Warren Cantrell, the man behind the madness at 10rant.com is back again this week with another raving Top 10 list. Here’s Warren:
Be honest: even if you love your job, if it is fulfilling and gratifying in all the ways employment can be, you’ve probably daydreamed about quitting. When there’s a power dynamic connecting two people whereby one has authority over the other through socially constructed means, it creates a divide between the pair that is hard for many to reconcile. Sure, if somebody is bigger, stronger, or more skilled at fighting than you, a Hobbesian switch is flipped, and humans routinely back off when faced by their superior.
There is something almost primal about the desire to overcome the self-imposed divide between people, however, and when one can’t speak their mind for an extended period because of fears surrounding job-security, a nasty toxin tends to build up. Again, even if you love your job, chances are you’ve thought about that delicious day when you might be able to say just what you mean, and say it with the conviction that belongs to a person muted by years of quiet obedience. To combine this with a defiant and sudden refusal to work any longer is the veritable cherry on top, for nothing hurts a company like the sudden realization that they will henceforth be down one employee without any notice.
My buddy Kelton once said that to quit without notice was the one card an employee had to play when all others had been taken away. He stated defiantly that if your job could sever ties with you at any time, then it was a person’s undisputed right to return the favor. It’s fitting that he came to me with the idea for this list, and it is in his honor that it has been written. The films on today’s ranking range from this quiet refusal to work any longer to full-blown tirades in the face of one’s former master. To make the list, the character in question had to have a scene where they clearly and without question told their boss they were quitting.
Thus, no silent walk-outs, resignation letters, or implied quitting was allowed (sorry, “La Femme Nikita”). Those just missing the cut include “The Mosquito Coast,” “Take This Job and Shove It,” “The Jetsons Movie” and “Wanted.” Enough talking, though: let’s get down to business.
10. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
I was told by a number of my closest, trusted friends that this movie had a job-quitting scene to rival the best choices listed on today’s ranking. While it had a decent enough resignation, I had no idea that the movie it was trapped within was such an unapologetic piece of shit devoid of any possible redemption. Well, I had my suspicions. When I watched this movie last week to get at the scene in question, everything that had screamed “chick-flick” during the trailers and promos came crashing down upon my head. I try to be fair most of the time, and give movies the benefit of the doubt despite ad campaigns sandwiched between floor cleaner and tampon pitches, yet everything I had feared about this movie was vindicated within minutes. An early-30s advertising professional with ass and self-pity to spare opined pathetically for the better part of 98 minutes while the audience watched her sink deeper and deeper into self-imposed victimhood. Though it was clear to those watching–and even Bridget (Renée Zellweger) herself–that her problems were rooted in a lack of self-confidence and dignity, the whiny cow never seemed capable of overcoming her seeming inability to take control of her life.
You think you’re fat? Stop drinking vodka and wine by the bottle every night and get on a treadmill (stationary bikes are a poor substitute). You’re sure that your boss is a prick and is terrible for you? Don’t flirt and seduce him then act surprised when the asshole fucks you over for some skinny brunette. Your mother keeps mortifying you? Cut the hag off and tell her if she does it again, you’ll withdraw any promise of grandchildren or communication going forward. The one nice man in your life finally comes around and starts paying attention to you? Then tell the wanker boss you were humping to sit on something sharp and get on with things. Throughout this entire movie Bridget kept talking about the stupid shit she was doing or going to do, then went for it anyway, acting surprised when the other shoe inevitably dropped. Maybe this is how women think all the time, and is at the root of what makes them the way they are, yet I’ll be damned if I can get my head around it. Bridget’s one moment of triumph (other than an ending which should have seen her get ass-frostbite) came when she quit her job, and told Hugh Grant that she’d rather wipe a dictator’s ass than keep working at the company. She did it defiantly and within earshot of the entire office. Satisfying, delicious, yet mildly polite in a way only a Brit. could really appreciate (an American would have tipped something over and coated half the office with fire extinguisher foam), it was the perfect resignation for a woman who spent most of the movie balancing things she wanted with those she knew she could never possess. For this, I gave it a reluctant nod.
