I was trapped in a room once, for a few days when I was twenty years old. It remains one of my most confusing, terrifying memories to this day. I didn’t know much about “Room” going in except that the main characters had been kidnapped. I wasn’t really prepared to go through those same emotions again, nor to have the same old questions pop up. Will they ever be answered? Do they need to be?
“Room” could have been a sensationalized Hallmark film, complete with dramatic music and an epic showdown between survivors and kidnapper. It could have been a brutal, gritty film with an unhappy ending. Thankfully, it was neither of those. Instead, it’s a quiet, moving film about life after trauma, and what it takes to survive the real world. In the film, “Ma” Newsome has been in captivity for seven years, five of which she has spent raising her son, Jack, who believes that everything real exists in Room.
Ma’s mental health is slowly disintegrating, but her care of Jack pushes her to keep going, because one day he will be old enough to be her co-conspirator in their escape. It isn’t easy to tell Jack that there’s an outside world. He struggles to process how there can be anything outside the Room, and his part of the escape plan is dangerous, requiring a lot of stamina and bravery from a fragile five year old.
Navigating the outside world is difficult for Jack, but he does it to free his mother. He yearns for the supposed comfort and structure of the Room, even as his mother is sinking into a depression because her old life is no longer livable. Jack’s curiosity, strength, and ability to adapt is what keeps this story hopeful, emotionally resonant and real.
Jacob Tremblay’s performance as Jack is honest, imaginative, and captivating. Seeing him come out of his shell and accept the larger world is tear-inducing. We are drawn into his world, and then, as if we are small again, we experience the bigger world outside for what seems like the very first time.
“Room” brought a few big issues to my mind: police violence, violence against women and children in the form of abduction and rape, and the battle victims face if they attempt to cut ties with the rapists who fathered their children by force.
The movie also showed us the difference between a cop doing his job “by the books” (bare minimum) and a cop doing their job to protect and serve the community, regardless of difficulty or effort expended. Even though the policewoman had a difficult time getting through to Jack, she persisted, using outside-the-box questions to determine where he had come from. This is the kind of cop we need: someone who will work tirelessly to do what they can to ensure the safety of their fellow citizens. Not someone who shoots at children or chokes someone to death because they “appear threatening.” (See Mapping Police Violence to read more)
Many of us don’t feel safe at home (especially if we’re alone) or when we’re out, whether at work or social engagements. And there are a growing number of indigenous women missing in Canada. Of course, “Room” is about a white woman and her (white) son, but these situations happen to people of all ethnicities, more often than we think. While right now there is no separate ranking for kidnapping (it is included in crimes like murder and rape), the numbers could be quite different (and higher) than what we’ve been shown.
And what about those who are raped and then, like Joy Newsome in “Room,” become pregnant? If they don’t have access to birth control or legal abortion options, what other option do they have? Share custody of the child with their rapist?
After such experiences, how are you supposed to go on with life? Who can help you navigate the memories and the scars, physical and otherwise, that are now part of you?
Surviving trauma is never easy. It warps us in unexpected ways, and we have to re-learn what it means to be human and what it’s like living in community. It is a harrowing experience.
After the end of “Room,” I wasn’t sure how to feel…about anything. Can we survive trauma intact? Can we live in a world where people will forget our trauma but we have to live with it for the rest of our lives? Where is the balance between remembering and healing?
“Room” doesn’t confine us to answers, but it does give us space to explore and seek the answers for ourselves.Image Credits: A24 Films