What ‘severance pay’ is made of: ‘Being John Malkovich’ and a Sizzler Steakhouse

For some employees, what happens in Lumon stays in Lumon. Inside the world of the Apple TV+ series “Rupture,” they agreed to let the company implant a chip in them that splits their personality so that one side only remembers what happens in the office and the other only exists outside. Work and life are so perfectly balanced that the two will never meet.

Created by Dan Erickson, “Severance” follows the journey of Mark (Adam Scott), an Everyman employed in Lumon’s mysterious Macrodata Refinement (MDR) division who begins to question the higher forces shaping his life. Or rather, his life.

The critically acclaimed show combines sleek production design, surreal humor and an Orwellian take on the impact of office work on the human psyche, themes similar to those found in Terry Gilliam’s classic film . “Brazil” (1985) – one of Erickson’s favorites.

“There was this retro-future sense, but Ben has always been very adamant that we ground that in a logic and a psychology where Lumon is trying to disorient workers in time and space,” he said. he said, referring to Ben Stiller, who directed six of the nine episodes of the first season. “They have no idea where they might be, they don’t know exactly what year it is. There’s a slight, odd sense of timelessness, or a combination of different eras, and, to me, that meant we’re not in Lumon, but we’re still in Lumon.

In a video chat from his Los Angeles home, Erickson, 38, opened up about some of the other inspirations that helped fuel “Severance.” These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

“It was a movie that was really formative for me and made me want to be a writer,” Erickson said of Spike Jonze. mental journey of a moviewritten by Charlie Kaufman, in which the character of John Cusack works in a cramped office and one day discovers a passage in the head of actor John Malkovich.

“I feel like my favorite part is actually before they find the portal,” Erickson said. “You have the viscerally strange vision of the seven and a half floors where everyone has to crouch to walk around.

Mark’s line of work in “Severance” is equally disorienting and alienating. “I think the idea of ​​seeing a familiar space that’s sort of twisted and twisted probably comes directly from ‘Being John Malkovich,'” Erickson said. “They have this extremely low ceiling; we have the large open MDR space with the center cabin island that looks way too small for the space.

Turning our relationship with technology into nightmares, the British anthology series ‘Black Mirror’ is a natural point of reference for ‘Severance’. Erickson distinguished this 2014 feature film, especially its ending, in which a character is essentially condemned to a hellish loop. “I remember being so cold and scared after seeing this, this devastating idea of ​​having to go through this endless loneliness,” Erickson said. He noted a parallel to when Mark Helly’s co-worker (Britt Lower) first tries to escape from Lumon. “It’s this nightmare of running out a door and then you run back, and you realize you’re really stuck in this liminal space with this kind of nightmarish logic,” he said.

Erickson listed Kurt Vonnegut as one of his favorite authors, singling out this 1963 novel. One plot point particularly stuck with him: “I think a lot about the development of ice-nine, this world-destroying technology whose everyone agrees it shouldn’t exist but is almost created by bureaucracy,” Erickson said. “At Lumon, Mark reads these silly flowcharts while he gives Helly his orientation. This extreme corporatization of everything, this idea that there is a process that you have to follow no matter what, and which even replaces humanity – I feel like that’s a scary Vonnegutesque idea.

“Severance” also plays on the often bigoted devotion that some companies encourage, one of the influences being the invented religion called Bokonon in Vonnegut’s book. “I’ve always said if I were to get a tattoo it would be the words ‘lucky mud’ – a reference to a prayer they say in the Bokonon section,” Erickson said with a laugh.

Erickson likes this 1999 apocalyptic thriller by Australian director Alex Proyas, whom he considers “the definition of a black sci-fi genius”.

“You start off with this murder mystery and you get bigger and bigger until you get to, like, what is soul? What are we doing here? What is life? ” he said. “The memories of these people are erased and they are placed in these different scenarios to see how they will react, if they will become the people they are meant to be. If you are told you are a murderer, do you become a murderer ?”

Indeed, questions of individuality are an integral part of “Severance,” but the series also has offbeat humor, especially when the characters of John Turturro and Christopher Walken are involved, so it’s no surprise that Erickson enjoys the juxtaposition of silliness and dark themes – an aspect of Proyas’ work that appeals to him. “He’s not afraid to be clumsy, but it’s all wrapped up in these existential questions that he seems to keep asking himself throughout his career.”

If David Lynch had made a promotional video for a steakhouse chain, it might have looked a bit like this five-minute oddity created for Sizzler in 1991. “Looking at it now, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, were we all in a cult? ‘” Erickson said. “What makes the video so fascinating to me is that they basically equate Sizzler with the idea of ​​freedom and the idea of ​​choice, because you can go to the grill or the buffet.”

His fictional company creates a similar kind of self-contained corporate world, with its own rules and aesthetics. “I thought about Lumon and how they have total control over what their employees do and don’t see,” Erickson said. “If there are internal documents or videos, they could have this real benefit of propaganda, and without the benefit of context, employees wouldn’t really recognize it for what it is. It’s hard to see a cult from the outside, it’s hard to see the propaganda when it works.

“When they’re in the belly of the beast,” he added, “they don’t know they’re there.”