Like Christopher Nolan before him, UK born James Griffiths cut his cinematic teeth on short films. Room 8 (2014) is an award winning short that displays his emerging brilliance the way Doodlebug (1997) highlighted Nolan’s obvious prowess back in the late 90s.
In the opening sequence of Room 8 we witness a prisoner being escorted across a snow covered prison yard and then to a small cell. When the guard removes his handcuffs the prisoner notices an older man sitting at a table with his back turned, quietly reading. After a few terse exchanges, the prisoner notices a book (Death on the Nile) on the top bunk, and large red chest resembling a toolbox on the bottom. When curiosity gets the better of him he reaches to open it, at which point the old man turns and says if he opens the box, he may regret it. The prisoner replies by saying, “I think I might take my chances.”
What follows is the jumping off point that Griffiths uses to explore the human penchant to touch the infinite, or otherwise play God in order to effect our own salvation from the prison house of existence and the death it promises. Room 8 then is constructed as an allegory that symbolizes a fallen, broken, and prison-like world we long to escape from. This longing, however, points toward a deeper yearning for something our finite efforts can never satisfy, precisely because our reach is limited.
On my reading, the red box symbolizes the fact that something larger than us is at work, something we can’t control or fully explain, something we’re beholden to, whether we acknowledge it or not. When the prisoner is carried away by his own desire we witness the hand of God, if you will, reaching for Adam in the moment of disobedience. Blinded by the illusion of sin’s promise, all he can think of is saving himself at all cost. Significantly, in his blind selfishness, the otherworldly spectacle he witnesses does not give him reason to step back and reflect on what he sees. He sees what he wants to see. And what he sees is his own reflection made in the image and likeness of God.
Driven by desire alone, his narrow vision of the world is limited to an immediate and unmediated way of escape that appears within his reach. But what seems like an escape route to freedom, in the end, confines him to a matchbox existence that equals the size of his vision.