🎬 #49 Free Your Mind: Film In The Year 1999 - Part Two.
This is part 2 of the newsletter than takes a look at 99’s obsession with breaking free of the system. This time it’s looking at what Spielberg called a ‘classic’ film and one of the great under-appreciated comedies of all time. They have a lot more in common than you might think.
I hope you enjoy.
Happy choosing, happy viewing
THE COMMON WORK/ LIFE CRISIS IN AMERICAN BEAUTY AND OFFICE SPACE.
American Beauty, 1999 Dir Sam Mendes | Office Space, 1999 Dir Mike Judge
Both these films have discovery at their centre. The discovery that you don’t have to follow the rules or stay in the lane society told you to stay in. You can change things. You can leave your job, you can become a literally different person. Ron Livingston’s ‘Peter’ is hypnotised to become someone who doesn’t care about work, and so his life is transformed as a result. Kevin Spacey’s ‘Lester’ is ‘hypnotised’ by an infatuation with his daughter’s best friend, and his ‘stupid little life’ is turned upside down.
Even the mechanics of the plot are similar, both ‘steal’ money from their company in order to escape the drudgery of their cubicle trap of a life. They each regress back to a free-er ‘pre-adult’ responsibilities version of themselves, watching movies, kicking back, working low responsibility jobs and hanging out with their ‘odd ball’ neighbour. They rediscover who they are without a job title - without someone telling them who they should be. They are both literally trapped in the first act of the film - Peter in the lanes of traffic leading to Initech and Lester in the jail cell monitor of his unknown, unnamed workplace - the generic office that anyone could work in.
Each protagonist spends the rest of the film escaping the prison they’ve found themselves in. It’s no surprise that they each find solace outside - the opposite of their respective prisons. Peter lets the seemingly hundreds of messages from Bill Lumbergh played by Gary Cole wash over him, sleeping in most of the day. While Lester lets the skyscrapers of corporate America, reflected in his car windscreen, wash over him as he rediscovers the freedom he’s yearned for all along.
Lester and Peter enjoying a new found peace and joy. A lust for a different life.
In both films their neighbour represents the kind of person they want to become - someone with tons of confidence, knows what they want, who they are. Ricky Fitts, played by the excellent Wes Bentley, is Lester’s gate way drug into a more confident, capable mindset. Peter’s neighbour Lawrence becomes his proxy for a life he'd like to live - less worries, more chilling - a person at peace with doing absolutely nothing except wanting a three-way. They are their heroes in many ways, Lester even declares as much to Ricky. And partly inspired by them, they each successfully dismantle the boxes their lives are stuck in - Peter literally does so.
Escaping the lives they’d built around themselves, they get outside - Lester runs, he gets fit, he lifts weights, Peter goes fishing. The natural world, Lester’s tree-lined street, Peter’s fishing trip represents the total opposite of their manufactured environment. Their bodies aren’t constrained by the bland ergonomics, uniform lighting and grey prison walls of their offices any more. Even their wardrobe transforms. Their bodies are free of the suit and tie, they choose casual, loose. They choose jobs with less responsibility- so they can enjoy the short time they have here.
At the dawn of the new century we’re inspired to look beyond what things are expected of us and challenge why things are the way they are. A kind of collective life crisis. We have to look at ourselves and how we were meant to be without anyone there to tell us who we are - ‘to thine own self be true.’
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