I’m fascinated by Visioneers. To boil the plot down to its most basic elements: Zach Galifianakis plays George Washington Winsterhammerman, an employee at the Jeffers Corporation, “the largest and friendliest and most profitable corporation in the history of mankind.” His job is boring, incomprehensible, and unfulfilling. He can’t muster the enthusiasm to get intimate with his wife (Judy Greer). He has no relationship with his never-seen son. He falls in love with his co-worker Charisma (Mia Maestr0), who he only talks to on the phone. Meanwhile, the stress of living in a soulless, sterile corporate society is causing people to spontaneously explode all across the country.
This sounded like it had the potential to become one of the worst movies I’d ever seen, but it surprised me. I watched it once and was confused; I watched it again and fell in love with it. This movie is beautiful.
I worked in a few different “corporate” jobs over the past 8 years, and I went through the usual emotional progression – cheerful optimism, grim determination, bitter disappointment, paralyzing rage, and then listless apathy. I was finally forced to adopt the philosophy that, if I just came in every morning, did my job, and THEN went home and lived a happy life, everything would be fine.
Visioneers shows that this really isn’t possible. The Jeffers Corporation stresses production above all else – dull, mindless production. The company doesn’t actually produce anything other than keeping people working. Nobody has dreams, goals, or aspirations beyond maybe moving up to the next level of the building. In fact, actual dreams are viewed as a symptom of mental illness (and eventual explosion).
George’s life away from work is just as empty of purpose. People in this movie – except those who have given up any concept of personal desire and satisfaction – are uniformly miserable and unfulfilled, and they turn to cheap TV and meaningless self-help books to give their lives meaning.
The picture of the heartless, nightmarish “corporate society” painted by Visioneers rings so true (we’re basically 80% of the way there already). An announcement plays every minute of the day, informing workers how many minutes of work remain in the week – similar to the internal announcement each of us make as each hour brings us closer to the weekend. In an attempt to stop their employees from exploding, the company forces them to carry around stuffed bears; a survey then asks them to describe their “sexual relationship” with said bears. It makes you realize that the people at the top of the ladder who devise these morale-boosting activities have no idea what morale is.
Visioneers isn’t a comedy, despite its few moments of black humor. It’s not a straight-up corporate satire. It’s a movie about doing what it takes to be happy, even if that means shrugging at everything society tells you is important. It’s about realizing that you just might be trapped in a society where people are giving up their humanity and blowing up from the stress. It’s about reaching the end of that self-help book and finding that the only real advice it has to offer is: “Happiness is being happy” (“What the fuck am I supposed to do with that?” one character wails).
It’s not a perfect movie by any means – it can be a little too obvious and preachy, and the budget obviously wasn’t the biggest – but it’s one of those “big idea” movies that I saw at just the right time. If you’ve ever spent any time in a cubicle, it’s worth a watch.