With his intense gay bullying drama, @SuicideRoom freshly out on DVD and digital in the U.S. and having just been honored with the prestigious Polish Eagle Award (the Polish Academy Awards) we asked Polish writer-director Jan Komasa to talk with us about how and why he made the film and also asked him to share some of his thoughts about bullying, youth and homophobia. The film tells the tale of Dominik, a high school senior whose fellow students torment him after a drunken gay kiss is videotaped and circulated on the Internet. In desperation Dominik retreats into an avatar based online "suicide room" (portrayed in stunning animated sequences). As the film progresses Dominik's online experience begins to bleed dangerously into his real life.
Jan, thanks for making time to talk with us. I know your film has been a huge hit in Poland and at film festivals around the world -- congratulations on the many awards the film has been winning, especially your recent Eagle Award!
Thank you very much. Yes, and I must also say that the film's star Jakub Gierszal (who plays the lead character of Dominik) was just named one of the top ten rising stars of European cinema. They've even published an article about it in Variety calling the film a "cult Polish hit" and one critic has named him "the Polish James Dean."
@SuicideRoom is such a powerful film with such a powerful message --especially about certain perils of the online world. Can you tell us how you decided to make this film?
At first the idea came out after reading a lot about social withdrawal syndrome called hikikomori. See, the thing is, the Internet is probably one of the strongest forms of media ever created (right after newspapers and TV) and to this very day it doesn't have a proportionate representation in cinema. This is strange, isn't it? It's because the Internet itself is quite a non-cinematic medium. You have to be a user, rather than a viewer. That's why the Internet ends up being like a Second Life to people. You can spend hours online anonymously and experience things in total freedom. I wanted so strongly to show this second life.
Read more after the break.
This kind of second life is also, for most LGBT teenagers quite desirable for other reasons -- they learn to create a second life that is really their own (as opposed to feeling like a stranger in hetero-oriented culture where all activities actually do not include their orientation and the mainstream is generally reluctant to change this).
Of course, the Internet also has a great capacity for linking, helping people find each other. But for a growing number of users, especially for those who have issues in their real life -- it becomes like a shelter where they can easily find acceptance, and friends and create their new identity (since we consider Facebook and other social websites as just another platform to build your own avatar gaining "friends" and creating the image of your life's activity).
@SuicideRoom is an extremely intense film and really vividly depicts how hard it is for Dominik to cope with the reality of being bullied -- especially when he does not have the supportive attention of his parents or any real person around him. Can you talk about this aspect of the film?
I had a lot of friends in high school who till this day are scared to even talk about their homosexuality (and we are so called adults, with so called independent lives). I was observing a couple of them struggling with depression from not being accepted by their families which was like a disaster -- rooting in to the deepest core of their identity. The pain of not revealing the truth about their homo-orientation, and their second life was very similar to every other pain of anybody who just feels different and has their own identity pushed out, and then they are trying to fill the empty space inside with anything. The situation becomes a time bomb, having those who suffer wait for an explosion, as if in a trap.
The target for me was to show coming of age as a painful and bloody choice between the life one has to choose and the power one has to find in one's self -- the power to fight for yourself. I heard one day: "If people laugh at you because you are different, laugh at them because they are all the same."
Wow! I love that quote! There is a point in the film where that really comes across. You both wrote and directed the film. Can you talk about how you created such a powerful story and what you see as the message of the film?
Making a movie is something that is very inspiring. Well-made cinema makes you feel the character and the story even more. What was most important to me was to make a film that would change reality for the better -- to give hope to "different ones" and to show them that it's worthwhile to fight for your identity, and that you are a part of this world just as much as anybody else.
Also I think there is a strong need to remind everyone else considering themselves at least "quite O.K." to look around and see if there is anybody out there lacking support and needing even a simple smile. We can easily be so ignorant of somebody else's suffering (even those closest to us). We don't like to get out of our warm little shells to actually see the "real" world. We, too, tend to create the virtual world.
I see that the film has an enormous base of fans online and more than 162,000 fans on your Facebook page. You must be very happy about this.
Yes, since the Internet is the main platform for the movie plot the film naturally finds a very convenient place on the Internet itself. There is quite an interesting buzz spontaneously going on in social media. We recently happily discovered this Tumblr page: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/suicide+room - Many, many people are sending each other info about the movie and there is a huge fan base. They also tend to make a lot of fan vids on YouTube which is great.
Thanks for talking with us. Is there anything else you want to say to people about your movie?
In Poland the film was accepted by some psychiatric and educational authorities, which resulted in a lot of serious symposiums and discussions followed by screenings of the movie across the country. I really hope the film can help people in other countries as well.
@SuicideRoom is now available on DVD and digital platforms across North America.
Full disclosure: Interviewer Jenni Olson also serves as director of e-commerce and marketing for Wolfe Video, the distributor of @SucideRoom.