Saturday, April 10, 2010

Chekhov's Gun

.
Johnny and Lisa seem to have everything. Johnny is Lisa's future husband, and Lisa is Johnny's future wife. Johnny has a very secure job, plus he's about to be promoted. They share an apartment in San Francisco, and it has couches and chairs and paintings in it. On their roof is lawn furniture and a corrugated tin shed, and elsewhere in their building lives Johnny's pseudo-adopted son, an emotionally regressive 18-year-old named Denny. What else could they possibly need?
.
Love. Love is what else they could need.
.
Oh hi. The problem, it seems to me, with writing in any controlled or structured way about Tommy Wiseau's extraordinary The Room is that there isn't a single moment in the entire film that isn't worth mentioning. I've seen it twice now (the second time around, I fast-forwarded through the sex scenes, and if you've seen The Room you know what a time-saver that is), and I found myself latching on to particular moments that had to make it into this write-up, only to have them completely crowded out in a snap by an avalanche of dialogue and performance choices that each deserved an entire post of their own. Wiseau's film is, in short, a gift that won't stop giving, and by the end the attentive viewer is overwhelmed with sensation, with such a variety of experiences, that upon reflection The Room begins to seem like nothing more than a jumble of roses, footballs, wax apples, and words and phrases like "hi", "future", "best friend", "it doesn't matter", "I don't want to talk about it" and "I definitely have breast cancer".
.
Shot like a SyFy Channel Original Movie, minus all the rock monsters and sharktopi, The Room is, as I indicated above, the story of a failing relationship. As the film begins, we are introduced to Lisa (Juliette Danielle) as she greets Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) upon his return home from work. Johnny gives her a present, a slinky red dress, and it is here that one of Wiseau's aesthetic hallmarks (he not only stars in the film, but also wrote and directed it, taking each job in both the first and second units, if the credits are to be believed), which is an inability to remember, or to read, what he's just written, and therefore writing it all over again. Here, Lisa has just accepted the dress:
.
Lisa: Can I try it on now?
.
Johnny: Sure, it's yours.
.
Lisa: You wait right here, and I'm going to try it on right now.
.
Johnny: Mm hm.
.
After Lisa puts the dress on right now, Johnny's adopted-ish son Denny (Phillip Haldiman) arrives, to tell Lisa how pretty she looks and to ask how much the dress cost. He also asks if he can take a nap with Johnny, but after being gently rebuffed twice (not only is the nap a no-go, but he's told he can't watch Johnny and Lisa have sex, either), Johnny and Lisa make love. It is here that I believe Lisa begins to hate Johnny.
.
This growing hatred, this rending asunder of a love once so true, forms the heart, soul, spine, brain and lungs of The Room. Lisa will awaken from their passionate and incredibly slow love-making to decide, abruptly, that she no longer loves Johnny, despite the fact, as Lisa's mother Claudette (Carolyn Minnott) points out, that Johnny provides for her, and Lisa can't provide for herself (Claudette, by the way, is the one who has the evidently mild case of terminal breast cancer). Lisa will begin a campaign of manipulation, betrayal, infidelity, and not-wanting-to-talk-about-things that will include seducing Johnny's best friend Mark (Greg Sestero) and fixing Johnny, a non-drinker, a potent cocktail made up of one part whiskey and one part vodka (which I've dubbed the Necktie Headband, after the couple's ensuing drunken shenanigans) so that she can later make the claim that Johnny got drunk and hit her. Since nobody cares if Lisa got punched, this is soon dropped. But the one thing that is not dropped is tragedy. Tragedy looms, and is also symbolized. I just this second decided that there's a symbol for "tragedy" in this movie. More on that later.
.
If The Room was merely (merely!) a story of love gone cold, it would deserve our attention for Wiseau's indelible performance, carried by his rich, South-Northern Frenchtalian accent, and for the scenes of emotional violence between Johnny and Lisa (LISA: Women change their minds all the time! JOHNNY: Ha ha! You must be joking, aren't you!(?)), as well as the crushing tragedy that forms the story's devastating endgame (okay, the symbol for tragedy is a football, but just hold on for the rest), but, of course, The Room is so much more than that.
.
Wiseau's loose storytelling method allows for a host of supporting characters to appear at random and leave a trail of rich texture behind him. Denny, in particular, has a habit of repeatedly dropping by Johnny's apartment to exchange dialogue with either Lisa or Johnny that seem to be constructed from the beginnings and endings of about a dozen different conversations. Such as:
.
Lisa: Hey Denny, how are you doing?
.
Denny: Fine. What's new?
.
Lisa: Actually I'm really busy. Do you want something to drink?
.
Denny: No thanks. I just wanna talk to Johnny. You look beautiful today. Can I kiss you?
.
Lisa: You're such a little brat!
.
Denny: Just kidding. I love you and Johnny!
.
Early in the film, it is also revealed that Denny has some sort of vague drug problem. He is accosted on the rooftop of his building by Charlie-R, a drug dealer, who pulls a gun and demands that Denny pay him his money. Denny is rescued by the sudden appearance of every other character who's been introduced up to that point, and a long, tearful and hysterical third-degree of Denny at the hands of Lisa ensues. This conversation consists primarily of Denny saying that he owed Charlie-R money because he bought some drugs from him, but that he got rid of the drugs and it doesn't matter, and Lisa screaming "What kind of money?" and "What kind of drugs?" The answer to the question "What kind of money?" is probably "American", but the kind of drugs that Denny bought and then disposed of is one of the film's many intriguing mysteries.