9. High Noon (1952)
Probably the best film to ever get a #9 slot on one of my lists, “High Noon” definitely deserves a spot despite the absence of loud, brash theatrics in Kane’s resignation. Gary Cooper (Kane) played the marshal of Hadleyville, and was on his way to a cozy retirement with an absolutely fresh Grace Kelly (Amy) when he learned that his long-time nemesis Ian MacDonald (Frank Miller) dodged a date with the noose and was on his way back to town for some revenge. Kane had sent Miller to the shithouse, and Miller had vowed revenge if ever presented with the opportunity to exact it. Although a lot of people in Hadleyville respected Kane’s decision to stay behind and see the conflict through, nobody was willing to stand with the man to help out. As Cooper’s character went from friend to friend, every well-intentioned citizen shrunk from their honorable duty to stand and fight for justice.
It’s a well-known fact that this picture was written as an allegory to protest the injustice of the American legal system during the early 1950s, when fear and suspicion infected a nation that fancied itself full of honorable justice. Sen. Joseph McCarthy had turned our government into a persecution factory: all those not along for the ride tossed in with those alleged to be traitors/communists. Like those who agreed and went along with the purging to save their own asses, the townsfolk of Hadleyville knew that they should act, yet could not manage to expose their comfortable lives to danger. There were many who might have banded together to stop McCarthy (and indeed, after a time, there were some who found such courage), yet as individuals many ran and acquiesced to submission. In Kane, Americans in 1952 had a hero as mighty as anything the Greeks or Romans created, for in him was a man who knew the risks, knew the dangers, and despite a contented life and beautiful spouse easily within reach, went back and did the right thing. Few in 1952 displayed such valor. After standing up to fight for a just cause, after all foes had been vanquished, Kane turned to the people of Hadleyville, his employers, and tossed his badge in the dust. They had turned their backs on him, yet he did his duty anyway, only leaving them after the honorable thing had been done. Quick, yet powerfully suggestive, the scene has been played out in many a different homage throughout the years. But since we’re on the subject of American classics, and efficient scenes of resignation, we better go ahead and get into …
8. Road House (1989)
Again, short but sweet, yet perfectly in character with Patrick Swayze’s definitive role, Dalton’s resignation from the club at the beginning of this film said pretty much everything there was to say about the guy. In the establishing shot through the opening credits, the audience was shown a brisk nightclub working at peak efficiency. The paying crowd was happy, the band was rocking, and what little trouble there was to be found was quickly (and peacefully) removed from the grounds. The owner of a shitty roadhouse bar had come to get a look at the toughest damn cooler in the Midwest, and was only mildly disappointed when he first set eyes on the legendary Dalton. It was clear from the beginning that this cooler wasn’t one to offer his services at a meager rate. He wanted travel, medical, and weekly expenses covered without any arguments, and had a pretty high per diem asking price, even when adjusted for 20 years inflation.
His soon-to-be new boss obviously saw something in The Swayze’s eye, however, and immediately agreed to all terms. This, of course, set up the sweet-ass resignation, which Dalton approached as might he any other situation where tension and conflict appeared. With no theatrics, Dalton simply looked the successful club owner in the eye and told him he was walking: no notice, no explanation, nothing. The club owner was understandably upset, and tried to argue the point a bit, yet Dalton was having none of it. Likely making a point to his new boss, as he had told him a condition of employment would be his ability to quit at any time, Dalton made sure the owner of the Double Deuce knew he was a man of his word. In as long a time as it takes most of us to whine about overtime, The Swayze made the dream come to life and walked in honor of all those who cannot. Rest in peace, old buddy, and thanks.
7. Parenthood (1989)
I love this one because it was so genuine, so tangible. Steve Martin’s Gil was a father truly doing his very best. As a husband, he tried to provide for his family and share the toil of a marriage. As a father, he made every effort to connect with his children and give them the personal attention and loving affection his own father had withheld. As many a man has found over the years, however, to be as good a father as most wish is nearly impossible, for to give the world to one’s progeny usually means working so hard that the kids are all but abandoned. In Gil’s case, this was even more pressing for the three kids that he did have, for one had mild emotional problems and the other two were just straight loopy. On top of this he had a sister married to Rick Moranis, a father who worshipped a deadbeat gambling junkie, and a job that sucked the life out of a father frantically trying to cobble one together for his family.
