“If your job was as meaningless as theirs, wouldn’t you go crazy too?”
Dante (Brian O’Halloran) might have the worst job in the world. He works at a small convenience store and gets called in on his day off; he is dating a nice girl, but is hung up on his ex-girlfriend; and his coworker, though friendly, is under-motivated. While Dante tries to sort out his romantic situation and fend off a string of bizarre, careless, or just plain stupid customers, he also struggles to understand why he works at such a meaningless job in the first place.
It is pretty clear from the get-go that Dante has A LOT of problems. Namely, he works at a lousy job, he has almost no emotional investment into his current relationship, and he lives with his mom. Dante has a few other issues though, some that his coworker Randal (Jeff Anderson) is quick to point out: Dante is a pushover. Suffering from People Pleaser Syndrome, as this phenomenon is sometimes called, it is obvious that Dante does not stick up for himself. This could be because Dante is depressed.
Major Depressive Disorder (AKA Depression)
Okay, shocker right? Of course this guy is depressed. His character is meant to show us how meaningless his job is and any lack of meaning in a major area of life can make a person depressed. Dante though is a little more complicated than his friend Randal might have you believe, and that is not just because Dante over-complicates everything.
Depression has been highlighted many ways in the last couple of decades, and rightly so. This is a common diagnosis and there are plenty of medications available to treat it. What is interesting, however, is that many life circumstances can engender depression in the average person, and Dante has quite a few of these circumstances at play in Clerks.
Emotional Abuse – Dante’s relationship with Caitlin Bree (Lisa Spoonauer) is complex and frankly irritating. Like Randal, we understand that Caitlin whips Dante around like a yo-yo and that Dante will never truly be happy with her because of her unfaithful behaviors. Caitlin and Dante dated for five years, but three years after the fact, he finds out from a newspaper ad (gotta love the 90s, am I right?) that Caitlin is engaged. Though dating another woman at this point, Dante cannot let Caitlin go because she still has her claws in him. This manipulative, one-sided relationship indicates emotional abuse by Caitlin on our leading character, Dante.
Lack of Connection to Meaningful Work – Johann Hari published a book last year called Lost Connections. The book details his own struggles with depression and implies that there are solutions that might relate more to circumstance than medication. In case you forgot, readers, I am also a Registered Nurse and Hari’s book is worth reading (after you’re done reading this, obviously).
Hari posits that one of the leading causes of depression has to do with a lack of connection to work that means something. In other words, people who have jobs like Dante’s are more susceptible to depression than someone whose job really helps other people. Some of this might actually fall on Dante; if he felt that his job at the convenience store was really important, he may have a different viewpoint about his life. That said, one or two of the Clerks customers alone show how difficult that task would be for Dante.
Guilt, or People Pleaser Syndrome – Dante cries, “I’m not even supposed to be here today” to anyone that will listen. Randal is quick to jump on the pity party by countering that Dante was not obligated to come into work on his day off; he was allowed to say no. Dante has a hard time saying no; he has a hard time NOT taking things too seriously; he has a hard time most likely because he feels guilty when he does say no or does shirk his responsibilities. Coupled with an emotionally abusive longterm romance, this type of chronic guilt is associated with depression.
In the end, Dante will be all right when his circumstances change – and there is a lot of suggestion that they will change. The thing about depression is that it truly does not have to be permanent, if Hari’s research and other research like it is to be believed. Clerks illustrates that if this guy gets out of this job, continues with school, and learns how to pick romantic partners that give as much as Dante gives, the guy probably will be just fine. Like a lot of young people fighting for a chance, he just has to put up with a crappy job until things start getting better; fortunately, Dante has a lot of say in whether or not things do finally start to improve.