Janitors in pop culture #4Posted: April 23, 2018
I haven’t written one of these since 2014! That’s way too long! My spouse and I just watched Another Earth for the second time, and I had forgotten that the protagonist, Rhoda, is a high school janitor. Heads up – this post might contain spoilers! And also, although I’m being critical and having fun with it (the portrayal of a janitor), I actually really do love this movie (hence, the wanting to watch it for a 2nd time!)
She doesn’t start out as a janitor. She’s a promising student that just got accepted to MIT, but her path takes a sharp turn when she kills a wife and child in a drunk driving accident. She spends the next four years in prison, instead of college, and when she gets out, she struggles with even wanting to be alive. When talking to a social worker about a job placement, she says,
“I don’t wanna really be around too many people or do too much talking.”
And that is, in a nut-shell, what being a janitor is all about! She gets placed at West Haven High School. We see her in a bunch of scenes at work. I’ll try to break it down a bit:
Uniform: She’s wearing workboots in the style of Timberlands. She has a hoodie and a full-body jumpsuit on over that. Plus a beanie. It is winter, but this is what she’s wearing while working in the building, and she is WAY overdressed! I’d be sweating bullets in this get-up, plus the footwear is too heavy-duty. Even running sneakers would be better – you do a ton of walking as a janitor. I wear a t-shirt, pants, and sneakers, and I still get hot – school buildings are usually kept super warm.
The Work: We see her pushing her cart through the building, mopping halls, and scrubbing at bathroom grafitti. This is fairly realistic, although where I work, we have an auto-scrubber for halls, and I’d never use that much elbow-grease on anything the way she’s going at that grafitti – I’d blow out my ligaments! I already struggle with “tennis elbow” from regular repetitive motions. Not worth it!
Storyline: There’s a sub-plot where her co-worker, Purdeep, is noticeably blind, and you’re left wondering how he gets his job done without seeing. Then, one day, Purdeep isn’t there, and Rhoda asks about him. The reply? He’s not coming back because he poured bleach in his own ears. This was the 2nd incident – he had previously blinded his own self by pouring bleach in his eyes.
“He said he was tired of seeing himself everywhere.”
Later on, there’s a scene where Rhoda visits him in the hospital, and she writes letters on the palm of his hand in order to communicate with him. It’s a tender connection, but other than that, I’m not sure what’s being coveyed through this other than here was a janitor who incrimentally lost his mind and self-destructed. ???
There’s one other scene, early on, that I think is really relevant. She runs into an old classmate at a corner store, and from his demeanor, it’s apparent he’s super surprised to see her, and he knows all about what happened to her, going to prison and everything. Their dialogue reads, starting with him asking,
“So, are you working?”
“West Haven High.”
“Yeah? What do you teach?”
“I clean the school.”
“Oh, that’s cool. …That’s probably very … therapeutic.”
It might not be apparent from the words, but his tone is sooo condescending, his classism is really shining through. I often tell people that I’m a janitor, and I feel fortunate I don’t come up against this kind of bias, generally. But there was a long period of time where I did feel shame about my job, especially because I work for the same school district I went to school at, and I too was a “promising” student, and I actually did go to college (and not prison), and I would brace myself for those moments where I might run into someone I knew from school.