Room, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, takes a nuanced view of both motherhood and the idealistic viewpoint of children, effectively turning a kidnapping plot and turning it into something hopeful. The more disturbing elements of the film play against the idealistic narrative and lack of understanding of the five year old protagonist Jack, played by Jacob Tremblay.
The focus of the film is directed on one woman, known mostly as “Ma” but with the given name Joy, pulling it together just enough to create a nurturing environment out of a hostage situation. She’s been trapped in a room for seven years, giving birth to a son and then raising him in one small shed for the next five years.
Jack: Once upon a time, before I came, you cried and cried and watched TV all day, until you were a zombie. But then I zoomed down from heaven, through skylight, into Room. Whoosh-pshew! And I was kicking you from the inside. Boom, boom! And then I shot out onto Rug with my eyes wide open, and you cutt-ed the cord and said, “Hello, Jack!”
On comparisons to the Joseph Fritzl case the author of Room, Emma Donoghue, says this: “To say Room is based on the Fritzl case is too strong. I’d say it was triggered by it. The newspaper reports of Felix Fritzl, aged five, emerging into a world he didn’t know about, put the idea into my head. The notion of the wide-eyed child emerging into the world like a Martian coming to Earth: it seized me.”
The focus is placed on Jack’s emergence into the world, what he thinks of it all after believing for his entire life that “room” was all there was to the world. His mother’s experiences take a backseat, but her volatile responses once they have escaped are not at all avoided. Overall it managed to capture a realistic image of PTSD, something often avoided by filmmakers.
Truck, wiggle out, jump, run, somebody. These are the words repeated by Jack as a mantra his mother had taught him before his escape. One of the most visually arresting shots in the film takes place to these words, as Jack sees the world for the first time in the bed of a truck.
In this scene, Jack’s eyes are wide and he’s watching the world whip past. Many of the scenes that feature Jack under stress, use a filming method that keeps the camera in constant motion and blurs the images. The filming method connects with the actors to propel the story along. Many close-up shots are used in order to further the plot without much action occurring, creating a personal connection between the viewer and the characters. The journey is an emotional one rather than physical.
Room has a strong dividing point in terms of scenery. In the first half of the film, they are in a poorly lit and isolated space. This invokes an emotional response but doesn’t give the viewer much to look at, even with drawings posted all over the room and makeshift toys like an eggshell snake.
The film develops slowly, with a lot of time spent developing the characters before any plot driving action takes place. One of the first images we see is Jack waking up, gleeful on his fifth birthday, and wandering around room greeting each object. It starts off on a positive note, all birthday cakes and childish excitement, then the viewer is able to see some signs of distress within the characters. This comes via Jack screaming about not being allowed to have candles on his sad and small birthday cake, contrasting heavily with his early statements of “A real cake? Like on TV?”
The moments of happiness are balanced out with darker elements that have clearly been normalized for Jack, such as screaming for help at the skylight and sleeping in a cupboard when the kidnapper comes to visit his mother.We gradually learn that he believes room is the entire world, and what he sees on the television is actually other planets. He believes the kidnapper, “Old Nick,” to be a magician who gets supplies through teleportation.
Jack: There’s room, then outer space, with all the TV planets, then heaven. Plant is real, but not trees. Spiders are real, and one time the mosquito that was sucking my blood. But squirrels and dogs are just TV, except lucky. He’s my dog who might come some day. Monsters are too big to be real, and the sea. TV persons are flat and made of colors. But me and you are real.
When Joy learns that Nick has lost his job six months ago and is facing foreclosure, she begins to come up with plans to fake Jack’s illness, then death, in order to help them both escape. More about her past is revealed, such as the fact that Old Nick kidnapped her when she was seventeen by pretending he needed help because his dog was sick.
Jack: Are we on another planet?
Ma: Same one, just a different spot.
The appearance of the world outside of Room will likely seem shocking even to the viewer, after a long time watching footage within this one set and seeing one failed attempt to escape. What follows is a period of readjustment more hectic than anything witnessed in room. After a friendly stranger sees Jack jump out of the back of a pickup truck, and escapes Old Nick. Hundreds of journalists amass outside their home like locusts. Old Nick has been arrested, a trial to be ongoing soon. Ma is placed in the room she kept as a teenager before she was kidnapped. In order to pay legal fees, she must undergo at least one interview with the press.
Suddenly out in the world, no longer faced with the daily threat of surviving, Jack’s mother allows herself to be fully and unapologetically angry. She gets into intense arguments with her mother, she demands other people acknowledge what happened to her rather than ignoring it or making it about themselves.
Nancy: Do you honestly think that you were the only one whose life was destroyed?
Ma: Actually, that’s exactly what I think.
Nancy: Yeah? Well how would you feel if somebody took Jack away from you?
Ma: Oh, shut up!
Nancy: Look at him! You should be thinking about him!
Ma: Oh, don’t you tell me how to look after my son. I’m sorry that I’m not nice anymore, but you know what? Maybe if your voice saying “be nice” hadn’t been in my head, then maybe I wouldn’t have helped the guy with the fucking sick dog!