Are we in another planet?

Are we in another planet?


For most of us, the very idea of finding a restrictive life “normal” seems alien. How could any person ever survive in captivity…in squalor…isolated and malnourished? How could anyone endure that day after day and not find themselves screaming out for greater liberties? A better life? More?

What we forget is that it’s one thing to ask such questions from the outside-looking-in. It’s something very different for those inside the box…especially those who don’t know any better. In ROOM, a child born in kidnapped captivity seems to embody what THE TRUMAN SHOW said about its reality TV star nearly twenty years ago:

“…why do you think that Truman has never come close to discovering the true nature of his world until now?”
“[Because] We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that.”

ROOM is the story of Joy Newsome and her son Jack. At age 17, Joy (Brie Larson) was kidnapped by a man we only ever know as “Old Nick” (Sean Bridgers). She has been held captive in a sparsely furnished garden shed for seven years, eventually giving birth to a son in that isolated prison. As the film begins, her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) is turning five years old.

For Jack, life seems normal. He has favorite foods, and favorite shows. There’s a spoon in the kitchen drawer he likes better than most, and even wants things he can’t have. He can’t go outside, but he seldom seems to question this. He is reasonably content inside of “room”, with “plant” and “lamp” to keep him company.

However, after a particularly bad encounter with “Old Nick”, Joy decides that the time has come for she and Jack to make an attempt at getting out of their tiny prison. After meticulously coaching Jack through a plan, she is able to fake first his sickness then his death to “Old Nick”. When her captor takes away what he believes to be Jack’s body, the boy flees for help, allowing mother and son their freedom.

What follows, in many ways, is equally difficult. While her mother (Joan Allen) is there to lend all the support in the world, the media attention is great, and the trauma is deep. Joy has trouble coping both with the stress of her entire ordeal, and now with life back in the world.


Jacob Tremblay in ROOM


As the tide turns in ROOM, Joy’s doctor refers to how he hopes to acclimate Jack to life outside captivity. He specifically refers to doing what he wants to do while Jack is “still plastic”. It’s an elegant way of underlining the contradiction we sometimes forget about in children. There is the inherent attitude parents and adults take when shepherding children through their early lives – an attitude of protection. The instinct is to keep at-bay all of that which might stress or frighten the child, thinking that a happy childhood is the key to a good life. What we forget, is that even if they are forced to endure great hardships and deep trauma, children will adapt and evolve within it like roots around a structure.

We get a clear indication of this by watching how well Jack takes to life in captivity, and an even clearer one when we see him begin to soak-up life outside. The doctor sees what we don’t: That when the dust settles, with just a little bit of attention, Jack will be fine. It’s Joy who’s in for a rough time.

Brie Larson seems to understand that rough road Joy has to walk and puts every bit of it into her performance. Her whole demeanour is based on trying to balance stewardship with frustration. That, in a nutshell, can be the description of parenting in general, but for her the second part is much more heightened than it is for most. We see in her the sacrifice that parents endure by putting their children first…even when they are down to they’re last nerve. However when we see her try to explain that there is more to world than the life Jack knows, she does so in ways that hide a great deal of sadness. She’s trying to explain what Beethoven sounds like to a child that cannot hear yet.

Her face flips back and forth between excitement and sorrow. She sees glimmers of what Jack will experience if ever he gets to climb trees, and meet people…but she feels deep fear and regret that she hasn’t figured out how to bring these things into his life. It’s in her eyes and gestures, and is truly heartbreaking when we consider the situation.

The sweet sorrow of ROOM is what happens when Joy and Jack make it back to the real world. As that doctor suggested, Jack is plastic. The boy has an awkward moment or two, but by and large, the world becomes the greatest source of adventure he ever could have wished for from the seclusion of his wardrobe. Joy, on the other hand, has just been handed what she wanted so deeply for seven years and cannot cope. She has returned to the world she knew, but not as the woman who used to call it home. She has been wounded very deeply, but carries no scars to remind us and outwardly seems unscathed. Everyone wants to treat her “normally”…but she is so far from normal.

Perhaps Jack can help her understand what that is now?

This is the beauty and the power of ROOM: not to dwell in the horror of life in the cell, but to truly think about the power of the world that stretches wide outside its walls. Eventually we all wake up one day and discover that so much of the world has changed, and that we have been left behind. The generation ahead of us understands how the world now works better than we do, and we’re left to look for them for guidance instead of the other way around.

One just never expects that discovery to come just by stepping out the door of one tiny room.


Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ 1/2  out of ★ ★ ★ ★
What did you think? Please leave comments with your thoughts and reactions on ROOM.