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Love as Generalized Competition in 28 Hotel Rooms

by Ethan Tussey

by Adam Cottrel for IN MEDIA RES

Matt Ross’s debut feature, 28 Hotel Rooms (2012), takes love as a thematic starting point to question the nature of contemporary subjectivity defined by fluidity and competition. The film stages twenty-eight meetings between Marin Ireland’s and Chris Messina’s unnamed characters, each in a distinct hotel room. Each character is already romantically involved, married in fact, and these extramarital trysts are carefully staged under the aegis of business travel. This fact proposes a unique appraisal of love for contemporary times: love is no longer a sacred vow to one person, but instead a means of “working on one’s self,” a process of maximizing human capital in order to calculate interpersonal gains and losses. In short, a calculated metric for ascertaining personal "growth" and the accumulation of experience.

Like the business endeavors each navigates daily, love is an entity to be won and defended at every meeting. Love and business, thus, become entwined and transformed as pleasure and performance within the confines of the hotel room. And, disciplined by the fluid nature of their entrepreneurial lifestyle, this new subject of love is someone defined by competition where constant self-evaluation becomes an exercise of succeeding at all costs. Over the course of the film, the demands of work and family life, in addition to their lack of proximity, take their toll, expousing more than bruised egos and broken hearts. Under these constraints love and sex appear less as a reprieve from and more closely linked to their day-to-day working life, where each interaction becomes an exercise of evaluation too: number and duration of relationships, quality and intensity of orgasms, variety and attributes of partners, number and types of positions. Suggestive of this turn is how love has become a reductive obligation of performance, represented as an oscillation between depression and perversion, where subjects must live a double-life: on one hand, a master of execution to be admired and revered, on the other, an object of enjoyment to be used and discarded.

28 Hotel Rooms joins a growing number of films—along with Afternoon Delight (2013), Hello I Must Be Going (2012), and Take This Waltz (2011)—that explicitly take on love as a heuristic device concerning the changed nature of subjective relations. Unique to these films is a representational strategy that privileges intersubjectivity as a “transaction” as opposed to a "relation." The complexity of this dynamic, the above films seem to suggest, necessarily entails a profound fragility where love is not the private, intimate time of shared space or activity. Rather, it is the fluid nature of love that now defines the new norm of social relations: a transition from the pursuit of a “life partner” to the acquiesence of the revolving door “life period partner.”

Love and Competition

The trailer for "28 Hotel Rooms"

from 28 Hotel Rooms (2012)
Creator: Matt Ross
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey