07 February 2008

The Lost Room


One of my students lent me something to watch and think once again (as if I didn't have enough on my plate already). She said it's definitely worth watching and it's promised to be time better spent than watching air hostesses bitching about on Thai national TV or reading boring tomes of theses. She's right. The Lost Room is a very interesting TV mini series, starring the like of Peter Krause, who earlier made an indelible mark as Nate Fisher in Alan Ball's Six Feet Under.

The Lost Room starts with an interesting premise: what if you can have a key which can take you anywhere in the world. The key is 'an object' that belongs to a motel room than can perform miracles. There are other objects that wait to be discovered too, such as a pen that can burn people, a pair of scissors that can 'rotate' things and people, a glass eye that can destroy or rejuvenate flesh, a comb that can freeze time, and a bus ticket that can expel someone to a town in New Mexico. People who know about the existence of these objects start to collect them and before long they are obsessed. They believe that if they can collect everything, they can communicate with God or become God themselves.

The idea itself is fascinating and the plot of this mini series revolves around the disappearance of Joe Miller's daughter in the mysterious motel room and the search for her by Joe himself. Unlike other 'collectors', Joe is not interested in being a magpie gathering these objects for his own ends, but his motive is purely to use these objects to help emancipate his daughter. This altruistic ideal sets him apart from other people and leads to a satisfying ending.

But I'm not here to tell you the plot. No need to, because if you start watching it, you'll get hooked anyway and want to know how the increasingly complex story ends. The ending of course is to an extent acceptable but still fails to answer quite a few questions, such as how come this motel room and these objects exist in the first place and why the room was demolished. These are in fact the central point of the whole series, but they are left unanswered. I guess they, the producers I mean, want to keep these for the next season. I personally find that quite cruel.

The obsession with objects is not a new topic in the art world. Borges wrote quite a few stories on the craze people have for objects, such as 'The Zahir' and 'The Book of Sand'. These objects make people crazy yet they still want to possess them. I think the subtext is more than clear: it derides those of us who love to collect stuff for its own sake and never to let go of them. In the age of capitalism, the object is of course money. Money is perhaps a prime object that everyone seeks after. Money itself is not significant, but what it leads to is more important. Money in this case means possibilities, as it can lead to holidays, new homes, new cars, other objects that can fulfill your dream that cannot in fact be fulfilled. Capitalism in a way teaches us that we must not be satisfied with what we have, but should buy more and have more. It is perhaps not wrong to say that capitalism generates greed.

What is The Lost Room in this context? Its message is clear: don't get obsessed with objects, even though objects can lead to happiness. But one should ask oneself what one's happiness is. Joe's is his life with his daughter. Other characters simply haven't found what their happiness is, so they hang on 'objects' because they are equated with 'future possibilities'. This is quite sad, but it nicely portrays how insecure we are and how we need to hold onto something in the present simply because we don't know what tomorrow brings. I on the other hand know what tomorrow brings. A class, a meeting, a series of tutorials, etc. endlessly ...


Mat said...

I'm not sure that the accumulation of wealth is the same as the collection of objects: there is an additional fetishisation associated with the objects which does not occur with money (unless you have piles and piles of bank notes, which most people don't). Capitalism generates greed, but it is a greed for purchasing commodities.

The Lost Room is an update of the holy relics of the Middle Ages: rare items with supposed powers being traded and venerated.

dechito said...

Of course, the series may well remind the audience of the medieval craze for relics and holy objects, on the condition that these objects lead to God. But what is God in our time? Even in the Renaissance, we find Ben Jonson's Volpone worshipping at the altar of the God of Money. We are similar to Volpone, or even worse than him.

Even though we don't exactly see people lying prostate in front of piles of money, we see people updating bank passbooks and smiling at the accumulated figures. These figures may well function as objects in their own right.

Mat said...

Prostate or prostrate? A Freudian slip? ;-)