Caution: The following review contains spoilers.
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, Room tells the story of Joy, a woman who has been held prisoner as a sex slave for the last 7 years. During that time, she gives birth to her son, Jack and all that he knows is contained within the walls of their tiny, single room. After finally achieving their freedom, Jack and Joy breathe fresh air for the first time in years… but are they truly free?
In many ways, this is the quiet nominee for best picture. No, I don’t mean any lack of dialogue or music. (We’ll leave that category to The Revenant or Mad Max: Fury Road.) Rather, although this is one of the more deserving nominees in the category, it’s also one of the films with the least amount of viewership.
It’s their mistake.
Powerful from the first scene to the last, Room delivers a beautiful and moving portrait of the damage left in the shadow of sexual abuse and the challenges of moving forward afterwards. What’s more, in an unexpected turn, Abramson chooses to tell the story through the perspective of Jack’s young 5-year old eyes. As a result, the film manages to tell its story with a sense of wonder, fear and innocence that seems to make each moment feel fresh. (It also manages to keep the film from taking a more exploitative tone, which would have been a temptation for many other filmmakers.)
As Jack’s world expands beyond his (albeit brief) life experiences, he is forced to readjust his entire understanding of the universe. Whereas he has been told since birth that there is nothing but outer space beyond the walls of Room, now he is forced to accept that there are trees… and pets… and other people. The life he knew is only a small part of the world that really exists.
Scripture says that the ‘truth will set you free’… but this film takes its time with responding to this idea.
As he and Joy get to experience new life, the question is whether or not they will ever actually experience freedom. Both characters have been damaged deeply and their spiritual journey has only begun. In many ways, this journey is a powerful depiction of our experience with the Gospel. While the story of Christ’s life, death and resurrection promises freedom, our story does not end when in that moment of new spiritual reality. It is just beginning. In fact, all of us who accept Christ must still deal with our stories from the past.
It is possible for one to both breathe the air and yearn for the life we once knew at the same time.
The heart of the Gospel is such that, despite our past hurts, we can begin to see that hope lies outside of ourselves. We understand that, because Christ loves us, we have value. We matter. We were created in His image and that has stayed (even if we’ve mucked it up a little bit.)
No one can take that away from us.
And there is hope within that.
The journeys of Jack and his mother in Room are very different, to be sure. Without spoiling too much, it is fair to say that, while one is able to slowly breathe the joy of new life, the other finds separation from the past to be far more difficult. They are forced to decide whether they’re willing to nervously begin to step into their new life. Their freedom becomes less about the man ‘Old Nick’ and becomes focused on the damage left by him. In the end, they must allow themselves to discover that the hope from their lives lies beyond the walls of Room.
In the end, they must allow themselves to believe that the truth can set them free.