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This week in cinema: Bwog’s expert Film Filterer Mark Hay takes umbrage at the end of leisure and the return to toil.
It never ceases to amaze, the way that one week’s absence can erase the memory of and tolerance for the massive gobs of work that are collectively Columbia. With the end of spring break and your return to the salt mines, your life may feel somewhat deflated and repetitive.
At times like this, nothing helps your sense of righteous indignation at your current state like a little cinematic sympathy. As such, we present to you three movies culled from Netflix’s Instant Watch and specially designed to validate your burning hatred of work and bourgeoning antipathy. Since we’re such affable types, we’ve thrown in a few chuckles, and a semi-valid reason to procrastinate, to boot. Now, children, go forth and sulk in front of your television screens.
Office Space (2001)
How Mike Judge (“Beavis and Butt-head,” “King of the Hill”) could possibly have produced a film so blunt yet so soft remains a puzzle for the ages; however, in Office Space, Judge seems not to be fixated on cheap laughs and sitcom humor, but rather upon the banal and absurd that can be channeled from the 1990s American software company, and the plight of the workers within. Repetition, smug managers, and trivial tasks reduce the lives of mid-level workers into a grinding and soul-wrenching rut, slowly transforming them from men into walking powder-kegs of resentment. That the film has caught on not just with IT workers, but with workers of all stripes (and even students!), reflects the relatable nature of the film’s office.
Those of us freshly returned to school after a wonderful abstraction from the work-a-day world may take some comfort in this film. However, when we cheer for Ron Livingston, David Herman, Stephen Root, and Ajay Naidu as they lay waste to a dysfunctional copier, steal from their office, and finally burn down the company, should we be frightened by this sympathy? Should we act upon it? Or should we see this striking comedy as a cautionary tale and a call to pursue our hearts over our wallets? If you currently question your presence at Columbia, “Office Space” may be just what you need, so long as no one has tried to steal your Swingline lately.
The Shining (1980)
Although Kubrick’s film centers around a rather flimsy ghost story, a haunting the likes of which we see every year or two, “The Shining” still has the power to scare the bajeezus out of us. It is not the ghosts that terrify, however — the film’s terror comes from the realization that the most horrifying acts within the film are enacted by the most typical of people, and arise only by the acceleration and accentuation of their own inborn madness. In fact, rarely do the ghosts even interact with the family, save to push them towards their own self-destruction. As such, the film moves beyond the concept of possession to confront the viewer with the terrifying revelation that a human being can change completely and totally into a sociopath without supernatural affliction.
Jack Nicholson, though cackling and deranged, never appears as an alter-Jack, never as a changed or out-of-body Jack; he is always the same old Jack with the same consciousness, but he has simply forgotten his admirable qualities and selectively put forth only his drunken and abusive side (which, early in the film, Kubrick readily informs us are part of his, and perhaps therefore everyone’s, natural character). Kubrick intends for this sudden change to be absolutely believable, and, during filming, he made his actors repeat a scene up to 160 times to insure that the madness of the repetition soaked into the humanity of their characters. There is also an unshakable relatablity to Jack’s madness – think of the common and jovial usage of the term “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Ultimately, as we work, we must consider Kubrick’s challenging assertion: that the simplest things–isolation, focus–can aid in unleashing the demons within all of us, demons far more horrifying than any the supernatural can display.
Modern Times (1936)
There’s something inexplicable about Charlie Chaplin. After seventy-three years, his films, nearly wordless, and relying on mainly slapstick humor to drive both plot and laughs, nevertheless have an unexpected power and appeal. Perhaps Chaplin’s charm carries the films–a superb actor, no one before or since has quite so perfectly captured the attitude and grace necessary to turn slapstick from a base and negligible trick into a memorable art. Or perhaps Chaplin’s mindset just resonates with the average viewer. No one can deny the sympathy they feel for Chaplin and Co. as they are dragged about, driven insane, trodden under, and, ultimately, forced to play second fiddle to mechanization and industrialization.
To employ a Yakov Smirnoff approach, in modern life (and Modern Times), it often feels not so much like we do work, but more like work does us. Chaplin’s film, then, acts as a cry for help, a death portrait of man as he is consumed and ruled by his own creations, slowly (and sometimes literally) turning into just another cog in the machine. The style of the film itself is a battle cry against modernization: the film, mostly silent in protest of the rise of the “talkies,” features dialogue from only the antagonists until Chaplin’s finale song. Yet, unlike the other directors on this list (who recognize the insanity and mind-numbing subversion work wrecks upon our lives but leave us with no suggestions other than that of monstrous escape), Chaplin offers a message of solidarity and hope. His final lines call out to all of us:
Paulette Goddard: What’s the use of trying?
Chaplin: Buck up–never say die. We’ll get along.