It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." - - Thoreau
The life work of the employees in the Public Record Office can be easily described: They take enormous quantities of printed documents they have no interest in, and they file them. They are surrounded by the monument to their labor: lots of file cabinets. No wonder they go mad. Vivian distracts herself by flirting. Rocky pretends he has the inside line on everything. For Ernie, changing the toner cartridge in a Xerox machine is an invitation to disaster. Their boss patiently oversees their cheerless existence trying not to contemplate the devastating meaningless of the office.
One day a new employee is hired. His name is Bartleby. The Boss asks him to do something. "I would prefer not to," Bartleby says. That becomes his reply to every request. He would prefer not to. He would prefer not to work, not to file, not to obey, not to respond, NOT to. What he prefers to do is stand in the center of the office with his neck cocked at an odd angle, staring at the ceiling.
The Boss is checkmated. Bartleby is not doing bad work; he isn't working at all. His refusal to work subverts the entire work ethic of the organization. Everyone in the office--Vivian, Rocky, Ernie and the Boss himself--would prefer not to work. But that way madness lies. Our civilization is founded on its ability to get people to do things they would prefer not to do.