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The Room: Three theories to explain this movie

Greg Sestero (front) and Tommy Wiseau invite you to explore The Room
Greg Sestero (front) and Tommy Wiseau invite you to explore The Room

Welcome to a new column called Geek Speak, in which we take on an aspect of geek culture each week.

There is nothing quite like The Room. It's one of a handful of movies considered "the worst movie ever" that has somehow managed to find an enduring audience. For those who haven't seen it, the film can be hard to explain. In essence, it's a fairly tame relationship drama with a misanthropic outlook. Nice guy has girl, girl cheats with nice guy's best friend, it all comes apart at the seams. Pretty standard stuff, in theory. Yet in practice, The Room is so, so much more. More than a movie, The Room is a disorienting, unsettling experience, made up of bizarre non sequiturs, narrative red herrings and the occasional dip into surreal inanity. Characters appear and disappear seemingly without rhyme or reason. Subplots emerge, like a shark's fin breaking water, only to disappear again without a trace, leaving you wondering if they're simply waiting down there for a chance to bite you. Nothing makes much sense -- but somehow, you can't look away. While watching The Room, it's not unusual to feel as if you've been lightly drugged, or perhaps suffered a moderate head injury. Maybe both.

See also:

- Event: The Room with Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero live

- Go inside The Shining documentary Room 237 with director Rodney Ascher

- Mystery Science Theater's legacy of hilarity

Despite all this -- or perhaps because of it -- The Room is tremendously entertaining and stays that way through many, many viewings. I've watched The Room close to a dozen times. And nearly every time, one question races through my mind continuously, demanding a response: "What the fuck is this movie's deal?"

How did it come to be, why is it the way it is and, seriously, what the fucking fuck? Over the years, I've spent an undue amount of time, both while watching the movie and while doing other, ostensibly non-Room related activities, searching for an answer to this question. Over that time, I've come up with a number of theories to explain The Room. Today, I'm going to share three of my favorites.

The Tax Shelter

Wiseau is notoriously reluctant to share details of his past, including where he got the money to finance the making and marketing of The Room. Beyond some vague references to a leather jacket business, he's never explained how he came up with the reported $6 million it cost. Since I'm a fan of crime dramas like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, the thought naturally occurred to me that The Room, like the Hitler musical in The Producers, was simply a way to launder/hide a bunch of cash. Wiseau, with his weird East European accent and shadowy background, is obviously a member, probably a low- ranking member, of some crime family, chosen to lead the project because of his ambitions to act and direct. They do some shady invoicing and sleight of hand with the budget and somehow profit off of it.

This explains how the film gets made and maybe how Wiseau has managed to coast on its almost certainly meager earnings for a decade -- seriously, how much can he make off of a few hundred midnight showings every year -- including two in Denver this weekend -- but not so much why it is so strange and delightful. After all, lots of incompetent, unqualified people make movies (see anything that's come out of Happy Madison Productions in the past decade), but not many of them turn out so damn weird and wonderful.

Clearly this theory, while attractive as a plausible explanation of how, fails to get at the bigger question of why. On to the next theory, then...

If Reptoids and Ewoks can coexist like this, why can't we?
If Reptoids and Ewoks can coexist like this, why can't we?

Aliens!

Buckle up, this one gets a little strange. Basically, everyone involved in The Room, with a handful of exceptions, is actually an alien. (As in E.T., not as in "undocumented immigrant.") Wiseau and the mother character are some kind of shapeshifting reptoids, like David Icke is always ranting about. Mark, played by something calling itself "Greg Sestero," is actually a synthetic lifeform, an android designed to be handsome and charismatic by lifeforms that don't quite understand how exactly that would work. Denny, played by "Philip Haldiman," is some kind of Ewok thing, cute and a little dumb, only they shaved him down to look more human. The remaining characters are all various minor races, like the extras in the Star Wars cantina scene, or maybe an episode of Star Trek where they visit a diplomatic conference staffed by lots of different races. Only Lisa, played by Juliette Daniels, is actually a human, which explains why she seems so confused and a little disturbed by everyone/everything else in the film.

Clearly the aliens have observed human interactions and human culture, but they don't really get it, which is why so many of the situations and scenes in the movie are theoretically plausible, yet make absolutely no sense at all. Awkward dialogue, characters mouthing their way through emotional scenes with zero emotion, that whole football deal... it all fits! As to why aliens would try to make a movie about relationships and man's inhumanity to man? Who knows, they're aliens! Actually, it was probably some kind of Day the Earth Stood Still warning that we all need to be nicer to each other, lest they come in force and make us all into slaves and/or pet food. But come on, aliens? Who believes in that stuff, except maybe Fox Mulder and those MUFON people? On to the next theory, then...

The Auteur

If you thought the aliens theory was a little farfetched, you're going to want to sit down. Are you sitting down? Of course you are -- who reads the Internet while standing? Anyway, here it is: Wiseau intended all of it, every last scene, every last weird hiccup in story and character, as a brilliant deconstruction of what makes a movie entertaining and the process of not just storytelling, but of creation itself. According to this theory, Wiseau's genius is not just confined to the screen, but spills out over it to the very character of "Wiseau" itself. Every interview he's given, his strange reticence to discuss his past, his weird accent, all of it are part of the metafilmic experience, making him an auteur of performance art, a bizarre cross between Stanley Kubrick and Andy Kaufman.

Wiseau has been excoriated and abused, mocked and patronized in the press, but he remains ever willing to do interviews and travel around to screenings to answer questions and observe the effects of his masterpiece on unsuspecting audiences. Why would he do that, if it wasn't all part of the plan? Someday, someone will unpack all the hidden gestures and secret messages of the film, relate it all to the character Wiseau has foisted upon the press and figure out What It All Means, thus validating Wiseau as the first real genius of twenty-first century art. Until then, he's content to continue his performance and spread the gospel of the film far and wide, waiting for the day when everyone knows the name Wiseau and the complex, incorrigible beauty of the film and the performance around it.

Seriously, though, it has to be aliens... right?

See The Room at midnight this Friday and Saturday at the Esquire, with Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero on hand to answer questions and bask in the admiration of fans.


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