The Room is a thirteen-minute colour film shot in 1991, on location on the rough suburbs of New York City. The film is directed by Jeff Balsmeyer, produced by William H Watkins and Jeff Balsmeyer and written by Jeff Balsmeyer and Nathaniel Kahn.
It is difficult to put this film into one specific genre as it covers a variety of genres. It is a domestic family drama, which explores the lifestyle of a dysfunctional family struggling to cope with violence, poverty, obsessional behaviour and mental illness, however the moving image text concludes in a happy way, but there is a slight amount of taboo language used.
This moving image text should be targeted at those who are fifteen and above, for the reason that the serious issues covered in the film may worry the younger audience.
The title of the film “The Room” is a definite article, which singles the room in question out from any other room. The bluntness of the title grabs attention. The title withholds information leaving the imagination to run free, intensifying the excitement, but creating uncertainty altogether, which builds up the tension.
I associate the film with being imprisoned in a small enclosed space for an immense amount of time. The film could be a dream or a nightmare, it could also be telling somebody’s thoughts, fears or a memory. It seems to be multi-layered.
The film begins with a small tour of the rough neighbourhood; we are able to hear the everyday atmospheric sounds of the area. We are then shown some “normal” families in contrast to the family in question, there is a woman putting out her washing, a man watching television, but he has to raise the volume to be able to hear the TV, because he can’t hear over Marty and Evelyn arguing.
We are then shown the family filmed, where Marty (father) and Evelyn (mother) are still arguing because Marty is refusing to allow Evelyn to go to the market. He ends the argument by drawing bars across the window and locking it, Marty then turns to the door and continues to bolt numerous locks, whilst Evelyn is explaining to their son, Johnny that they will be eating spaghetti for tea again, since it is all Marty will eat, and that she would love to take him to the market but she is unable to. After laying the food on the table the family begin to pray before they eat, subsequently Marty says he knew what Evelyn and Johnny were talking about and that they aren’t allowed out of the apartment. He explains that Evelyn and Johnny wouldn’t be able to
survive in the outside world. Later Evelyn tries to defend Johnny by saying that if only he could interact with some people his own age, this infuriates Marty and he
strikes his right leg upon the table making Johnny and Evelyn to shudder. It is visible that Marty is wearing a leg brace around his ankle and lower leg, he starts to interrogate Evelyn about how he obtained such an injury, that makes him have to wear a brace, he then demands recognition from his son, because he deliberately caught his leg in a wire bailer at work, so he could gain money from the Government every week.
He then states that he
“Beat the system!”
Shortly after Evelyn explodes with anger about Marty restricting Johnny from going out, and the arguing becomes too much for Johnny and he beats his spoon down onto his plate causing it to crack right down the centre, after witnessing what happened both parents become silent, while Johnny disappears to his bedroom where he takes a key from one of his books and locks the door whilst his father is walking up the hallway to his room. While reading his favourite book his father begins to knock on his bedroom door apologizing for shouting, he asks permission to enter the room, but to his amazement the door is locked, and his temper begins to increase, when Johnny refuses to unlock the door, he attempts to break the door open, during this time Johnnys’ concentration on his book begins to increase and the walls commence to crack, and the room falls from the building.
While Marty is trying to open the door we are shown Johnnys’ room falling from the building in slow motion, and finally Marty opened the door to find Johnny and half his room on the road outside. When Johnny has realised what really has happened it is noticeable that he is relieved he has survived from his father.
After taking a look around Johnny packs a few things into a pillowcase, as well as his favourite book and takes one more look up to his bedroom where his father is protecting his mother from walking into the bedroom. Johnny then turns and walks down the street with a smile across his face.
Characters and Actors
There are three main characters in this film:
Johnny who is the son is played by Andrew Barlow,
Marty who is the father is played by Barry Cullison and
Evelyn who is the mother is played by Diana Agostini.
There is an increasing amount of pressure on the actors to assure the audience that they can portray their part convincingly in less than fifteen minutes.
Marty is the father of the family and is feared by both his wife and son. He may be in his late thirties or early forties. He has a mental illness, and an obsessional behaviour. It is obvious he has a mental disorder due to the fact that he has a self-inflicted injury, and that he likes to keep bars on the windows and locks on the door, because this must make him feel protected from unexpected harm.
While locking the bar on the window he repeats “Crazy Bastards!” twice, which illustrates that he is the crazy bastard. Marty is paranoid about safety due to the fact that he has a number of locks in the house, he may have been abandoned as a child, and was left homeless, so he is protecting his family from walking out into the rough neighbourhood.