.
This crisis in Denny's life is never mentioned again, but, crucially, a gun, or the idea of guns -- of violence -- has been introduced into The Room's false sense of love and peace. It is with these supposedly, and so-called, meaningless scenes that Wiseau subtly shapes his tragedy (or "football"). Two other non-sequitor events lay the symbolic groundwork. In one, a character named Mike stops Johnny as he's running through what appears to be a tiny abandoned warehouse. Mike, we know, is the boyfriend of Michelle, Lisa's friend. Earlier, we saw Mike and Michelle preparing for sex -- in Johnny's apartment -- by eating chocolate out of each other's mouths, which is gross, and which I don't think you're supposed to do. They were caught in the act by Lisa and Claudette, who found Mike's underwear hanging out of his pocket. It was a light-hearted scene, and Mike recounts the events to Johnny (significantly referring to the incident as a "tragedy"), in the tiny warehouse, in a light-hearted way. Johnny assures Mike that he's not only listening to his story, but that he understands stories about underwear, and points out, when Mike has concluded, that "That's life!" At this point, Denny shows up, carrying with him a football. This football -- or possibly many footballs -- is seen throughout The Room, and leads to more than one round of catch. This is precisely what Johnny, Mike and Denny proceed to do, when suddenly Mark shows up. Mark, Johnny's best friend, is at this point well into his affair with Lisa (Johnny's future wife), and we know that he's experiencing a lot of guilt about this. When he agrees to take part in their game of "catch the football", Denny and Johnny begin to hint at Mike's crazy underwear story. Thunderstruck, Mark says "Underwear!? What's that!?", and then shoves Mike into a nearby pile of trashcans. Mike is clearly injured -- badly injured -- and has to be helped away by his friends. A "tragic" story leads to tossing the football around, which leads...to violence.
.
Later in the film, Johnny, Mark, Denny, and Peter (another friend, and a psychologist) meet at Johnny's apartment, each of them wearing a tuxedo. The purpose of this evening wear is left to our imaginations, but it occurs to Denny that it might be fun to go down to the alley and throw the football around. Peter -- who knows that Mark and Lisa are having an affair, and who Mark threatened with violence -- demurs at first. He doesn't think this is a good idea. As a psychologist, perhaps he is more in tune to the emotional and phyiscal tragedy that is represented by Denny's football, but Peter's own pedestrian human nature causes him, eventually, to succumb, after the other three call him a chicken, and make chicken noises at him. So they all go to the alley and start throwing the football. Denny tells Peter to "go out" so that he can throw the football (or "tragedy") to him, and as Peter does so, he trips and falls. While he does not appear to be badly hurt, Peter never again appears in the film. The football/tragedy has led to his disappearance/death.
.
Finally, Wiseau is ready to stage his inevitable climax, which revolves around the surprise birthday party for Johnny that Lisa has been planning ("You invited all my friends! Good idea!"). The well-informed viewer will instinctively recognize this section of the film as the "third act", and as he or she comes to this realization, perhaps he or she will remember, as I did, something that Anton Chekhov once said: "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired." And once you think of this, you think of Charlie-R's gun. How can you not?
.
The birthday party goes badly, with Mark and Lisa brazenly "making out" in the middle of the room, despite the protestations of Michelle, and some brand new guy who may only have been the plus-one of one of Johnny's work friends, but who nevertheless clearly knows what the shot is. In any case, Johnny and Mark fight, Johnny announces that "everyone betray me", he and Lisa break up, and then Johnny tears his bedroom apart. After humping the red dress he bought Lisa for a few seconds, he notices his hope chest, laying among the waste of his trashed bedroom. In that hope chest, we see that he keeps a gun and, just beneath that, nothing else. He removes the gun, asks God to forgive him, and then shoots himself square in the mouth.
.
When I was first planning to compose this critical essay of Tommy Wiseau's The Room, it was my belief that Charlie-R's gun -- which we see Mark take from the drug dealer -- and the gun Johnny uses to end his shattered life, were one in the same. It was based on this belief that I was able to construct my Chekhov idea. However, screengrabs of the two guns provided to me by a friend prove that they're two different guns, and I was, briefly, despondent. But only briefly, because then I thought of something Denny said, up there on that rooftop, under the blue sky of San Francisco. He said, "It doesn't matter!" And despite Lisa and Claudette's continued averring that it did, in fact, matter, Denny stuck to his "guns", and you know what? He was right. It doesn't matter. Because each of The Room's guns represent all guns, just as however many footballs they used represent all tragedies. When Charlie-R introduced that first gun, it was assured that either that gun, or another one, would go off. The tragedy of The Room -- as is far too often the case in our world, in our streets, in our homes -- is that it went off in Johnny's mouth.

