ROOM: With a View Into The Human Soul

November 9, 2015 at 10:29 AM / by


The name of the film is Room. It was directed by Lenny Abrahamson and stars Brie Larsen and Jacob Tremblay.

One of the first reactions I got when I told other people about this film was that they were disgusted with the idea of a story like this receiving the usual “hollywood treatment” or “glamorization.” You may have noticed many kidnapping stories have received this treatment via outlets such as primetime television movies, but to spoil your fun – this film is not that.

Room uses such a story only as a template to communicate larger messages about the concept of common humanity. Television movies, historically, haven’t done that, for the most part. They exploit a recent graphic headline to achieve high ratings, just as most local news networks do.

Imagine for a moment a young boy, Jack (Tremblay), attempting to share his food with a rat. He has been living with his mom, Joy (Brie Larsen), in a shed for seven years. They have been granted the basic necessities to live: heat, a roof, a bed, food, water. Their captor periodically visits at night, when Jack is sleeping and rapes Joy. Having been held captive so long and trying to protect her son from the harsh realities of their situation, Joy comes to acknowledge that she will have to share those realities with him, and trust in the unknown, in order to attempt to save his life. But she is not only sharing this information with Jack to attempt to plan a viable escape, but in order to receive the “strength” from her son that she feels she has lost in the seven years she has been imprisoned and abused.

As I mentioned, common humanity is the theme this film chooses to survey. Brie Larsen’s depiction of a young women whose humanity has been severely damaged and must navigate back in order to rediscover it, expertly illustrates the extremes of this theme. There are moments in the film where her character Joy explores such extremes as murdering a man with her son’s help, masochistic behaviors, and holding irrational conclusions as inherent truths. While these serve as viable depictions of a person approaching the extremes of loosing their humanity, they also depict a person willing to give of herself entirely for her child (the most human act?). But at this lowest point where Joy wants to turn her lack of humanity against the person who took it from her, Joy must still risk trusting that her rapist will have common humanity enough to complete the task she has requested of him to make Jack’s escape possible.

To jog through where this theme appears in other points in the film, in addition to the rat scene I mentioned early on: the rapist going to bury Jack, a passerby saving Jack (out of intuition that something’s wrong), a police officer utilizing humanity in order to locate Jack’s mom, the public giving gifts to Jack, a doctor giving Joy medication without a prescription process, and Joy’s mother caring for Jack when Joy can’t.

In addition to the central theme, I think there are glaring references in the film that highlight the director’s personal sentiments towards certain modern technology and the state of modern society. A scene showing Joy correcting Jack from falling into overusing-a-phone to looking-to-“people” in order to connect, relays a possible message that the director believes a connection has been lost in modern society due to phone use. Through the boy’s perspective, we see how he evaluates how “people” go about life in society from one thing to the next, but never really seeing everything for what it is. Connecting back to my tirade about news media, director Abrahamson has directed a specific scene in this film that targets news media as having a lack of humanity: Joy’s character is bombarded with criticizing and personal questions days after her return home. While saying negative things about people in news is easy, I have to say, from working in news, that there are journalists out there who do have compassion, common humanity, and a sense of humility and maybe some of them have had to make mistakes to get to that point- however, what Abrahamson is trying to point out here is what common humanity looks like and in general, where it is lacking in modern society, which every frame in his film supports. Hence, a well constructed film: an art film: not a television movie.

To close up, I feel I must mention that the character of Jack is a metaphor for the beauty of the world, our imagination, and the common humanity and curiosity we are all born with. He loves all things created: a sink, a toilet, a skylight. In the scene where he sees a dog for the first time it is as if he has truly discovered nature as something organic and having a soul: it can love back. In a way, Jack is Joy’s savior and as he will be shaped in his years growing up, and as she regains her footing in life, the symbiosis of their love will open them to the limitless possibilities of what lies beyond the “room” and what they have already found in it.