The year 1999 gave us the Wachowskis’ touchstone film, The Matrix, the story of a young man seemingly trapped in a meaningless office cubicle existence. The hero of Office Space is no less trapped, no less freed, and no less adored, though the tone of the film is (like Dilbert) comedic rather than darkly futuristic.
If you haven’t seen this cult classic, you are missing out.
See below for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.
My beat sheet for Office Space
Peter is stuck in traffic that moves slower than an elderly man with a walker.
Peter and two friends, Michael Bolton and Samir, all hate working at Initech, a computer software company. They meet for coffee at a chain restaurant called Chotchkie‘s on a particularly annoying Monday in part so that Peter can admire one of the waitresses there—though Peter has a girlfriend already.
One of Peter’s coworkers thinks that the company is hiring consultants to interview and fire people at Initech. Another coworker, Milton, loves his obsolete red Swingline stapler and hates having his desk moved. He mumbles about burning down the building, but nobody listens to anything he says.
Peter’s neighbor Lawrence sympathizes with Peter, telling him he can avoid working on Saturday if he can avoid encountering his boss, Lumbergh, at the end of the day on Friday. Peter tries, but fails. His boss asks him to come to work on both Saturday and Sunday.
Theme Stated / Catalyst
After work on Friday, Peter and his girlfriend Anne go to a hypnotherapy session. Peter just wants to escape his existence, because every day is worse than the one before. The therapist puts Peter into a relaxed state, but then dies of a heart attack, leaving Peter apparently incapable of feeling stressed out by anything.
On Saturday morning, when Peter is supposed to go to work, he ignores his alarm clock. He also ignores calls from his boss.
Break into Two
Finally, Peter gets out of bed and checks the answering machine, deleting a dozen messages from his boss asking where he was as well as a message from Anne saying she was leaving him.
Promise of the Premise / B Story
Peter dresses casually, goes to Chotchkie’s and confidently asks the waitress he has a crush on (Joanna) to have lunch with him at the next-door restaurant, if she wants to. When Joanna shows up, Peter explains his new attitude to his job and life in general. She explains how her boss requires the wait staff to wear “pieces of flair” (quirky accessories on their uniform suspenders) to “express themselves” whether they want to or not. Peter and Joanna discover they both love watching kung fu.
Back at work, Peter makes his way to his desk and writes down Joanna’s number. Then he’s called in to talk to the Bobs, the two consultants Initech has hired to help reduce the staff. Peter explains that he doesn’t really do any work because he has no real motivation. He also explains that he has eight bosses, all of whom have been nagging him about the new cover sheet for the TPS reports. The Bobs decide that it is Peter’s bosses, not Peter, who are to blame for Peter’s ineffectiveness.
On subsequent days, Peter goes to work, but he shows up when he wants, parks where he wants, wears what he wants, and does what he wants. He uninstalls the metal doorknob that used to give him a static shock. He tears down a company banner. He guts a fish at his desk. He unscrews a whole wall of his cubicle and knocks it over so that he can look out the window. He plays Tetris on his desktop computer while his boss is trying to talk to him.
Called into another meeting with the Bobs, Peter learns that he is getting promoted and his two friends Michael and Samir are getting fired at the end of the week.
Peter asks Michael how difficult it would be to rip off Initech. Michael says he could do it easily but he wouldn’t because he has a good job. Peter tells him he’s going to be fired. Michael is now motivated to write a money-stealing virus (like in Superman III), but says he wouldn’t be able to install it. Peter says Samir could. Michael and Samir two manage to convince Samir to break the law by downplaying how bad prison is likely to be if they get caught. They cooperate to deploy the virus on their last day (d**n it feels good to be a gangster).
Michael and Samir are escorted out of the building so they won’t steal anything that can be physically removed. Peter steals the glitchy fax/printer they all hate, and in an iconic scene, they bash it to pieces in a field with a baseball bat, their feet, and their fists.
Bad Guys Close in
Peter, Joanna, Michael, and Samir have all been invited to a barbecue given by a much-gratified coworker who attempted suicide, thought better of it, was hit by a truck and put in a full-body cast, and awarded a ton of money in compensation. Michael and Samir learn from his lawyer that white-collar prison is still pretty bad. Peter fights with Joanna, who thinks it’s wrong for Peter to steal from Initech, and they split.
After a night of bad dreams about Joanna, Peter checks the balance in the account and discovers that they have stolen far more than they thought possible in such a short time. The software must be broken. The money will be missed.
They try to think of a solution. They look up money-laundering in the dictionary. They try to get help from a door-to-door magazine salesman, but he turns out to be an out-of-work software engineer, not a recovering drug addict, and far from helping them by sharing underworld contacts, he blackmails them into buying magazine subscriptions.
All Is Lost
Michael and Samir go home in despair, believing they’ll be caught. They blame Peter. Even Peter’s neighbor Lawrence doesn’t want to talk to him.
Dark Night of the Soul
Peter has a nightmare in which his friends are sentenced to prison and the judge tells him he is a very bad person.
Break into Three
Peter decides to write a confession and return the money. He slips an envelope under his boss’s door. He apologizes to Joanna, who flipped off her annoying boss and is now working for a different restaurant.
Milton complains that he has not received his pay, that his desk has been moved again and is now in the basement, and that the boss has taken away his red Swingline stapler. The secretary does not listen. He wanders into the boss’s office looking for the stapler. He doesn’t find it.
Later, Peter, arriving at work late expecting to be arrested, finds a crowd of employees standing in the parking lot gaping. Initech is on fire.
Peter is enjoying working outside with Lawrence, clearing the Initech site. Michael and Samir stop by to chat; they have started working for Intertrode. Thankfully, evidence of their theft has all gone up in smoke, though possibly the stolen money has, too. Peter finds Milton’s red stapler in the rubble and saves it for him.
Milton has taken the stolen money, in the form of traveler’s checks, to a beach resort. Even there, however, no one listens to him.