Working especially hard to try and get partner status at his company, Gil’s efforts were quashed, his boss telling him that the position had gone to a guy who had sacrificed his homelife to get new clients in the door. Where Steve Martin’s character had contributed the best a good father could possibly offer (more, even), it was the soulless fiend that had gotten client rep.’s laid and coked up who got the promotion. His boss made it clear that working as hard as a father possibly could wasn’t good enough for advancement, to which Gil gave a gentle “I quit” in retort. Nothing flashy, or angry, or even satisfying, just the simple exhaustion of a man who realized he’d been all used up by a company that couldn’t give a damn about anything but their bottom line. Unlike a number of the other entrants on today’s list, the decision didn’t exactly work out for Gil, at least in the short term. When he got home after resigning, Gil’s wife informed him that they were going to have yet another kid, something the newly jobless husband didn’t have the stomach to face, especially with a Little League game to coach in a few minutes. Rushing out before finishing the discussion about their future and making ends meet when budgets were already stretched thin, Gil’s wife asked if he had to leave, to which he replied, “My whole life is ‘has to.’” Many movies listed here today were satisfying for the scene in which an employee quit: this one was satisfying for the honesty it demonstrated in both the act and the aftermath.
6. Scarface (1983)
I won’t belabor a point already made thoroughly in my Top 10 Remakes Better Than the Original and Top 10 Movie Montages lists, for Eric and I have respectfully agreed to disagree about “Scarface.” While Mean Melin thinks this movie was an over-hyped picture which glorified violence and excess, transforming into a cinematic benchmark for wannabe thugs the world over, I take a different view of things. While he has a valid point in all of those critiques, I think to judge a movie based on what it has become for its viewers is unfair. Indeed, “Birth of a Nation” suffers this fate in reverse, and yet it is hailed as a landmark of cinema. While its racist contents and messages are unquestionably despicable, film historians still rank it as one of the finest films ever made from a technical perspective. Though not groundbreaking in a technical sense, “Scarface” did have messages that were very honest and sincere: foremost among them the elusive nature of the American Dream and its effects on those looking to seize it.
Tony Montana’s story was the same as millions of dreamers looking for opportunity in a land that promises it to all willing to sacrifice for its spoils. On the one hand, “Birth of a Nation” is respected for its mechanics and despised for its message while “Scarface” and its violence often overshadow its thematic undertones during critiques. The former is still lauded as a nearly unparalleled achievement while the latter is often dismissed because of its surface content. Perhaps in a century, men like Mean Melin (awesome as they might be) will begin to appreciate Brian De Palma’s masterpiece for what it truly is: a snapshot of the American experience. Until then, we should content ourselves with an awesome job resignation! Given the opportunity at long last to escape the dregs of menial labor for a shot at some “serious money,” Montana (Al Pacino) didn’t look back. After getting the coke job from Omar, Tony got hassled by his boss to get back inside, for there were a lot of dishes to be washed. In an instant, the Cuban refugee was untying his apron, doing what so many in the food industry have dreamed of. He threw the soiled covering in his boss’ face and told him he ought to wash them himself. Having made the decision to get to the top on the fast track, Montana made the split that would define his character and the rest of his short life, for money easily made is money easily snorted.
5. The Bourne Identity (2002)
As I think quite highly of this franchise, I would have liked to slot this one higher, yet once into the top four things started getting nice and meaty. At an honorable number five, though, the first Bourne movie should get notice for the novelty of being the only resignation on today’s list that came with a fucking death threat. To sum, Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne was a CIA agent appropriated into a special assassins unit called Treadstone. These assassins were brainwashed and hard-wired so that these special hitters could operate at peak efficiency. If films have taught us nothing else, it’s that getting inside and tinkering with a person’s brain can have unintended consequences, something this movie didn’t avoid exposing to the world. In this case, it meant Bourne losing his shit right before he plugged his mark, then getting shot all to hell and tossed into an amnesia stupor. It took most of the film for him to piece together the events that led up to his brain-scramble, and two more movies after that before he got a complete sense of his former identity. By the end of the first installment, he had a pretty good handle on his situation and the prick that put him there (played perfectly by an always-aggressive Chris Cooper).