He is addicted to eating spaghetti every day, having to consume the same food every day must make him feel secure because everything is cyclic, and any alterations could cause unforeseen situations.
Marty is also unaware of his condition, which means he doesn’t realise that his obsessional behaviour is deviant, and that not allowing Johnny to interact with children his own age will cause him to become isolated from everyone and everything, but Marty might not allow Johnny to outside friendships because he fears
that they will effect his controlling obsession over his son because Johnny would find courage to fight back.
As far as the audience knows Johnny is the only child of the family. Johnny is a timid and fearful ten-year-old boy, who has very little power as a child. There is scarcely any conversation between Johnny and his parents; it is usually Johnny having to constantly listen to his parents arguing. Johnny doesn’t keep any eye contact with his father, which is essential for a loving relationship. Because Johnny hasn’t got anyone to talk to about his dilemmas he has been forced into vulnerability to most things. Johnny is unable to change the situation he is in, so he constructs a fantasy world through reading. It is questionable, that because Johnny has been subjected to violence for most of his life, it has caused him to become violent himself.
In the film, when Marty puts his leg onto the dining table to make the point about his injury, Johnny looks away, which may indicate that Johnny has to listen to the speech about the injured leg a lot.
Johnny may have locked his bedroom door because it is his private sanctuary where he fantasizes, and he doesn’t want his father to be a part of them.
The key to lock his bedroom door is inside one of his books on his shelf, he may keep it there because he is sure his father won’t find it there. Marty may be illiterate. The key may be kept in a book because it symbolises the key to his fantasies.
The book Johnny was reading one of the paragraphs said:
“How many thousands of miles they flew the prince could not tell. Nestling comfortably between the giant bird’s wings he could see the land far below. In another moment the bird had carried the prince swiftly to the far-off palace of the princess…”
This could indicate that Johnny wants to be free from his parents, and maybe find a loving family who he can feel secure with, not having to worry when your father is going to lose his temper, and hit you.
Johnny has translated the words from the book he is reading into visual images to make them seem real.
All the books that he owns are all second-hand, regardless Johnny loves them, because they rescue him from reality.
There are certain items in his bedroom which signify specific things:
The globe indicates Johnny’s desire to be free from his parents especially his father.
There is also a toy gun, which symbolises violence; his need to use it for revenge, there is also a soldier figure, which implies Johnny having to be in a constant battle with his parents.
When Marty is trying to break the bedroom door open, it is noticeable that he becomes uncontrollable, so it is possible when he using violence against his family he may become uncontrollable. It can also mean that Marty is hitting Johnny, but Johnny tries to pretend that violence isn’t happening.
Evelyn is the wife and mother of the family; she seems older than Marty she may be in her mid forties. Evelyn is a loyal but fearful wife, and a devoted mother who wants to give her son some freedom, but is unable to, due to the circumstances she is placed in. Evelyn has to plead with Marty to be able to go to the market, which usually rotates into an argument. She tries to defend Johnny, begging Marty to allow him to go out and make some friends. Evelyn must love Marty a lot, because she is sticking by him during this tough era, she may still believe he may turn back into the man she married or she would like a divorce because Marty is overpowering, but she is frightened of telling Marty, and also she is quite poor so it could be hard for her to pay for a solicitor. From this it is obvious Evelyn has no power to influence Marty.
The family is universal, so what happened to this family, can happen to any family.
The ways in which the parents behave are influenced by their experiences as children.
Themes and Ideas underpinning the film
The director, Jeff Balsmeyer, uses the storyline of The Room to explore many serious issues.
Because Marty is unaware of his mental illness, he doesn’t know the effects it has on his family.
The film is very emphatic on the issue of the power of the mind or imagination, which is shown wonderfully by Johnny’s desire for freedom when his room fall from the building. The film also tries to accentuate the power of reading fictional books, which is shown by Johnny being saved from reality by reading, and being taken into a fantasy world.
The relationship between Johnny and Marty is extremely overprotective, which frightens Johnny.
Jeff Balsmeyer also explores the effects of being isolated and the need for social contact with normal people to stay sane. The film also explores the effect of a violent man in a marriage and in a family; it demonstrates the powerful emotions that children feel towards their parents. Moreover The Room is a film that explores a child’s need for independence from their parents.
There isn’t a vast amount of graphics used in The Room, only at the beginning and end of the film.
The film begins with the title “The Room” in white letterings projected against the apartment block; they are unobtrusive, which help us to concentrate on the serious nature of the film, and the images, which are shown.
The graphics at the end of the movie are simple, bold, black and white, which suggests a serious film, and it presents the audience with time to think about the next chapter in Johnny’s life.
