I didn’t write him to get letters back.
The fact that we’re being asked to sympathize with a man working as a corrections officer on death row isn’t lost on writer/director Elvira Lind. If anything, she wants us to make certain we acknowledge the moral disparity that exists so that we realize Richard (Oscar Isaac) is an exception and perhaps an answer to so much of what’s wrong with our current prison system. What he learns in The Letter Room is what too many in his position refuse to believe: that inmates are complex human beings dealing with an impossible situation no one truly knows how to process. Does that mean we should forget what these criminals have done? No. But it also doesn’t mean that a death sentence shuts the door on rehabilitation or compassion.
Richard can converse with Jackson (John Douglas Thompson) about a new book suggestion while his coworker gruffly belittles their dialogue so he can steal away attention to sexualize a woman he met the night before. Richard wants to engage on a level beyond the superficial—beyond the hyper-masculinity of the men wearing jumpsuits and those wearing uniforms. He even wants to transfer into a department that will let him converse with prisoners further by testing the boundaries of their psychology to get beneath the aggression that got them here in order to transcend higher. And when the warden (Eileen Galindo) tells him his wish was finally granted, he can’t help but beam until discovering the way it’s come true isn’t quite what he had in mind.
Rather than more one-on-one time with inmates, Richard is tasked with reading their mail so nothing untoward finds its way into their cells. What initially feels like a menial job, however, soon takes on a life of its own after absorbing the correspondence between a cop killer (Brian Petsos‘ Cris) and his girlfriend (Alia Shawkat‘s Rosita)—a one-sided conversation that Cris doesn’t even read let alone send a reply. While that should be the end of it, the fact Richard is reading means the things she says are no longer trapped on the page. They’re in his head now and some of her words aren’t so easily forgotten. Can he turn a blind eye if it means Cris might not be the only person who ends up dead?
Boundaries are crossed and preconceptions are tested as a result simply because Richard refuses to treat the men in his care as animals who deserve to be punished en route to their final punishment in the electric chair. By giving them the benefit of the doubt, he learns the power words hold for both the reader and the writer. Cris ignoring what Rosita writes doesn’t therefore negate the emotional impact those letters have on her as far as assuaging guilt or providing comfort—even if only in the abstract. And if writing is enough for her, maybe receiving them is enough for Cris. It’s a profoundly moving realization that may get undercut a bit by the humorous slant of the whole, but not enough to derail its impact.
courtesy of ShortsTV