My 99c movie last week was one that many may have avoided when it was released because the subject matter was not easy. Indeed I may have been one of those people – even though I had heard reviews that supported it.
The first third of the film introduces us to Ma and Jack, who are living in a room as prisoners of the man who kidnapped Ma five years ago and is keeping her captive along with the the young boy whom he has fathered. Many people were put off seeing the film because they were concerned about its grim content, but this is the set up, not the focus – although the film might be tough viewing for anyone who has been in an abusive relationship.
We see ‘room’ through Jack’s eyes as it is his whole world – indeed the only world he had ever known, but then the point of view switches and we get glimpses of the relatonship between the mother and her son. This relationship, rather then the horror they are enduring and the switches between Ma and Jack are both the focus of the movie and its engine. Ma does everything she can to normalise the situation for her child, making toys out of rubbish and trying to explain what lives beyond the four walls that Jack has never seen with his own eyes, other than via a TV screen.
She shields Jack from their captor and the situation and so we too are largely shielded – at least overtly – but even as she does so, makes it clear to Jack that he is not to be trusted and their goal is to escape. They are locked in at all times so Jack becomes both the product of her captivity and her only key to escape.
It is not a plot spoiler to say that they do get out, because the bulk of the film takes place after they manage to escape. Even though I knew it was coming, it did not make it any less tense for me and a fulcrum that was a high point between life in ‘Room’ where the four walls contained the only world Jack had known, to the difficulties and complications of re-entering a life for Ma, where she had been mourned as dead, where the media was hungry to get her story, and where her parents’ own lives had shifted significantly.
The story may start with a man who tries to fabricate a relationship by kidnapping and imprisoning a woman, but the film is about the real relationships that exist between mothers and their children and the difficulties and challenges of working through those tensions along the way. Ultimately it is a story about love and survival; surviving imprisonment and surviving escape, and the irony that one room can be a whole world, while the whole world can close in and threaten to suffocate you.
Room was nearly two hours long, but I hardly noticed the running time. It is not an easy watch, but it is a great film, with strong performances and brilliant direction. Recommended.