Camera Shots, Angles, Movement and Frames
The film displays different camera shots at different times; to either intensify tension, portray deep concentration, to show how some things are confined into tiny spaces,
for example, at the beginning of the film we are shown the full width of the apartment block, it is depicted as an imprisoned, deprived neighbourhood. It is noticeable there is no sky at the opening of the film, but there is a bright sunny horizon when it ends, this must symbolize that Johnny’s life was a dull and fearsome, but it ends on the fact that his life is no longer going to be like that because he is free, and is able to abide by his own rules. It could also signify the fact that Johnny’s life must have been one extended nightmare, where the sun would never shine to bring happiness, but now he is free, the sun will always shine.
There is a High Angle Shot used while Marty is bolting the locks on the front door, this is used to show how Marty is paranoid about safety.
The part where Marty is quizzing Evelyn about his injury, there is a Close Up of Evelyn’s face where she is continually blinking which suggests she is awfully terrified of what this could lead to.
After watching the film, you will notice that the parents argue frequently, and whilst they are in conflict the camera switches from each person’s face on a Big Close Up (BCU) shot, this helps to build up the tension, and fear. Over The Shoulder shots are also used when the pair are arguing.
One of the main shots taken to emphasize tension and excitement is the part where Johnny is trying to lock his bedroom door, and his father is walking up the hallway to his bedroom, this shot is only of Marty’s ankles and feet. They show a glimpse of Marty walking and then Johnny struggling to get the key in the keyhole, and then another glance at Marty striving to walk with his injury along the hallway, and then the camera goes back to Johnny and he has now locked the door. Upon approaching the door, Marty realises it has been locked, and becomes angered, when he says to Johnny…
“You got a lock on this door?” “Open this door!”
When Marty says this to Johnny the shot is a Low Angle Shot with the camera looking up, this shot is to highlight Marty as a powerful father and leader of the family. It may imply that when Johnny is with Marty, he feels incredibly small compared to a very demanding dominant father.
There is an Extreme Close UP (ECU) of the book Johnny is reading on his bed, which shows him entering the book, leaving reality behind.
The main part of the film is the room falling from the building. Shortly before this occurs Johnny is reading his favourite book, and during this there is a Close Up (CU) of his eyes, which shows his great concentration on his book and his deliberate attempt to block out his fathers voice.
When his room is on the road there is a Close Up (CU) of a spinning globe, which indicates that now Johnny is released the world is now his oyster and he is free to do what he wants.
Before Johnny walks off he takes a look up towards his father still standing at the doorway of his now dormant room where his mother has now joined him. The shot used here is a Low Angle Shot (looking up), his parents look minute, which denotes that they no longer have any controlling power of him, the people around him at the time are shot in a (CU) Close Up, to show this is his life now, with the normal people on the streets.
The film is shot in chronological order of event. The main element of the film only takes a few minutes, but the film takes much longer consequently it explores the situation from different angles. The opening shot of the apartment block is held for several seconds accordingly to set the story and it allows the viewer time to enter the
mood and atmosphere. A shot, which is in slow motion, is when Johnny is falling through the air; this lets us focus on the boys face and his joy caused by freedom. The room falling from the building suggests the boy is dreaming, and it is just a fantastic dream.
At this point the audience are able to concentrate on the incredulous faces of people watching on the ground.
Tension is also created by very swift change of shots from the father’s footsteps to boy trying to lock the door. When the room is on the ground, and Johnny looks up at his home, and parents, he doesn’t want to return.
There is a contrast between Marty and the “normal” people on the street.
The shot at the end of the film is held for a very long time, where boy is walking up the street, this proposes the boys freedom.
The colour of the main room, where the kitchen is, and where the family eat is very dull and filthy, which means the family are poor. The lights have to be switched on during the day indicating a very dark and dingy room.
Others people’s apartments were shown to look more colourful and inviting compared to the apartment, which is filmed.
Johnny’s room is a pale blue colour, which is cold and prison like. The bedroom colour is made more like a prison cell rather than a child’s bedroom.
When Johnny is falling from his room, the sky is exceptionally bright, which is a contrast to his dull room. The people on the street are wearing brightly coloured clothes compared to the shabby, dull, second-hand clothes Johnny, Evelyn and Marty were wearing.
The minute the room begins to crack all the objects in the room begin to increase in colour, suggests Johnny may be drifting into a dream.
When Johnny is walking up the street, his clothes, the neighbourhood, the apartment block all gain colour to insinuate freedom.
