So let me just say, right now, that I watched Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. In fact, not only did I watch The Room, but I read Greg Sestero’s The Disaster Artist even before seeing the film which, I’ve been told, is highly irregular in the scheme of things.
A long time ago, I read Thomas Mann’s “Tonio Kröger.” And there is this one scene in that story that never left my mind. The aforementioned protagonist is watching his classmates dance. They are blond-haired, blue-eyed, and uniform. The dancers do not pay as much attention to why or how they dance, so much as they are just good at performing this communal act. Meanwhile, dark-haired Tonio knows that he can’t dance as they do, but he actually observes and understands their dancing far better than many of them ever can.
And then, there is the character of the dark-haired girl. She, unlike Tonio, doesn’t understand — or perhaps want to understand — that she doesn’t fit into the synchronous dance of her peers. Still, she continues to dance with them. She dances with them while stumbling around awkwardly, and even physically hurting herself. Her movements are not at all in unity with the other dancers and she stands out from them no matter how much she wants to fit in.
Now consider that someone like Thomas Mann’s dark-haired girl knows, deep down, that they’re different and just thinks that more intensity will make up for it: more passion, more resources, and more random elements. Aside from the fact that someone should definitely, if they haven’t already, write a story from the perspective of the dark-haired girl, I think you can see where I’m going with this comparison with regards to The Room.
I’m not going to go into the many flaws of this film because many more qualified people have gone to great lengths to describe them all. But what I think is really intriguing here, especially since I read The Disaster Artist first, is how you can arguably state that this is the closest thing I’ve had to seeing the inside of another person’s mind on film.
So here is my own tentative reading of The Room.
When I watched The Room I thought of a mind that wants to accept reality at face value: both with regards to its immediate environment and its cultural surroundings. It searches for all the tropes, all the archetypes and stereotypes: all of the human stories. In particular, it looks at American culture: at the American Dream of the frontier and wide open spaces, a successful career, romantic love and marriage, friendship, family, and relations between the genders verses a cramped psychological place of disappointment and dysfunction. In particular, it tried to go into that place of love and tragedy to create something of a … narrative.
This attempt to create connection between these elements fails. There is a dissonance underlying all of this mind’s attempts. You see it in the way that words and sounds are out of sync with the actor’s mouths: particularly those of the protagonist Johnny. The film opens up with an almost pastoral theme amid a distant sunny splendour that never seems to completely reach the characters except for those rare moments of sublime silliness between them. Love and sex is accompanied by music that sounds suspiciously like a stereotypically tacky and kitsche soft-core porn soundtrack: while ending off the film after the final death.
And sex and death are seen as awkward, dissociative things. Bodies never really quite find themselves in the right places: and even the death at the end is a long time in coming. It’s like a mind and perspective that just can’t link the ideas, emotions, and people together no matter how badly it seems to want to do so. You can see it even in how the actors behind the characters, and how the characters themselves want to reveal their truths and themselves. They’re trapped in the marble of ideas and meshed together: only connecting intermittently.
The parts and ingredients are all there: even if it seems like the mind of this movie is looking out at its world from a mishmash of extra body parts. It’s like a soufflé that didn’t rise, or a Frankenstein creature that never galvanized into life. And I think it is a horror story in how causality and even space and time are never really consistent, with the strangeness of the roof exit and the unexplained additions and disappearances of different characters.
At the same time, I also look at The Room as something of a tragedy: of realizing that there is a mind that so desperately wants to hold onto the conventions of its surroundings that it ends up revealing their flaws. In an attempt to reveal a truth through non-sequiturs– of pathways leading nowhere — it unintentionally and accidentally satirizes and parodies what it attempts to love and glorify: be it American culture, the Dream, human relationships, humanity, life, and itself. And yet, even in all of this, there are moments of sublime ridiculousness — in the form of football throwing for instance — that are almost peaceful and serene in the way that the characters play with each as though children. Those are perhaps some of the most wistful, surreal, and innocent segments of this entire film: this strange cinematic reality.
The writers David Gilmour and C. Anthony Martignetti both seem to agree that our minds play our lives, desires, and pain within the theatres of our mind’s eyes. And here, in Tommy Wiseau’s film, we are looking into one such theatre. And this mindscape, this inner theatre, this place is called The Room. Certainly, after reading The Disaster Artist the movie’s scenes with Johnny talking about how he met Lisa, and Lisa explaining how Johnny takes care of Denny take on a whole other connotation.
I’m not going to lie: The Room, and The Disaster Artist exposed me to something of a paradox from which my brain is still attempting to recover. The experiences I witnessed and read about were painful, hilarious, sometimes depressing, and just outright puzzling at times. But all of it was a fine study in just how someone creates their own mythos: a creative process that seems to have translated over to Tommy Wiseau’s sitcom project The Neighbors. Certainly, there is at least a consistency in how Tommy Wiseau seems to act and work if you are interested in looking at his AV Club Interview: and I can’t help but wonder what would happen if he had ever met the former Torontonian bicycle shop owner Igor Kenk with his own unique world-view. Would they get along, or would the universe implode?
But when this is all said and done, I think The Room is its own person: a mindset that fails — spectacularly, beautifully — at being what it pretends: namely, at what it thinks is normalcy. And that’s okay. Here, at Mythic Bios, I absolutely adore being able to examine another form of personal reality. In fact, I’d like to think if The Room were an incarnated personality it’d be what would happen if the dark-haired female character from Thomas Mann’s “Tonio Kröger” tried to dance with our contemporary reality: except she would be a blonde and she insists on being what she pretends to be instead of who she really is: and what I think is an even greater tragedy. She attempts to embrace what she thinks is supposed to be normal yet she can never be so by her very nature.
And her name would be Lisa. Because, even after watching you Lisa, you are tearing me apart.