We watched the movie Room the other night, pretty much putting an end to my quest to watch Oscar-nominated films. Some I just have no interest in, like Bridge of Spies. I just can’t get into espionage movies and books — plots too complex and rarely believable, even when they are based on true stories. I still plan to get around to watching The Martian, but it isn’t a top priority, science fiction being another genre that doesn’t often grab my interest (I did enjoy the first Star Wars movie and 2001: A Space Odyssey still dazzles me but, as a general rule, I give sci-fi a miss).
For me, Room was a stunner. The fictional story of a female taken captive by a male when she was in her late teens, Room is thought-provoking and gives one pause to consider the power of the human spirit. Ma, played beautifully by Brie Larson, struggles through each day in her attempt to raise her son, born in captivity, without letting him understand that they live at the pleasure of her captor. For Jack, who has never set foot outdoors, Room, the tiny space they occupy in a converted urban backyard shed, is his universe. His understanding of the world is shaped by Ma, who interprets what they see on their little television for him. She tells him what is “real” and he has no tools to believe otherwise.
Room is not based, apparently, on a single incident, but there have certainly been too many similar stories in the news to shrug the story off simply as the product of an active imagination.
As Ma works to come up with an escape plan, in which Jack will play a starring role, the child’s fears of confronting the unknown are palpable.
Watching the movie I couldn’t help but think back to my work with kids in a Calgary’s children’s shelter. I was about 20 and the job kind of fell into my lap. Going into a facility that housed babies and toddlers as well as teens offered as steep a learning curve as I have ever experienced. Some of the stories shaped who I am, giving me a deep sense of appreciation that as a child I was not abandoned or abused, like the kids I worked with daily. I suppose it was during that period that I came to accept that there are things we simply aren’t meant to know or understand. How does a parent, or any adult, mistreat a child? How does an adult take pleasure in abusing youngsters? Perhaps more important, how does a child continue to love (if that’s the right word for it) parents who are abusive?
Time after time I was shocked to learn about a child’s background, only to hear his or her pleas to be returned home and into the care of the abuser. It didn’t square with anything I knew to that point, and it still doesn’t. Much like the woman who returns to a husband who beats her, the child yearns for what he knows. There is some sense of security in the known, apparently, and it is strong enough to overwhelm any belief that there might be better options.
In Room, Ma shows no indication that she was experiencing Stockholm syndrome. She works to keep her captor at an emotional distance, and is adamant that Jack have as little contact with him as possible. When they finally escape, though, both struggle to cope with freedom, despite a loving and caring support system. They even need to return, at one point, to Room, as they called it, in an attempt to put their years in captivity behind them.
For me, Room worked on all levels, making me think about life in a different way and entertaining me at the same time. Of all the Oscar-nominated films this year, none satisfied me in a way that Room did. I have enjoyed most for various reasons, but only the mostly-ignored Tangerine, a low budget feature filmed entirely on iPhones, came close to matching the emotional satisfaction I got from Room. Those are the two movies that stayed with me for days afterward.
I loved Mad Max: Fury Road, for its audaciously manic approach to storytelling. I was heartily entertained — and angered — by Spotlight and The Big Short. I was smitten by the small tale of an Irish immigrant in Brooklyn. I was stunned at the cinematography in The Revenant and astonished by the bear attack scene. But Room is the movie that wormed its way into both my gut and my heart.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.