of the employer do not always align with those of the employees.
The plot initially appears to be based on the familiar trope of “instant transformation” due to some chance encounter in the character’s life. Our lead is Peter, who is an office worker tired of the daily grind. He visits a hypnotherapist who puts him in a trance-like state. After recovering from this trance, Peter discovers that he’s somehow mastered the art of not-giving-a-fuck. It seems to give him a certain confidence that he direly needed before. Unlike most people in today’s world, he knows what he wants and will not hesitate to ask for it. This causes him to get a promotion, better salary and also the woman he’s been vying for. All in the same day. He also learns that his employer is planning to fire his two closest workmates and is absolutely pissed at that. They hatch a plan together to introduce a rounding bug in their company’s software program so that they may transfer the difference into their own accounts. However, their bug itself has a bug and starts to accrue a lot more money than expected. Fearing a painful incarceration, the trio decide to give up and return the money. Fortunately for them, a disgruntled former employee happens to set fire to the entire building which causes all record of their crime to vanish. The final moments of the movie show Peter taking up a job as a construction worker amidst the debris of his previous workplace. This tangible work gives a lot more meaning to his life, compared to the petty concerns of workplace politics. It is also heavy-handed symbolism of the new life that he finds in the ashes of his previous workplace.
I like to think that the problem does not exist anymore and that today’s offices are nothing like the nineties; but I’d be deluding myself. If anything, the appropriation of motivational quotes, polite corporate speak, passive aggression, veiled threats and other trademark practices have only proliferated in usage. Hell, I even caught myself falling into one of the archetypes that are portrayed so effectively in the film.
The movie condenses into a few characters, the various traits of an oppressive workplace. This includes the narcissistic boss, the shy workaholic, the sharp immigrant, the neurotic nerd and that guy who’s been here since forever and won’t stop talking. We also get a glimpse into the seedy role of “consultants” who have absolutely nothing to lose even if they do their job badly. We see the decision makers having zero emotional involvement into the lives of their workers and even avoid confrontation with the employees whose jobs they control. My favorite gag is the one where an employer only pretends to give their employees a choice in their attire and becoming passive aggressive when that choice is actually utilized.
Another recurring question in the plot is the idea of what one would do if they had a million dollars. And the recommendation that whatever comes to your mind is the career that you should be pursuing. The plot expounds heavily against the trite nature of this question and how most people, including the featured trio, have no idea what they would do if they actually did have a million dollars. It expresses irritation at the trivialization that the question represents and how most answers to this kind of question are also gamed.
Apart from the people, there’s also the vivid frustrations and warped perspectives that develop as a result of the myopia inducing cubicle. Things like the erring printer, the red stapler, the TPS reports, forgotten memos and reserved parking spots all acquire an importance that would have been impossible for the same objects in personal life.
Turning into someone like Peter’s boss, Bill Lundbergh is definitely one of my worst nightmares. So is the other end of the spectrum where one is so bent into servitude that resorting to crime is the only way to have their say.
The extreme caricatures of workplace attitudes make me recommend this movie to anyone who works in any place that looks like a conventional office setting, especially if they’re in a position of power.