The Room In the Elephant

By Tricia Lee | Drama
A terminally-ill mother leaves Post-Its around the home for her daughter.

Nicole has gotten some bad news recently and is preparing herself and her family for the worst. She’s trying to make sure they’re taken care of and thinking ahead of a time when she’s gone and her husband and their seven-year-old daughter Katie are alone.

But when Nicole finally tells Katie why she’s leaving Post-Its around the home, Katie’s response pulls Nicole out of thinking of a future going on without her — and into appreciating the time she still has left in her home, with the people she loves most.

Written and directed by Tricia Lee from a story by Kimberly Jentzen, this dramatic short is unabashed in its sincerity and straightforwardness, wearing an open heart and vulnerability on its sleeve. But its short, simple plot and graceful, natural style belie its rich, relevant themes to appreciate the moment, even in the face of doubt, anxiety and almost certain heartbreak.

The narrative revolves around a simple shift in consciousness for the main character, delivered in the form of a short conversation. It functions much like a snapshot, or a portrait of a moment in one family’s life, and the visual approach likewise seems to dote upon the small, domestic details of home and family life in a similarly diaristic, documentary-like way. There’s a luminous, comforting brightness to the look and feel that feels both heightened and nostalgic at once, conjuring warmth and joy that makes palpable just what Nicole is leaving behind, and how hard it is to let go of.

The writing and performances, too, have the quality of being open and unadorned in their simplicity, with an almost old-fashioned commitment to sincere and authentic expression. This is not a realist/naturalistic storytelling agenda, focusing on the unvarnished and unspoken issues and feelings between and within people. Instead, the arc of the story hinges on saying and listening to what’s really in one’s heart and clearing the air, even within one’s self, to make space for what’s important. And when Katie asks her an innocent yet essential question, it opens up space within Nicole to reflect on what’s truly important — and a chance to shift everything going forward.

Some films we watch to be taken on an escapist journey, enjoying a stylish ride and a clever twist on storytelling. But some films — like “The Room In the Elephant” — we watch for something like a sense of companionship, to help us through an unexpected, often confusing journey in life.

Many of us may or may not be facing a terminal illness, but we can understand what it is like to live with uncertainty hanging over our heads, grieving the futures we imagined and shrouding them in doubt, fear and anxiety. The film’s final lesson — that all we can guarantee is now — is an apt one, both essential, wise and so basic to human happiness. And one we need reminding of, more than ever.

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