Cooper’s Conklin finally got face-to-face with his unholy creation and asked for a report and explanation, something that wasn’t immediately forthcoming. After breaking the situation down for Bourne and connecting a few of the dots for Damon’s character, the realization of what the assassin had become began to sink in. Bourne’s official resignation came out as “I don’t want to do this any more.” Conklin scoffed at the notion, for nobody quits in his CIA: They were killed, either by him or the enemy. Cooper’s character made this clear in a very subtle way, yet Bourne stated emphatically that such an arrangement was unacceptable. “I swear to God: if I even feel somebody behind me, there is no measure to how fast and how hard I will bring this fight to your doorstep.” Considering the small army of cops and shadowy cleaners he’d peeled through to get to that moment, you got to believe he meant it. Another quick, less-than-dramatic resignation, to be sure, yet it was one that got the point across in a frighteningly efficient manner.
4. Office Space (1999)
I almost left this movie off this list before I remembered that somebody had indeed resigned during the course of the film. Peter never really quit face-to-face, Milton burned the office down, and pretty much everybody else who lost their job was fired. It seemed a shame that the film which elevated employee-defiance to an art-form would get snubbed, yet then a friend reminded me that Jennifer Aniston’s character did indeed quit! When you think about it, her resignation was the most appropriate, for nobody else in the movie represented the audience in the real world as much as she did. Like many of us, she hated her job and its seemingly frivolous rules, yet she strove to gain an inner-peace outside the clutches of her flair-heavy inferno. In Ron Livingston’s Peter she found a soul mate in this regard, and tried to carve out an existence for herself that could balance what she had to do on the one hand, and what she wanted to do on the other. Unlike Peter, she was smart enough to realize that there really was no easy solution, no pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, and like the audience, understood the dangers in the “Superman III” scam.
Though “Office Space” allowed us a little time to dream about the possibilities of the ultimate revenge quest, filled with corporate embezzlement and office equipment destruction, it was Aniston who eventually brought us all back down to Earth. If one’s job really is so shitty that it’s pushing on the gentle seams of the mind, you don’t actually write up a program that will get you locked securely into a pound-you-in-the-ass prison. You quit and find yourself a new job. As my boy Kelton said, resignation is the blessed right of any employee, and if references don’t really matter, then to do so quickly, without notice, and in as unprofessional a manner as possible is a pleasant little bonus. And this she did, and how! After venting to her boss about the ridiculous flair requirements and the ludicrous company policy that all but demanded the employees to come in after blowing four fat rails, Aniston flips off her boss, and by her own admission, quite a few customers and kitchen staff as well. For representing the best in all of us, and allowing us to taste the dream, I give Joanna the nod. Yet when it comes to mouthing off in front of customers and co-workers alike, it really doesn’t get much better than …
3. Half Baked (1998)
Short, sweet, and perfect. Really, what else can you say about this one? Named after a movie well-known to this list, Scarface (Guillermo Díaz) took it to a whole new level with this one. I used to work for a local Seattle fast-food chain called Dick’s, and this cinematic moment was a treasured possession of all its employees. Second only to “Super Troopers” and the “it’s for a cop” line just before Farva’s fast-food freak-out, this scene was the lofty dream of all who wore an apron and labored feverishly above a sizzling grill. What made this particular scene so delicious was the involvement of both customers, co-workers, and the on-site manager. There aren’t a lot of jobs more demeaning and humiliating than a fast-food restaurant. To be sure, there are worse jobs out there, but few carry the social stigma involved with flipping burgers for a living. I don’t know about the rest of you, but that’s what teachers used to say to my classmates and I when trying to impress upon us the importance of education in a successful life. They made it seem as if grill and fry kettle work was the lowest of the low: that place inhabited by the dregs of society. Shit, the way they told it, you’d think these places were staffed by a bunch of fucking werewolves! People regard employees of such establishments accordingly, and those who work there must battle daily with power-hungry, prepubescent supervisors as well as surly, condescending customers. Nothing would give this sub-section of society more pleasure than to publicly denounce their surrounding human beings in a fit of defiant rebellion, something our hero accomplished with exceptional aplomb. Speaking with appropriate venom, Scarface said what so many burger-joint employees have dreamed about. “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, you’re cool, and fuck you: I’m out!” Perfect, perfect, perfect. Thank you, Scarface, for giving voice to the dream, and providing so many of us a glimpse into that most excellent moment of truth. To get any better, he would have had to throw blackmail into the mix …
2. American Beauty (1999)
“My job consists of basically masking my contempt for the assholes in charge, and, at least once a day, retiring to the men’s room so I can jerk off while I fantasize about a life that doesn’t so closely resemble Hell.” Say what you will about this movie (and I’m sure many of you have a lot to argue about in that realm), but Lester (Kevin Spacey) kicks ass. Okay, he had some questionable things going on upstairs as it concerned fantasies surrounding a high-school kid, granted. Yet when the time came, my man did the right thing and backed off, and saw in the virgin schoolgirl a daughter-figure he so desperately needed to connect with again. Stuck in a mid-life rut, he told his wife to fuck off, blackmailed his boss for sixty large, bought his dream car, and began a rigorous physical training regime that saw him in the best shape of his life. The movie was brimming with imagery that painted a luscious picture of a man trapped within the confines of a suburban inferno: imprisoned inside the spoils of the American Dream.
