A young boy is drawing on paper on the dining table. His father arrives home from work and he runs to greet him and the father lifts him up playfully. The father is kissing his wife’s neck, she turns around with a smile, they kiss passionately and the camera zooms out to show an immaculate kitchen. The father opens the refrigerator and takes out a tray of fresh vegetables. A stove burner is ignited and a shiny new pan is set on the heat. A dishwasher door opens releasing steam. The family is on the dining table, chatting and smiling at dinner. Then, the father is standing behind a glass door, seemingly savoring his life, as the camera zooms out to reveal a pool in an expansive garden.
“The life you deserve” is an ad for Frigismart circa 1998. It spans the first 50 seconds of The Occupant. Remember it because it explains why Javier is what he is and why he did all the things he did for the remainer of the film. Remember it well before falling into the trap of simplifying the story by calling Javier insane and the rest of the movie a story about his descent into madness.
Javier (Javier Gutierrez), jobless for a year, is an advertising executive applying for new job in an ad agency and he plays the Frigismart video for his prospective bosses as part of his portfolio. He doesn’t get the job. His ideas are too outdated. He goes home and his wife, Marga, tries to convince him to give up their rented luxury apartment and move to the humbler home which they owned so they could be free from paying the exhorbitant rent.
Unhappy with his wife’s suggestion but unable to find an alternative, Javier agrees. He lets their housekeeper go and, in her anger and frustration, she throws the house keys at him which lands on the car’s floor beneath the driver’s seat.
Javier, Marga and their son, Dani, move out but Javier is unable to mentally and emotionally give up his once luxurious lifestyle. One day, after being humiliated at another job interview, he discovers the keys on the floor of his car. He drives to their old home, uses the key to open the door and enters. He learns about the family that lives there now. Tomas (Mario Casas), his wife, Lara (Bruna Cusi), and their young daughter, Monica.
Tomas is an alcoholic. Javier follows him to his support group meeting, pretends to be an alcoholic himself and spins a tale that mimics Tomas’ life. They form a friendship and, in time, Javier gets invited to dinner where he meets Lara and Monica.
Javier embarks on a campaign to remove Tomas so he could have his life — the life that he, Javier, deserves. In doing so, the viewer gets a guided tour into his mind. And it’s so easy to get lost in that tour and draw the obvious, but wrong, conclusions.
Is Javier insane? In law, when one pleads insanity, the test is whether one is able to tell between right and wrong. It would seem on the surface that Javier is quite unable to tell between right and wrong, and we could just stop there. But the way the The Occupant plays out — with that opening scene and a closing scene that mimics the Frigismart ad — it is clear that the story is meant to tell us more.
Javier is amoral — not immoral but amoral. And extremely self-absorbed. That much is clear from the way he abandons his family. He labels his wife’s acceptance of their new and humbler life as “giving up.” He cannot stand his overweight son who gets bullied in school. In other words, he finds his wife and child imperfect and, therefore, unfit for any place in “the life you deserve.”
The obvious question is whether the fantasy of “the life you deserve” — being the creation of Javier himself — is the cause OR the result of Javier’s seeming insanity. Would anyone call an advertisement like that, as outdated as it might be today, the creation of a mad man or a genius?
Javier is called a “legend” by the first set of prospective employers. And while the word may have been used to soften the blow of not getting the job, we know that he was, in fact, a successful advertising executive — successful enough to afford the home that he was forced to give up. So, we cross out the proposition that “the life you deserve” is the result of Javier’s insanity.
Is “the life you deserve” the cause of Javier’s insanity (let’s stick to that term, for now)? Let’s take a little detour and recall Mad Men‘s Don Draper who said, “Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay.”
That’s advertising. Create a fantasy that makes people feel good, and make it so attractive that price becomes secondary, if not immaterial. The problem with Javier is that, despite being the man who created the fantasy of “the life you deserve” to get people to buy Frigismart appliances, he sought to buy the fantasy itself.
Does that make Javier insane?
If we look at our lives, if we think about how many products we have bought and how much effort we have exerted to live up to the fantasies we are made to believe by advertisements as worthy goals in life, then, we must all be insane.
Flawless skin? Check. Six-pack abs? Check. Gorgeous wife? Check. Wealthy husband? Check. Beautiful house with all the modern amenities? Check. Shiny fast car? Check. Sleek wardrobe? Check. Kids studying in expensive private school? Check. Money in the bank for luxury vacations? Check.
Probably the only difference between Javier and the rest of us is that he had no qualms about committing murder to get the life he was sure he deserved. Did he kill because he was insane? No. He did it because he had no morals, that’s all. And when a person has no morals, there is no right or wrong. There’s only what makes him happy and satisfied.
But how does The Occupant end? I’ll put it this way. During the final 10 minutes, I was hoping against hope that one of the characters had just dreamed everything, and he’d wake up. But no one woke up because no one was dreaming.
The Occupant premiered on Netflix on March 25, 2020 and is currently streaming.