Rising British music and film star Johnny Flynn stars in a warmly philosophical sci-fi flight of fancy about two lonely, random souls finding connection — and inspiration — in a world governed by increasingly impersonal layers of technology.
At heart, Guy is a poet and a contemplative dreamer. But by day he is a lonely data clerk who sends out dismissal emails to a list of 12,000 contractors on a spreadsheet, telling them their services are no longer needed.
Inside the mundane routine of his days, his mind is alive with the poeticism of people and daily life, and he often wonders about the people he writes to. He knows little about contractor 014352, a man named Parvez, who has one child, a wife and a home in the suburbs.
But Guy attempts to imagine Parvez’s life and decides to write him something more personal and honest besides a boilerplate dismissal. This small decision has surprising ripple effects, offering Guy a slender, fragile yet hopeful tendril of connection out of his loneliness.
Directed by Simon Ryninks and written by Zak Klein, “Contractor 014352” has a striking sense of craftsmanship and style, both subtly whimsical and yet clinically spare and impersonal. Its imaginative images are full of an idiosyncratic, almost musical quality, and they dramatize Guy’s rich, warmly humanistic inner life in their sense of freedom and surrealism.
The cool, muted tones of the cinematography and moments of almost drab naturalism, however, emphasize the insular, isolated world Guy drifts through — a world where people have forgotten how to exchange even the rudiments of polite discourse with one another, and instead stare at screens that illuminate the blank expressions on their faces. The juxtapositions in the visual approach reveal a telling gap: Guy clearly longs for genuine human interaction, and yet the world he lives in prioritizes convenience and a “comfortably numb” distance.
Nowhere is this more apparent than the work that Guy does, where he must remain impersonal and blunt in his messages to the contractors losing work. This attitude is brutal in its intent to anesthetize the impact of life-altering news, and Guy rankles at it, imagining rebellions and insurrections both large and small.
Actor Johnny Flynn — who recently charmed audiences as Mr. Knightley in Autumn de Wilde’s hit adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma — has an innate rock ‘n roll charisma that makes it easy for viewers to understand how such work chafes at Guy’s very soul and a great gift to communicate the quicksilver flickers of thought, observation and feeling that animate Guy’s true self. When that inner truth refuses to be stifled any longer, Guy takes a small but important action to reach out through the ether — one that leads to a connection he longs for.
What works about “Contractor 014352” is that its final moments are not as direct and fully realized as Guy initially imagined. Instead, the final interaction is subtle, humble and nestled within the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But its gentle subtlety still possesses a strangely delicate beauty and feels very true to a world where people are often reduced to numbers on a screen or letters in an email address.
The film reminds us that these lines on a spreadsheet are real people, living a complex, rich and sometimes struggling experience — and that every interaction we have, even on the most impersonal plane, can still be infused with a recognition of each other’s innate humanity, and a possibility for real connection.