It was only after Lester had regressed to the pinnacle of his youth that he was able to fully realize the responsibilities innately connected to a husband and father. Peering at the picture of his family right after his near-sexual encounter with Angela (Mena Suvari), Lester finally understood that it was family, not the escape from it, that composed the most important part of his existence. Now, he did have some fun along the way, and came to that epiphany only after he had embraced an almost Zen outlook on his existence. Other than the rebuke of his wife, the most vital component of this spiritual release came when he quit his job and abandoned the anchor which all American men fear will keep them locked in a safe port. Lester explained that he had been a whore for the advertising industry for two decades, and that any demand to explain why he was vital to the company was nothing less than another emotional blow job. Keeping with his newfound love of doing and saying exactly what he felt, Lester told his boss everything that had been on his mind the last decade or so, then added that he wanted some extra money for free. This kind of combo is like the Holy Grail of quitting, for if you can find bliss this precious in life, you’d have to be a moron (or clinically insane) to pass that up. Speaking of the latter, how could we pass up …
1. Fight Club (1999)
There was something about 1999 that was simply magical. Gas prices went down instead of up, the U.S. economy was firing on all cylinders, and films the likes and quality of which had never been seen were coming out with regularity that boldly challenged an already reasonable status quo. Maybe that’s the key, too. One of the critiques of the aforementioned “American Beauty” (also released in 1999) was that it portrayed optimism for a sub-section of society that actually had the luxury of self-realization. Many scoffed at Lester’s transformation as a universal message of hope for all Americans, for a number of people made the reasonable argument that only middle-to-upper class people have the luxury of such an awakening. The rest of us are too busy worrying about bills and all the other fucked up aspects of life to go on a suburban spirit-quest to find inner tranquility. And that’s fair. Maybe 1999 was the perfect year for this sort of cinema, for like “American Beauty,” “Fight Club” came out at a time when Americans had the luxury of committing so much thought to the emotionally ethereal. Yet there are few films, “Network” aside, that have screamed as loudly against the complacency of this country’s supposed utopia as David Fincher’s masterpiece.
While Spacey’s Lester took the initiative to change his life somewhat responsibly, it took a devastating psychological split to prod Edward Norton’s “Jack” into action. But when pushed in the nihilistic, sub-social direction, boy, did he ever head that way! Increasingly disillusioned with his job and his boss, Jack slowly shed all outward modifiers until he was less of an employee, and more of an H.R. liability in a hobo-boxer’s uniform. When confronted by his employer about his lackluster attitude and shoddy appearance, it was a cinematic return to blackmail land. While Lester might have had the moral high ground in his blackmailing efforts, Jack certainly had a point when dangling his threats. Threatened with the possible loss of his job if he didn’t get humble again, Norton’s character expressed his willingness to publicly expose his company’s criminal liability unless they paid him off and allowed him to walk. When this initial pass didn’t work, Jack up and beat the unholy shit out of himself, and shattered his boss’ perfect little utopia via a full-blown psychotic incident. Jack found the loss of everything Tyler had preached, and confronted his employer with that sight, doing in sixty seconds what took weeks for Jack to realize. Not only did he quit his job and get “corporate sponsorship” for his Fight Club, but Jack also gave his boss the horrible gift of unfamiliarity, threatening a once serene existence. It took a serious personality disorder and an exploded apartment to bring Jack closer to this; it took Jack destroying both himself and an office to produce it for his boss. What better way to quit, really?