Narrator five-year-old Jack starts the beginning of Room as if he is retelling a fairytale story with the classic opening of “Once upon a time…”. Room is not a fairytale. It could probably be described as the anti-thesis of a fairy tale. But it’s characters have all the courage and resilience of any heroic protagonist.
Jack and Ma live in “Room.” Room is a room, but it is also their entire plane of existence.
As Jack’s describes, “There’s room, then outer space, then heaven.” There is also “TV world”, which is a fantasy realm. In Jack’s eyes, only room is real.
Told through the eyes of Jack, the audience learns of the lives of Jack and Ma. In room, they exercise with “track” (running between two walls), keep it tidy by scrubbing the floors and stay entertained with television and books. Sundays are treat days, where they receive food and supplies from a man named Old Nick. It gives the appearance that despite their claustrophobic circumstances, they’ve made a peaceful life for themselves.
As the horrific truth unfolds, we learn Ma and Jack are hostages in Room. Room isn’t a world–it’s a shed. Old Nick isn’t some sort of Santa Claus figure, but their captor. He is also Jack’s biological father. Ma has been here for seven years, since she was 17. Feeling the weight of years lost, she teaches young Jack about the real world and devises a plan to get them out.
It’s not a spoiler to say they do escape, because it’s included in the trailer. Many people would assume that escape equates to a happy ending but Room shows it is far from it. Life after Room comes with it’s own set of challenges. The film at this point is no longer just the story of Jack and Ma, but a commentary on how to treat survivors of situations like this, especially in the media.
Jacob Tremblay does a superb job portraying the innocence, curiosity and hyperactivity of Jack, however Brie Larson as Ma is what gives Room it’s weight. Ma is cheated out of everything: her youth, her freedom, her agency. I forgot that Ma is essentially still a teenage. She didn’t get those moments of transition from adolescence into adulthood: high school graduation, college, job. Instead, she was thrust into ultimate survival mode for seven years. This experience forced her into an adult. Larson does a magnificent job of showing the effect these tolls have on a human; from her exhaustion in the beginning, to her anxious excitement planning their escape and lastly, her realistic portrayal of PTSD in life after Room.
The production of Room is amazing, considering half of the movie takes place in a setting that’s so small. The claustrophobia and anxiety of room is palpable through director Lenny Abrahamson’s use of close up shots and quick edits. The story of Room is being narrated through Jacks eyes, but Abrahamson takes it a step further by turning the camera to Jack’s perspective; we see what Old Nick does at night through the blinds of the closet Jack is forced to hide in, the doctor in the hospital through Ma’s hair Jack is hiding behind. We see what Jack sees. Shots like these leave a strong impact on the viewer, while being another creative way to frame the story.
The term “must-see” is used to describe a lot of movies these days and I wouldn’t want to cheapen Room by leaving it at that. Room does what a lot of movies fail to do: it makes you grateful. After I was done wiping my tears of pure emotional catharsis, I left the theater with a greater appreciation for life. You don’t realize how magnificent so many of the ‘average’ aspects of our lives are until they are told through the eyes of a five-year-old seeing them for the first time.
In an interview with the AV Club, Brie Larson discussed how the majority of press coverage focuses on the dark premise of the film, neglecting the characters that defy their circumstances.
I don’t understand the adjective “harrowing” with this movie. Unless “harrowing” means “lovely,” I don’t understand it! I feel like it gives this weird downer tone to the movie. It all comes down to glass-half-full or glass-half-empty type people. You can watch the movie and focus on the kidnapping and the crime story, or you can see it as a story of love and freedom and perseverance and what it feels like to grow up and become your own person. That’s more of what I see in it.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of pitying these women who are taken from the world against their will; indeed it is an anomalous occurrence that only a select women in the world can personally relate to. What Room does is give its perceived victims the agency to decide what kind of story this will be. In the end, you realize they aren’t victims. They are survivors.
(Featured image courtesy of film-book.com)