14 comments:

Greg said...

I haven't seen this proper but have seen so much of it on tv and clips online that I feel I've seen most of it. As such, allow me the opportunity to call you "chicken!"

Cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep.

I bet you're mad now!

Oh, and as I made those noises I kind of bobbed up and down on my feet and kind of bounced my arms up and down gently. Chicken!

Cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep.

bill r. said...

My two favorite things about the chicken impression are that one of the times Johnny does it, he sort of trails off, so it sounds like this;

"Cheep cheep cheep cheep cheeeeeaaaauuhhhh..."

My other favorite thing is that Johnny considers it an all purpose insult. He can use it for light, friendly ribbing ("You're afraid to play football in your tuxedo! Cheep cheep cheep!") or he can pull it out when he's filled with white-hot rage ("You're my best friend and you're sleeping with my fiancee! Cheep cheep cheep cheep!").

Greg said...

The fucking football! I love the scene on the roof where each line is accompanying by a new change in position. Say line, walk to right. Say line, sit down. Say line, stand up. Say line, lean on wall. All while bouncing football back and forth between hands.

And the "chicken" football tuxedo scene. Wow. Remember, he doesn't start that "chicken" salvo, he just joins in, kind of half-heartedly too.

bill r. said...

Johnny was half-hearted about a lot of stuff. Sex, birthday parties, pizza...this is probably because he sensed that, soon, everyone betray him.

