Don't go any deeper into the post unless you've already seen the movie. (Which I finally did: Sandy put a slight crimp in everyone's entertainment plans.)
I have a habit of seeing things in films. And those things aren't necessarily there: it's my perception of events. But this one seemed to be so glaring that I ultimately decided to share the potential insanity with the rest of you. (I already spread it around the circle. The discussion was -- lively.) So here goes.
In many ways, this movie is the story of a mid-life crisis. We open the film on Ralph noting that he's been doing the same job for thirty years to no applause, no appreciation, and he gets thrown off the building every time Felix wins a level. Three decades grinding away in the same position with no hope of advancement -- in fact, changing jobs is impossible. That'll get to anyone.
But let's take it away from the mid-life crisis for a moment and focus on the job.
Ralph is a bottom-level employee. In fact, he's the bottom-level employee. Everyone else in his world is either middle-class and courted for his skilled labor (Felix and Felix alone) or upper-class. Ralph is so down and out that (as the closing credits song notes), his home was destroyed under Eminent Domain in order to build a residence for the upper class. Ralph's job gives those residents their means of existing. Without his hard work, there would be no game. No game, no apartment building. Unplugged and either lost or wandering around Game Central in search of handouts.
But the residents don't care about Ralph's hard work. Felix, yes. Felix is middle management. Felix keeps things running smoothly. Felix gets little tokens of esteem. Felix gets invited to the parties. But Ralph? Can live among discarded bricks, which he also sleeps on. Ralph receives no housing, no benefits, no real salary other than his continued existence, and no appreciation whatsoever. Even though his efforts make the lives of everyone above him possible at all.
So Ralph begins to question this. He would like to live in the apartments. Thirty years at the same job with no hope of promotion or even incidental raises: you might start to dream a little too. But middle class doesn't understand why Ralph would want to advance. and upper class feels he's an ignorant moron who has never made any meaningful contribution to anything, ever. Unskilled labor, there's a million more just like you, so go out and get the education we know you're not capable of understanding and maybe, just maybe, we'll let you in. Except we know you can't do it and are laughing in your face.
Ralph takes it seriously and leaves to win the token which might improve his lot. And guess what? No one else knows how to do his unskilled job. Without Ralph at the bottom supporting everyone above him, the entire world begins to collapse. No base labor, no upper class, no middle class, no apartments, no power, and off to the happy land of Surge Protector Homeless they all go -- unless they can get him back and doing the job none of them will (or can) take over for.
This puts a very bitter spin on Ralph's return to the game and confrontation with Gene in the penthouse. We need to keep you down, Gene might be arguing. If we didn't constantly suppress you, we couldn't exist. Sure, we dared you to improve yourself, but only because we believed you'd fail. How dare you succeed at anything other than the role we gave you? Don't you see what your desire to be more has done? Here's the moral: either you let us keep throwing you into the mud every day of your life or none of this works. For us. And that's the important part, isn't it? That the rich have their luxury, no matter what it costs the poor?
And as this is a fable being spun by a corporation, Ralph accepts this. That it's his job -- which can never change -- to be thrown into the mud all the time. This is the position he should have. He will never be anything other than him, and he's the guy whom the system routinely abuses in order for the system to exist. So he ends his strike-of-sorts and returns to getting tossed off the building. Yes, he gets his housing at the end. But he still can't live in the apartment building. His position gets a few benefits and a perk or two plus the occasional invitation, but ultimately, he's still trapped in his dead-end job which, if he's lucky, he'll get to do for another decade or two and then guess what? Homeless. At best. No pension, y'see.
Not the most pleasant way to see things, huh?
But at least when he finally goes, he'll have the satisfaction of knowing it all went with him...