seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens
When I spent a little over a year in Columbus, Ohio, I lived in a tiny apartment in a rundown neighborhood with my friend Max. I must have met him sometime in the late 90s, when I was self-publishing comics and touring all over the country. Dude's a self-taught cartoonist.
I can't give you a sense of how small our place was based on words alone. It's not like I cared enough to try and measure it for myself, so you'll have to take my word for it when I say it was barely big enough for one person, much less two. There was a kitchen, a living room, a room that Max had been using for storage but most people, I suppose, would've used for a bedroom (he didn't even own a bed; I don't know why) and a bathroom, which was the only place one could get any privacy. All the other rooms led into each other, without any doors, so in a way, it was almost like living in a single room.
Max had warned me in advance what his accommodations were like, but I didn't anticipate living there all that long when I had first arrived in town. I figured that once I found a job, I'd save up enough money to find my own place within two or three months. Columbus, after all, was not New York (which was why I moved there to begin with) and I was bound to have had an easier time of it in the smaller market. Maybe I would have... if I hadn't arrived during the Recession of 2008. Long story short: finding a job was tough.
Max worked nights, so our paths would cross for only a scant few hours in the evening during weekdays, but when we were together, it was good. He showed me around town for the first few days until I got the urge to explore on my own, and he introduced me to his family and friends (the ones I didn't already know, anyway).
Most of all, though, we learned from each other. Both of us being cartoonists, we each had our own ideas on how to approach comics, and we were able to discuss them in a frank manner. We didn't always agree, and I suspect we probably never will, but the back and forth we shared over the kitchen table as we each worked on our respective strips was stimulating in a way I hadn't experienced since college.
But that apartment... Like I said, he worked nights, and that helped greatly on the occasions where I wanted to be alone with my thoughts, but sometimes, he'd have friends over, and I couldn't simply go into my "room" and shut them out if that's what I wanted. (Nothing against his friends; they were my friends too, and I liked them.) There were weekends where I'd stay out until two and three in the morning (which was a lot easier once I bought my bike) simply so I could have some privacy. The storage room was so packed with stuff that I couldn't reach the window. There was a tiny aisle, maybe a yard long at most, leading to the bathroom between the cot and the closet. I lived out of my suitcase because I had no shelf space.
Yet I could hardly complain, could I? Max was doing me a favor by letting me live there. I found some freelance work, but it definitely didn't pay enough to get me out of there and into my own place. Eventually, feelings of resentment, frustration and jealousy crept into my relationship with him, and living in that cramped little space only made it worse.
Still, I don't regret my experience, especially since I was able to share it with someone like Max. His patience, his positive attitude and his great generosity sustained me, gave me what I needed - living in a strange city, hundreds of miles away from my once and future home - and kept me from slipping into desperation. He made living there pleasant, even fun... and I can only hope I was half as good a roommate for him as he was for me.
Obviously, my situation was nowhere near as nightmarish as the one depicted in Room. I couldn't help being reminded of it, though. You never really know someone until you live with them for a length of time, and Joy and Jack knew each other as intimately as a mother and son possibly could during their imprisonment in that room - a place which, for Jack, was his entire universe. Similarly, I certainly felt like Max and I gained a deeper understanding of each other during our year-plus together - deep enough, at least, to understand where we each came from and why we think the way we do about certain things.
I'm proud to say I went into Room virtually blind. The day the Oscars were announced, I had read a capsule description of the plot at the Kew Gardens website on the "coming soon" page, but I forgot about it by the time I saw it on Wednesday. And because I was doing The One Year Switch last year, I didn't read anything about the film when it was making the festival circuit (which I assume it did) - though I knew there was buzz surrounding it, to put it mildly.
At first, I thought it was some kind of dystopic sci-fi story, like Joy and Jack were quarantined because they had some contagious, fatal disease. When I realized why they were in that room, I then thought it would be a Hitchcockian suspense flick, in which escape would be the payoff. It's neither, of course.
I'm waiting until after I post this to read about director Lenny Abrahamson, screenwriter Emma Donoghue (adapting her novel) and star Brie Larson, Oscar nominees all, because I don't want any of this to be influenced too much on what's already been said and written about the film. (I'm especially eager to find out how the director got the performance he did out of that little boy.) Suffice it to say that I want this movie to win, and win big, Even if it doesn't, though, my admiration for it will not change one iota. Maybe now when people talk about "that Room movie," their first thought won't be of Tommy Wiseau!