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DIRECTED BY: Joachim Back
FEATURING: Jon Hamm, Danny Pudi, Christopher Heyerdahl,
PLOT: After starting a new job, Orson discovers a secret room that unlocks his potential—and is perplexed that none of his co-workers admit its existence.
COMMENTS: Carol’s daughter has committed an error. Viewing the girl’s drawing, Orson immediately perceives the depicted scene to be impossible: there is an island in the ocean, with a sun setting behind it, and another island behind the setting sun. The girl should be corrected so as to avoid further mistakes, but Orson knows it is better to keep quiet for now, as he’s been misinterpreted before. After a few days at work, Orson takes his neighboring coworker aside to mention the ever-growing stacks of file folders on their shared space. Not a reprimand, mind you, just an observation—it is better to nip these things in the bud. As for Andrew, the boss, Orson has a number of recommendations: all eminently sensible, and bound to be appreciated.
Joachim Back’s film unfolds from Orson’s perspective as he navigates his integration into a new position at The Authority, Inc., creating a sympathetic but uncondescending portrait of a highly autistic individual doing his best to understand the normies around him. The film has its awkward moments; indeed, some might suggest it has nothing else. But I know from experience (mostly secondary, but many of Orson’s quibbles with reality ring very true to yours truly) the sort of person Orson is. He is honest to a fault, and though never uncivil, is also rarely what might be described as “nice.” He is a man of systems, carefully arranging his work space the first moment he arrives at the brutalist grey office structure, its concrete gigantitude soaring into the foggy sky. This is not quite a “black” comedy; Orson’s daily interactions and his running inner monologue all reside in an awkward space between “dark” and “light”.
The film’s palette reflects this, with greys permeating his office world. The car park is filled with black sedans, their color softened by the omnipresent snow. This is a world in-between, with strange customs (“We try to think about the floor,” Andrew softly admonishes Orson in their first interaction, nodding toward a nearby bootie dispenser), and while the protagonist isn’t paddling upstream, he is certainly not going with the flow. Orson’s pursuit of clarity is manifested by the titular office, a comfortable space where practical delineation meets cozy familiarity, where “At last, I found a structure that suited me.”
This film’s poor reception confuses me, as I can recommend none better that explores this type of protagonist’s personality. Perhaps, like so many real life Orsons, Corner Office confounds, as it never tries to justify his behavior any more than he feels he should to himself. But Back’s film is important, and should be required viewing for any normie working with the neurodivergent. There is competence, capability, and even grandeur to be found in the world’s most “off” people—if others just took the time to view the world and its absurdities from another perspective. His ideal room may not physically exist along the corridor between the fourth-floor elevator and the bathrooms, but what is the harm in letting him retreat to such a haven?
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“It’s only towards the very end, when the film’s satire and surrealism pull apart from each other like a party cracker, that the tension brewing in Orson’s department becomes compelling enough to justify the busywork of creating it.”–David Ehrlich, IndieWire (contemporaneous)