Kevin J. Olson said...

Don't you love how you get a "false start" (sticking with the gridiron theme) with that third act where there's a fight, they make-up, and then they have the SAME FIGHT AGAIN! Brilliant! I also love the re-introduction of a "major" character at the end being played by a different actor. I think it was his psychologist friend who was co-producer on the film with Wiseau and the two couldn't work together...so instead of re-shooting the scene in which his buddy appears as the psychologist, he decided to just insert a new actor at the end. I mean what the hell, right? It's not like by that point anyone is being a stickler for details.

You've written more than I could ever imagine anyone writing on this film without merely resorting to naming on all the funny scenes. Kudos to you, sir, for this extremely fun read. Great stuff.

bill r. said...

Kevin -

Don't you love how you get a "false start" (sticking with the gridiron theme) with that third act where there's a fight, they make-up, and then they have the SAME FIGHT AGAIN!

Are you talking about at the party, when Johnny and Mark get into the argument about Lisa, and then Johnny says he's sorry, and Mark says that's okay, and then Mark and Lisa are dancing together and Johnny comes in and starts yelling at him again? If so, then yes. Yes, I loved that. That's the sort of moment in the film that I almost can't process. I do not understand why the first argument was written, let alone filmed. What did Wiseau think he was achieving with it?

I've heard that the new guy at the party is thought to be Peter, played by a new actor, but his name is never mentioned, so why are we so sure it's Peter? I like to think it's just some dude, who does NOT like what he sees happening around him, and he wants to make his feelings known by saying things like "I agree with that" after Michelle has just said something he agrees with.

Roderick Heath said...

This has only confirmed that I am going to remain emotionally and intellectually unfulfilled until I see this film in its entirety.

WalkerP said...

Should this be definitely seen in the theatre or can it stand up to a home viewing?

From all I've read about it, it seems almost hypnotizing, like it has some grip on the mind of its viewers.

Adam Ross said...

"The problem, it seems to me, with writing in any controlled or structured way about Tommy Wiseau's extraordinary The Room is that there isn't a single moment in the entire film that isn't worth mentioning."

Yes! I noticed this too, and was reminded of TROLL 2, where you can find something fascinating/wrong with almost every shot. I simply love the idea of the flower shop scene. There is no exposition in it, beyond the fact that Johnny goes there a lot and we learn that in fact he did buy his flowers at a flower shop!

I did like the casting of Denny, he is an odd looking man who could be anywhere from 15-30 years old.

bill r. said...

Rod - You already knew that. You simply need to take the steps for the betterment of your life.

Walker - You can see it on DVD. I don't imagine you'll find a theater screening that will allow you to watch THE ROOM without a bunch of fanatics whooping it up and throwing shit at the screen. I wouldn't want to see that way myself, ever. When you see it on DVD, though, it might be a good idea to have a loved one with you.

Adam - I've never seen TROLL 2, but the idea of writing up THE ROOM honestly seemed overwhelming to me before I began. And now I realize that I never talked about the scene when Lisa seduces Mark, and he says "The sexy dress, the music, the candles..." despite the fact that there are NO candles, and the only music playing is the film score. So he can here the film score? I...what's...

My favorite thing about the florist scene is that the florist didn't realize it was Johnny until he took his sunglasses off. Before then, it could have been anybody!

Greg said...

And don't forget, he's the florist's favorite customer!

Adam Ross said...

And what about the title? The only thing I can think of is that he kills himself in a room.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I had the pleasure of creating the closed-captions for The Room in the presence of Mr. Wiseau himself, who supervised the project very closely. Let's just say that during this project I perfected my poker face.

(Not sure if those captions have been translated to subtitles for the DVD, by the way.)

Anonymous said...

Great review. Right up there with "The Pooh Perplex" and "A Modest Proposal". If there were a football in the movie "Inception,"... oh, nevermind. I really lost my train of thought.

Followers