Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Films of 2015: "Room"


When I was little, I believed that my hometown of Dodgeville, Wisconsin (which, I think, had a population of more than 2,000 people), was the whole world, and that Iowa (where my family and I would visit my grandparents and relatives sometimes) was another planet. Like most children growing up, I learned that the world is much bigger and has more room than imaginable for so many people, places and things. 

The “world” that young Jack grows up in in the movie Room (based on the best-selling novel by Emma Donoghue) is minimalistic. "Room" is a confined space surrounded by four walls, with a kitchen sink, a toilet, a bathtub, a T.V., a kitchen table, a bed, and a wardrobe where he sleeps at night. Now age five, it is by far the only world he has ever known. His "Ma" is also there with him, comforting, playing with, and strengthening him with arts and crafts, exercises, games, and stories of the things Jack sees on T.V., or the things that come in at times (such as a mouse) and above the sole roof window (such as an autumn leaf). Some of these "stories" are those of cats and dogs, trees, and people. Ma also references classic books as “Alice in Wonderland” (what is fantasy and what is reality) and “The Count of Monte Cristo” (about a prison break).

Director Lenny Abrahamson (center) on-set with
Jacob Tremblay (left, as Jack) and Brie Larson (right, as Ma)
But when "Old Nick" visits occasionally, we learn the reality of the situation, particularly for Ma, is much more harrowing and traumatic. Ma, whose real name is Joy, tells Jack she was abducted when she was 17, and has been held captive in "Room" (which is really a backyard shed) for seven years--five of which Jack was present. In fact, it's Jack who gives her hope and life through her depression and through these hellish circumstances, and a reason to fight for their lives. And when she decides to tell Jack one day that there is life beyond "Room," he refuses to believe it. Nonetheless, she says that they will plan to trick "Old Nick" to escape and get out into the world.

And that's only the first part of the story.

It's really no spoiler that Jack and Ma do escape, fearfully yet bravely. This is a story not just about a mother and child escaping the literal confines of a room. It's also about the emotional room of post-traumatic stress and depression they (especially Ma) go through in the real world, as well as the support, love, and accountability they receive from family and others in the process of hopeful recovery.

Actress Brie Larson (who won critical acclaim for the 2013 film Short Term 12) reportedly isolated herself for a month, went on a strict diet, and met with a trauma specialist and a nutritionist to prepare for her role as Ma. (Here’s a link to a great radio interview she gave in September.) She also bonded wonderfully with young Jacob Tremblay (who plays Jack), particularly over favorite colors and Star Wars trivia. Their chemistry really shows and carries the film. 

Looking through books in Ma's old bedroom
To say this film leaves you breathless (which it does) and that it's an emotional powerhouse (which it is) are understatements. It’s a story that is, at times, difficult to watch; other times, emotionally raw; and other times, tender and loving. It doesn’t sugarcoat its themes. It gets down to the bare bones. It's a real film that informs, challenges and instills viewers with these themes.

Adjusting to the outside world is, obviously, not easy for the both Ma and Jack. For Ma, her freedom from “Room” doesn't fully give her comfort, as she believes her youth and innocence were destroyed long ago by abuse and captivity. For Jack, seeing the world for the first time is overwhelming and amazing. (His narration throughout the film poetically expresses his thoughts and feelings.) Despite this apparent loss of innocence on Ma's part, Room illustrates hope and love in the midst of hellish circumstances.

When Ma believes, at one point, that she’s not a good enough mother, Jack reassures her (“You’re still Ma”) and she chooses to recover and press on for the sake of her child. A little boy who saved her out of her depression and gave her something to live for, just as she has been his guardian and has helped him find joy and laughter and strength and comfort through the aforementioned circumstances. This decision to recover and press on gives Jack an opportunity to experience love, laughter, and family anew. For Ma, it becomes a rebirth and an opportunity to live again. 


1 comment:

  1. I had no idea this movie existed and now it's next on my watch list. Excellent recap.

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