You’re seven years old and your entire existence has been contained in a garden shed. You and your mother name each of the elements of your life and they become your friends. Your mother tries to protect you and keep you from danger, but one day, she realizes that she cannot. You do not know it until later but your mother has been held captive since before you were born, and there is more to the world than you think.
This is Room.
Joy/Ma (Brie Larson, Trainwreck) has been held captive for seven years, and co-exists with her son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), surviving on the supplies delivered nightly by her captor, rapist, and only adult contact, Old Nick (Sean Bridges). On a daily basis, Joy cares for her son’s needs and education, teaching him that the world is imaginary outside of their room. That is, until he turns five, Old Nick is laid off, and Joy realizes that merely protecting, or at least interfering for, her son is not enough. They must escape.
The conversations that cover the transition from one world to another make the film even more engaging than the dread-filled moments when we recognize the extent of Old Nick’s power and rage. Here, Joy must prove, or convey, that there is an outside world that exists and is possible. It’s a moment that shows, from a Christian perspective, what happens when we begin to see the world through the eyes of God’s kingdom for the first time. There is a sense of disbelief slowly blending with wonder that begins to fill Jack’s mind about what the world might look like.
And then there is the moment of escape. To pass from one world to another, when Jack must die to the world he knows to live in the real world. This is not a Jesus-like moment but a recognition that to share in Christ’s life, we must die to the self we know. And even after, is it not sometimes harder not to return to the hell that we have considered home for so long? Are we not sometimes confused about what real freedom looks like?
The idea reminds me of the prison analogy – forgive me but I can’t come up with who wrote it – where a man enters a prison and shares with the inmates about how they can all be freed if they would follow him through the door. Instead of trusting that he knows the way out, the inmates kill him and retreat to their cells, even with the door wide open. Too often, the world outside is harsher and more difficult to comprehend than the cells we find ourselves in.
This is the beauty of Room, part thriller, part horrific truth, part wonderful story of survival. Larson and Tremblay are so skillfully matched, and their depiction of the bond between a mother and son is amazing. It’s a gripping, epic story that bears watching, like a play in two parts – and one that will ultimately be rewarded in February. No part was overlooked (even the dreaded television interviewer who I loathed) and no detail was glossed over. The tension, the beauty, the dominant spirit – all of these make Room a film that must be seen to be understood.