While the premise is interesting and the performances by the leads are strong, it is just too difficult to empathize with the characters in Suicide Room, Jan Komasa’s film about a troubled teen who withdraws to his room. Hikikomori isn’t actually a social problem in Poland that I’m aware of, and I think the director passed over several more interesting stories to theorize on what it would be like if it were. A wealthy, good looking teen throwing it all away might be arresting to watch, if only the protagonist’s most dramatic act for most of the film wasn’t to hide out at home.
Since I spent last evening writing about the wonderful and terrible Internet and the trials of Chinese teens caught in addiction therapy because of it, I figured it made sense that my next review of films about the youth of today should be Jan Komasa’s journey into the dark, secret places of the Web, where troubled teens go to escape from the world. Suicide Room, where the wealthy good-looking types go to find reinforcement for their emotional states and contemplate death. It’s a movie I should like…stunningly shot in blue tones, with smart dialog and a memorable performance by a young actor named Jakub Gierszał. Also a sountrack that’s worth tracking down and a story about a two groups of people who rarely find their way to film: the Hikikomori and the Emos.
The premise seems like it would be interesting…take a concept from a psychological disorder that’s become a social problem in Japan and fuse it with a the global youth anti-culture that inspired a small moral panic last decade (and worse responses elsewhere) and in our ongoing fear that the internet will harm our kids, and the current western concern with bullying and sexuality…it all seems so global and universal, and contemporary. The problem is that I don’t think the extreme social avoidance disorder, hikikomori, actually exists much outside of Japan (which is actually what makes this disorder so interesting to study) and the Emos probably deserve a bit more sympathetic treatment after years spent as the butt of so many jokes, undeserved slander and outright sinister overreactions to their clothing and music. Because Suicide Room relies so heavily fixated on social avoidance as a mental disorder, it’s like watching a movie about a social problem that is only interesting because the lead actor is beautiful, but otherwise the problem doesn’t exist. In other words, kind of a waste of time.
Suicide Room tells the story of Dominik (Gierszał), who in his junior or senior year of high school (whenever college entrance exams are taken in Poland) starts to have sexual feelings for a classmate (Bartosz Gelner). One night at a school formal, he kisses the classmate on a dare…which is posted online. This being Poland, everyone seems fine with the video until Dominik does something to reveal that he might actually have enjoyed that kiss, after which people start saying bad things about him online and making fun of him. The public “social” sphere of the net turns hostile, and so our lead is drawn to the safety of the anonymous, private side of the net, where he meets a girl named Sylwia (Roma Gasiorowska), who hasn’t left her house for four years. She introduces him to the simulated world of the Suicide Room, where like minded folks who no one understands but who are convinced of their own uniqueness meet up. It’s a compelling space, but the longer Dominik dwells inside, the less he wants to leave his room.
I should have some sympathy for Dominik’s situation, but I have to admit I couldn’t muster much, even as he was spiraling towards an untimely demise. Maybe it would have helped if the character wasn’t such a spoiled twit before his transformation into an Emo stereotype, fixation with cutting and all. Maybe I would have felt bad about the teasing, but to be honest, it was quite mild as far as teen bullying goes. The character comes off like a princeling who stops living so he can be safe. The entire issue of his sexuality seems to get lost in the second act so that Komansa can speculate about what it might be like to want to be completely alienated every waking hour. That’s fine. Not every movie in which a character questions his sexuality has to actually focus on that issue, but we’re left with a lead who seems to be expressing strong emotions that don’t lead anywhere but to other scenes where he’s expressing strong emotions again without developing his character or moving the story along. Not surprisingly, it’s a little tedious hanging out with someone holed up in his room arguing with his too-busy-to-care parents about why he’s not coming out.