The Letter Room


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Elvira Lind on Richard (Oscar Isaac) in her Oscar-shortlisted The Letter Room: “He has aspirations and that incredible need to become someone who can change things and do something that is good.”
"Oscar Isaac’s poignant performance pulls us in from the get-go."

In the Oscar-nominated Live Action Short The Letter Room, Elvira Lind (her Bobbi Jene in 2017 swept the Tribeca Film Festival documentary awards) explores loneliness in a variety of facets. Corrections officer Richard (Oscar Isaac) has long wanted a transfer to the communications department of the prison where he works. There is Cris (Brian Petsos), a man on death row who receives the most poetic love notes from a woman named Rosita (Alia Shawkat) and there is Jackson (John Douglas Thompson) who longs to hear from his estranged daughter.

Wishes oftentimes come true in unexpected ways and ideas of what communication work entails vary. Richard’s suggestions about improving inmates’ lives through animal-assisted therapy technique, fall on the deaf ears of the Warden (Eileen Galindo). Still he quickly embraces the challenges he is presented with as master of the letter room, where he scans correspondence for contraband. Ordered to wear gloves at all times, his gestures make it clear that Richard has never used a letter opener in his life before. A new world opens up with each letter he reads.

Copy picture

The finely perceived details give The Letter Room wings. A run in the warden’s stocking and the Out Of Order sign taped on the vending machine hint at much larger deficiencies inside the institution. The smell of a letter, foil placed on the car’s windshield, a discussion about the love for gapped teeth - surprises lurk in the most mundane situations.

Lind from the very start gives us insight into her protagonist’s state of mind by way of his relationship to food. Whereas the inmates of the prison are condemned to horrible meals that they have no control over, Richard is imprisoned by a mindset and a routine that seems difficult to overcome.

Oscar Isaac’s poignant performance pulls us in from the get-go, when Richard devours a burger and slurps a milkshake in his car, leaving behind the remnants of milk drops in his moustache. Does he enjoy this meal, we wonder, or has it become just another task for him to accomplish? At night, we see him fry plantains and heat up leftovers in the microwave for his dinner alone in front of the TV. Later he will snack on a flan, standing up in front of the open fridge. A scene during which he violently cleans the barbecue is a perfect expression of pent-up anger.

When being told that “we only have protocol for what happens inside the facility” Richard ventures out to discover how complicated we humans truly are and even bigger surprises await. With these finely observed snapshots of lonely living, Jacques Lacan’s theory that “a letter always arrives at its destination” comes true in mysterious ways.

Reviewed on: 15 Mar 2021
Share this with others on...
The Letter Room packshot
Corrections officer Richard starts in a new position as director of prisoner communications and finds his world opening up in unexpected ways.

Director: Elvira Lind

Writer: Elvira Lind

Starring: Oscar Isaac, John Douglas Thompson, Alia Shawkat, Eileen Galindo, Brian Petsos, Tony Gillan

Year: 2020

Runtime: 30 minutes

Country: US


Tribeca 2021

Search database:

Related Articles:

A grey zone
Letter man