To the chagrin of most of my friends, I absolutely adore Joe Versus the Volcano. There…I said it. And the ground hasn’t caved in under me nor have stars ceased to shine.
While admittedly not the most deftly-crafted film ever, this film’s opening segment blows me away — the darkness, the gloom, the meaningless job routines and senseless policies, the grotesquely incompetent manager played to the hilt by Dan Hedaya. For me, it’s the quintessential depiction of the toxic workplace and all we hate about work. And better than almost any film I’ve ever seen, it speaks to the fundamental question of what we are willing to accept in our career and work life — and what we aren’t.
And so, without further ado, here’s the opening segment of Joe Versus the Volcano:
Fave moments for me in this segment:
Mr. Waturi on the phone adamantly repeating (as if it’s getting him anywhere): “I know he can get the job, but can he do the job? I know he can GET the job, but can he DO the job?”
Meg Ryan’s sincere secretary character, Dede, asks Joe, played by Tom Hanks: “What’s with the shoe?” And Joe, oblivious to the pun, replies: “I’m losing my sole.” Amen.
And then the coup de grâce is when Joe tells his boss, Mr. Waturi, that he isn’t feeling well, and Mr. Waturi looks him right in the eyes as if this alone were a good-enough answer: “Nobody feels good. After childhood it’s a fact of life.” Ah…the bottom-line work attitude in so many places.
And if you can hang in for the next segment where Joe finally quits, you’ll get to see a vastly different Joe after his doctor has just told him he has a mysterious “brain cloud”:
Fave moments in this segment:
Mr. Waturi on the phone again, connecting as well via technology as he does with anyone in the office: “No. No. You were wrong. He was wrong. Who said that? I didn’t say that. If I said that I would have been wrong…I’m not arguing that with you. I’m not ARGUING that with you.” Communicating little, ready to blame anyone else, and once again getting nowhere. Ever met him?
And then, as Joe bids farewell to Waturi and his soul-devouring job, our hero finally lets go and tells his boss just how awful the job is, how little of his time has been spent accomplishing anything of value, and how truly terrible Waturi himself is looking, adding: “Not that anybody could look good under these zombie lights. I can feel them sucking the juice out of my eyeballs.” Oh man…how often I’ve felt THAT!
Now that I think back, I actually may have stood up and applauded the first time I saw that scene. Maybe even with a knowing tear in my eye.
The author, John Patrick Shanley (known for writing Doubt, Moonstruck, and many other truly wonderful things) really nails the dismal side of nine-to-five work life in just the first 15 minutes or so of the film. But if you get to see the whole film (and I hope you do despite its imperfections and maybe even because of them), there is a loud and clear message for all of us about life — what we’re willing to accept and what we can create for ourselves if only we let go of the DIY walls (and brain clouds) we so methodically help create for ourselves.
Oh…and in case you think this is a totally serious film just brimming with work-life messages and philosophy, there’s also big luggage, a hungry volcano, soda-loving island natives led by Abe Vigoda, and a potpourri of deliciously silly moments.
Just some things to think about. (Uh…maybe not so much the volcano or Abe Vigoda unless that’s your thing. )
Feel free to add your own take on work, soul-sucking bosses, the toxic workplace, or whatever else comes to mind. And if you have a favorite film, book, poem, song, etc. on this topic, please share it with us!