By Levar Polson
In 2009, David Bowie’s son directed a futuristic, sci-fi feature with endearing art-house sensibilities. The film is centred on the experiences of an astronaut who has been working in isolation for a number of years, mining precious minerals on the far side of the moon. I’m going to enthusiastically suggest to anyone reading this to watch “Moon”, particularly if you’re a recent graduate and/or have recently delved into what is regarded as the ‘real world’ of employment. You will not regret it.
“Moon” is a film about us, but will resonate with anyone who knows what it feels like to be a hamster in a large employment wheel.
Packaged in a way aesthetically reminiscent of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, the film is an intricate spotlight on the modern-day employee and their relationship to corporate conveyor belt philosophies.
Experiencing “Moon” as a student left me feeling entirely different to watching it quite recently as an employed graduate. I, like so many post-recession graduates, am not in the field of work I had intended to be in or invested time towards, but have settled (temporarily I tell you, world!) for an unrelated occupation, in order to surf this devastating economic wave. Don’t get me wrong I am not complaining, I have a job and it pays. However, something about Moon resonated so deeply with me when watching it at this time, leaving me feeling a lot more aggravated, introspective and emotionally disjointed than I was after watching it three years ago.
There’s a reason why older people tell us that University will be the best years of our lives. It’s not just because of the excessive sleeping, ridiculous amounts of over-indulging or the stupendous sex. It is due to the fact that those who have already experienced it know that whilst you’re at Uni, you’re actually living.
Work however, has an inimitable trait of getting in the way of living.
I’m not saying this with any semblance of laziness or from a benefit fuelled, ‘anti work for a living’ attitude, which I happen to despise. I’m saying this as a critique on the structures in place that emphasise mindless attainment, derivative of work, in order to be happy, instead of finding happiness from life itself. Let me explain what I mean.
“Moon” contains allegories for the ways in which life is hindered by our daily work schedules. Sam, the film’s protagonist is coming to the end of a three year contract, all the while missing out on the precious years of his infant daughter’s development, along with any proper interaction with his wife. His work commitments have led him to exist on autopilot creating an employed clone out of him…quite literally.
Now while human clones may be science fiction, worker drones are a daily reality. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I ever want to be is a drone. The thought of work being the defining aspect of my life makes me want to pack up all my shit and live the rest of my days amongst Tibetan monks. You can identify drones by the things they say. Things such as “same shit, different day” or constantly stating, “I’m so bored.” Boredom is derivative of repetition, and nothing is more repetitive than a mundane job.
Let me just state that if you’ve studied and gone on to automatically have the career of your dreams, this article is not intended for you! It was comedian Chris Rock who wittily stated; “There’s a difference between a job and a career. If you have a career there’s never enough time in the day. If you have a job, time never goes fast enough!” Indeed, I’d say to Mr Rock and add to this notion, the old saying of, ‘you either live to work or work to live’.
This piece is intended for those of us currently residing within the latter category.
Many of us aim towards a career but are currently experiencing a limbo state within a job. These are people who know what it is to grind out a shift and to commute at peak times where you resemble a sardine more than a human. For those who can comprehend what it is to be so tired that you actually tell friends you cannot come for an after work drink, because you’re going home to sleep! Or to those who daydream something resembling a “Mortal Kombat” fatality for that one colleague who really irritates you.
On second thoughts, maybe these facets of working life are not necessarily limited to people in jobs, maybe they are more universal and simply apply to anyone whose work takes over large proportions of their life. Maybe I’m being reductionist by presuming people within a variety of spheres do not feel this way about their work/life ratio.
The late and quite great Christopher Lasch’s pivotal text; “The Culture of Narcissism” contains a sub chapter entitled ; “Ironic detachment as an escape from routine.” Here he cleverly deconstructs the worker clone/drone existence. Lasch writes that ”the worker takes refuge in jokes, mockery and cynicism in order to create an ironic distance from his daily routine.” In relation to Moon, this summary perfectly encapsulates Sam, up in space working daily in his isolated place. Sam is us in a fantastical context, but even in the beautiful and ethereal setting of the moon’s surface, his life has become second place to his occupational duties.
If you think back to the underlying premise of the first of “The Matrix” films, the theme wasn’t just about a lack of social autonomy, what we now refer to as the ‘big brother’ aspects of society. It was also about the regularity and rigidity of the workplace. There is a reason why Thomas Anderson’s boss is a carbon copy of ‘Agents’, the programmed machines who govern the artificial Matrix world. Anderson’s boss signifies corporate power, those who are there to preside and govern with only the success of the business as its key incentive.
The film’s directors the Wachowski brothers were criticising the nature of the corporate world: the hierarchical, hegemonic building blocks tied to day-to-day employment. “Mr. Anderson” is just that…a ‘Mr’. There may be only one Mr. Anderson in that business, but he’s still a clone and like Sam, it is work that directly made him so. But what we see is that as he becomes more aware of his clone-like existence, his identity shifts and eventually becomes Neo. Is it that the Wachowskis are telling us that awareness of our occupational bonds leads to re-awakened identities? I’d like to think so.
By all means, work hard people. Do whatever necessary to enjoy your working days. But ask yourself whether your work has become your life or more importantly, whether you really want it to be. Here’s to life being about more than just the daily grind.
Levar Polson is Not So Reviews’ Film & TV columnist
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