“Michael, I did nothing. I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything that I thought it could be.”
Whether you’ve seen it or not, if you work in an office, you know Office Space. Even today, eighteen years after its release, mentions of TPS reports or pieces of flair bring laughs to office workers. Written and directed by Mike Judge (Idiocracy, Silicon Valley) and starring Ron Livingston and Jennifer Aniston, this movie captured the monotony and pointlessness that had defined office jobs for decades. And perhaps unexpectedly, this movie had a profound impact on office culture for years to come. I won’t argue that it’s brilliant; but its portrayal of office life and the frustration of office workers in the 90s is spot on. It’s also very funny.
The plot follows Peter, a software developer who updates software for the Y2K event and hates his job. He sees an occupational hypnotherapist to ease the pain caused by his career and is put into a deep sleep where all of his cares and inhibitions go away. Then, the hypnotherapist dies before he can bring Peter back. What follows is a long string of events where Peter says and does everything young adults stuck in corporate jobs wished they had the guts to say and do. A scheme is hatched to steal money from the company, which sets the movie’s major events in motion.
You know, the Nazis had pieces of flair that they made the Jews wear.
The greatest thing about this movie is how perfectly it summed up the sentiment of young people working in corporate America. There was perhaps an accidental brilliance in this. Much like the 60s, the 90s were a time of cultural revolution. The Baby Boomers had run the show for decades, but Generation X was beginning to gain some clout in the workplace, and frankly, they were sick of the bullshit that had weaved its way into corporate America. Since this movie came out, we’ve come to realize that GenX workers actually make fantastic managers for this very reason—they focus on results and are great at motivating employees. Office Space was outright prophetic in that regard, and it’s probably the best example to point to when talking about how office culture and management theory have changed in the past thirty years or so. It’s not a leap to say that this movie changed how we thought about office work, which is why it’s still so memorable today.
(Full disclosure: I am a GenX manager/software developer working in a large office.)
But this is not a stuffy behavioral study—this is a comedy! And it’s hilarious! The humor is irreverent, offbeat, and very funny. There are so many funny scenes, from Peter’s dream about his girlfriend and his boss to the infamous printer scene, and so many great lines as well. I’m not usually a fan of rap music, but seeing the rap music juxtaposed with the nerdy software developers never fails to bring a smile to my face.
Office Space is brilliant commentary on office culture, and anyone who works in an office will find something to relate to here. This unfortunately makes it a bit of a niche film, as some of that humor won’t quite hit others the way it will office workers. That’s a big reason why this great comedy was a commercial failure that barely made back its production budget. But if you work in an office and haven’t seen this movie, you need to change that as soon as possible.
Director: Mike Judge