One of the Best Film Segments Ever About Work We Hate!

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!


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. I have to admit that I haven’t seen Joe vs. The Volcano but I liked your annotated view of the scenes you liked and it actually makes me want to see it now. I was piqued by this posting because I am planning to do a post on toxic workplace soon as I am working with a client with a toxic culture.

  2. Hey Ronnie Ann,

    A company that boasts that many happy customers can’t be all bad, then again it is the home of the rectal probe 😉

    I really enjoyed these clips and, just like Miri, your reactions really brought those moments to life.

    There must be something in the air because the other day I was thinking about choosing REM’s ‘Stand’ as a good song for my new blog when it’s ready. I love this lyric in particular:

    “Your feet are going to be on the ground,
    Your head is there to move you around.”

  3. Singleton says:

    I am a woman working in a male dominated industry. Many of the firms that stick to the “old school” ways of doing things like to keep women in typical administrative/assistant roles without any possibility of promotion. I have been trying to avoid working at that kind of company. However, a few years ago I accepted a position at a firm that, unbeknownst to me, had always been filled by a man.

    Shortly, I found out that the knife had been plunged in my back as soon as I walked through the front door. Their misogynist business model pinned women against other women. I became a target for catty behavior simply for carrying greater responsibility and collecting more compensation. Rather than blame the other women for their jealousy, I blame the culture of the corporation that set this type of inequality into motion.

    Having gone through this, it is now very important for me to make sure that any companies I interview with have a strong base of women in management

  4. Have you heard the The Cubicle song parody of James Blunt’s song “You’re Beautiful”?
    It’s hilarious. Love Work Coach Cafe insights. Thanks. Check it out on You Tube-
    “My Cubicle”
    Lyrics by: Morning Sidekick
    Performed by: Jym Britton
    Parody on “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt

    My job is stupid my day’s a bore,
    Inside this office from eight to four
    Nothin’ ever happens my life is pretty bland,
    Pretending that I’m working, pray I don’t get canned.

    My Cubicle, My cubicle
    It’s One of Sixty two
    It’s my small space in a crowded place
    Just a six-by-six foot booth
    And I hate it that’s the truth

    Well, I give a sigh as the boss walks by,
    no one ever talks to me or looks me in the eye.
    And I really should work but instead I just sit here and surf the Internet.

    In My Cubicle, My cubicle
    It doesn’t have a view.
    It’s my small space in a crowded place
    I sit in solitude.
    And sometimes I sit here nude.

  5. I’m laughing out loud on this recent clever post. Guess many of us have at one point in time faced a situation that makes one wonder what the heck they are doing with their life. Joe Vs. The Volcano deliberately sends messages to hatch personal growth evaluations about ourselves. It isn’t always easy to do what Joe did even if we secretly would like to just quit, but if we are able to manage such a move imagine the places you can go. If anything else a little peace of mind and gratification.

  6. I like the part where Joe’s manager explains to him that he is not happy either… but that he doesn’t let it bother him!

    To me, that line perfectly sums up the psychosis that exists in many workplaces. People have come to believe that being miserable day in and day out is “normal”.

  7. Thanks everyone for the great comments!

    Miri:Please let us know when you do the post about toxic culture. I’d love to read it!

    Paul: Thanks for the great REM lyric. And also…congratulations on your soon-t0-be released eBook The Career Explorer’s Journal. If anyone’s curious to know more: Good luck with your exciting new adventure…hopefully, no volcanoes. 😉

    CJ: Thank you so much for My Cubicle. LOVE it!! Been there, done that.

    The Cuz: Thanks for the lovely comment and your continued support. It means more than you’ll ever know.

    DC Jobs: So true! That’s what gets me. How little we’ve come to expect from a job (in many cases) and how that becomes part of what employers consider ok.

  8. I loved this film! So YOU’RE the “other” person that saw it! 🙂 Most people think of TH/MR films as something about getting mail or being sleepless, but this one put them on the map for me as a couple. She plays several different characters; very startling. He is amazing all alone on the water singing “Cowboy”…I could go on and on. The work clips you posted made me willing to go into the volcano all over again! Yeesh!

  9. Thanks Muse! Yup…I’m the other one. I’ve even heard from a friend of his that Tom Hanks isn’t a fan. True…it wasn’t an Oscar-winning performance, but I think there’s a lot of good life and career stuff in there – and for me that makes the film worth watching again and again! Happy to know I’m not alone. 😉

    ~ Ronnie Ann

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