Stunts and Special Effects
Obviously the main stunt was a bedroom walls cracking and the room itself dropping out of a building. It isn’t made clear if this spectacular act is bona fide, or a big deception.
It may show that Johnny this performance was just a figment of his imagination; it is actually mind over matter.
The room falling from the building can have numerous justifications, it could well be that Johnny is in fact falling into unconsciousness, or it could be that Marty finally did
get into the room, and started to physically abuse Johnny, and that the room falling from the building was actually the boys’ self-esteem decreasing
The room falling out of the apartment block ended the film in a cheerful and surreal manner, after witnessing many serious themes before hand.
“The Room” was filmed in the unfortunate part of New York City. The apartments are compact, and the local vicinity is active, on a daily basis the area is usually very busy and noisy.
Inside the apartment of the family filmed they do not have any washing machine or dryer, which, yet again, suggests the family are poor. If they lived in a wealthy district, maybe Evelyn and Johnny wouldn’t be as restricted as they are now, because Marty wouldn’t have had to injure himself to get money, and usually in a rich area, the people are kind and reliable, so Evelyn and Johnny would have been safe when they went out. Nevertheless it could well be that Marty was homeless as he was growing up, and possibly he could have been abandoned.
Costume & Make Up
Johnny’s clothes are colourful, but he is growing out of them, he could be running out of clothes to, wear. He wore a stripy coloured t-shirt, and dark trousers. His clothes may have been bought from a second hand store, or maybe a family friend or neighbour may have given him a set of outfits because they sympathise with the little that they live on.
When Johnny has reached the street outside all the children are wearing florescent colours, which indicates his happiness to be free.
Marty was wearing a tight white vest top, and black trousers. The vest top is fitted, so it reveals his muscular upper body. His wife and son may feel intimidated while Marty wears this top, because it shows his physique, which may remind them that he can torment them with violence.
Evelyn wears a ragged, threadbare, dull floral pinafore. It seems this may be the only item of clothing she owns. She doesn’t wear any make up, like normal women do at her age, this may be due to the fact that she doesn’t have any money to spend on little luxuries for herself or Marty might have forbidden her to wear make up.
All of the characters have unkempt hair, and haven’t visited a hair stylist in a long while; they may not even have hairbrushes or combs.
A sign of poverty is that none of the characters wear watches.
Subtle make up is used on Evelyn to make her look slightly older than Marty, the make up made emphasis on the lines on her face, to make her look more aged.
Music plays a very important role in this film, as it does in most films. It can create tension, excitement and frustration.
Whenever Marty and Evelyn are arguing the argument always developed into anger and frustration, meanwhile the music would be heightening these emotions and causing them to come across to the viewers exceptionally strong.
The music during the beginning and middle of the film, when Johnny was trapped in this “madhouse” was very serious, lacklustre, but then as the room began to fall from
the apartment block, the music came to life, the tempo speeded up, there was a delighted tone to the music.
When Johnny is walking off into the unknown world the music is much more peaceful, and happy, which signifies the boy is glad, the boy is free!
There are different sound effects throughout the film, which illustrate the atmosphere in the neighbourhood carries on everyday and every night.
The beginning of the film exemplifies the dangers of the area, by the constant commotion from things like police sirens to fire engines. We are also able to hear the sound of news reports that shows there must be a lot of news to report.
When Marty and Evelyn are disputing about the fact that Johnny doesn’t have interaction with children in his own peer group, you can hear children playing in the background, suggesting isolation.
When Marty is walking along the hallway to the room where Johnny is, the click of his brace against the wooden floor creates tension, as well as the scratching of the key against the wood around the keyhole before Johnny places the key in the hole.
Upon hearing the walls crack it is actually the sound of Johnny’s spirit breaking free.
All the sound effects used in the film are used to stress the boy’s emotions.
“The Room” was an exceptionally difficult film to view due to the complex issues covered. The first time I watched the film I laughed, but once I started to analyse it, and observe it again, and again, it became clear that what happened to the family filmed can happen to any family, and that we should appreciate what we already have.
I felt it was similar to some other films I have previously viewed such as: Matilda, The Sixth Sense and The Pagemaster.
Mental illness plays an important role in this film, and I didn’t realise how serious the illness could be until I saw this film, which boldly attacks how the family are affected by it.
It is possible that Jeff Balsmeyer, the director of the film may have come from or knows a similar family like the one the film is based on, because not only did he direct, but produce and write the script for the film, or he may just feel very strongly about the issues involved.
To watch the film, it is best to be in a serious frame of mind, and to be open minded and optimistic, because there is a lot of new themes revealed to you.