By Michael Dellapi
One cannot begin a discussion of “good-bad” movies without immediately addressing the cult classic film “The Room.” “The Room” has gathered a following and tradition most akin to the “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” with audiences gathering in droves to celebrate the film’s universal sense of awfulness. From its nonsensical plot to laughably bad acting at some points, “The Room” has certainly earned its notoriety as one of the worst movies of all time. However, looking at the piece from a radically different perspective may reveal that “The Room” isn’t as detestable as people may claim. Director, main actor and writer Tommy Wiseau argues that his prized creation is a dark comedy about trust and deceit. The plight of protagonist Johnny, however, is nothing remotely close to laughable. Instead, it’s possible to argue that “The Room” is actually a deconstruction of traditional suburban values in modern America. In essence, “The Room” may very well be the “Death of a Salesman” for a new generation.
I should begin this complex and ultimately unnecessary analysis of “The Room” with a warning: there are many spoilers ahead. The protagonist of “The Room,” Johnny, is an accomplished banker who lives in a two story house in San Francisco with his loving fiancee Lisa. His neighbour Denny is almost aggressively approachable, inexplicably showing up in their house whenever he sees fit. Throughout the course of the film, it is revealed that Lisa is cheating on Johnny with his best friend Mark. Johnny is led on a path of self-destruction and torment that eventually culminates in his suicide. His death is the most climactic moment of the film, yet I am willing to argue that Johnny was already dead from the moment that he is introduced. No, Johnny isn’t a zombie. Rather, the audience is presented with an immediate death of spirit. The monotony of Johnny’s career is evidently taking a toll on him, showcased by his general lack of expression and borderline incomprehensible speaking patterns. Most audiences are willing to argue that these factors are caused by Wiseau’s blatant inability to act, but I largely reject this claim. Wiseau’s performance may be deliberately dancing within the Uncanny Valley, highlighting the character’s eternal sense of lifeless despair. The death of Johnny at the end of the movie is therefore only a death of the body, as the soul has been dead all along.
The plot’s tendency to spiral out of control into bizarre subplots is yet another formal choice of Wiseau’s. In his attempt to deconstruct the traditions of suburban living, Wiseau essentially hollows out the sense of security that holds this style of living together. Once he does so, the narrative seems to collapse in on itself. What is left behind is a revolting husk of what was once considered sacred. Essentially, what Wiseau is doing is illustrating how quickly situations snowball out of control once one cog in the seemingly perfect machine of suburbia stops turning. It is unclear as to what lit the fuse that sets this disaster into motion. However, it’s safe to assume that Johnny’s dissatisfaction with his job is a possible starting point for the ensuing devastation. The morals of Wiseau’s narrative are undeniably intricate. Is he warning the audience about the dangers of idealizing a certain way of living? Or is his film a condemnation, arguing that it is already too late for modern America? Regardless of his intentions, it is evident that “The Room” will remain as a magnetic force for cinephiliacs for decades to come.
Michael Dellapi is a staff columnist for the Highlighter.