Bartleby is a highly stylised black comedy, a first-class satire on bureaucracy, alienated labour and divisions in modern society, and surrealist poem about lost humanity and compassion. The Boss, (the deadpan David Paymer) hires Bartleby (Crispin Gover) to help with the filling and verification of claims. At first the model employee Bartleby begins to utter a simple but powerful refrain: 'I would prefer not to.' It is an issuance that wreaks havoc on the sane world of his workplace, a tiny institution founded on conformity and unmitigated compliance.
An quirky little gem.
- Bartleby review by Shatner's Bassoon
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When the head of a public records office advertises for a new employee only one person responds, Bartleby. A former postal worker who at first works like a man possessed, then for no apparent reason lapses into sloth like apathy and later into an almost catatonic ghost like state. To both the amusement and bemusement of his fellow workers, Bartleby stands all day looking at an air vent in the office ceiling and responds to every request from his boss and co-workers with, 'I would prefer not to'. Lost as to how to handle the situation the office boss retaliates with passive-aggressive acts aimed at getting rid of the man. Until the very end though, Bartleby remains an enigma, who refuses to give up his secrets. The film itself is visually striking, with a comic book technicolour feel almost looking like a black and white film which has been artificially colourised, and the surreal angles and spooky theremin soundtrack add to the overall deadpan quirky feel of the film. Mix this in with a unique story, a subtle satire on corporate life and the attempt to put right those who are outside of the norm, and Bartleby is an almost hypnotically engaging film. If you enjoy this also check out Crispin Glover in the equally quirky Willard.
This is not mainstream and should be avoided if you want the Hollywood formula film. It is however bleakly and simply a satire on the lives of many ordinary workers stuck in crushingly boring jobs. How many in this silent majority?
To those who identify with any of the characters in the plot; it is intensely cathartic. The impermeable dismissive type , the neurotic and the sex obsessed are coping behaviours represented in this pitiful abyss of drudgery.
In the interviews a British film from the same book is mentioned. I wish I could find it; I would enjoy another angle on this black side of life.