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Enough Room in the heart

/ 12:05 AM February 14, 2016

You might call it an “anti-Valentine movie.” “Room” tells the story of a young woman kidnapped and kept hostage for seven years but whose story is told from the viewpoint of her five-year-old son, Jack.

Any way you look at it, it is not a pretty story. Jack and his mother live in Room, a world bordered by the four walls of a tiny shed, a skylight their only access to the outside world, providing just shifting views of the sky and the few leaves that happen to fall and rest on the glass.

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Life is bleak and a stultifying routine. They subsist on food, water and other needs brought in by a bearded man they call “Old Nick.” But he is no Santa Claus. He drops by unannounced most evenings, forcing the mother to keep her son inside a closet, perhaps so he would not see her routinary rape and abuse. When he leaves, he forces her to turn her face to the wall while he punches in a code in the door lock, the only means to enter or exit Room.

Apart from the skylight, mother and son have another means of access to the larger world: television. But while it serves to entertain and inform, it also creates in Jack a dissonance between reality and imagination, fantasy and truth. His mind is muddled, unable to believe that there is another, larger world outside Room and other people besides his mother and Old Nick. As he explains later in the movie, “Room may be small, but its walls stretch far away.”

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But for Joy, the mother, the walls of Room are slowly closing in. A cruel act of vindictiveness on Old Nick’s part (he turns off the heat in Room in the middle of winter) tells her that in essence they are not just prisoners but also putty in his hands. He can decide their life and death on a whim, abandon them altogether, or prolong their agony endlessly.

* * *

This leads Joy to start plotting their escape, but for her plans to succeed she must put Jack through a crash course on Reality 101, teaching him the ways of the world, but not before opening his eyes, harshly at times, to the cruelties and danger that wait for them “outside.”

I won’t go into details about how Joy’s plans work out, but let me just say that their confinement and confusion continue even outside of Room. The movie is not just about how Joy and Jack escape Room, but also about how the world closes in on them even in the world outside, in a world where everything, everyone, has changed.

So “Room” tells us not just how the mother and son manage to step out into the larger world outside Room, but also how they both learn to cope with this new world, how to find their own “strong,” and how to open their hearts once again to the promises and potential of a world that was once so cruel as to snatch a young 17-year-old cheerleader from everything she held dear and keep her in the grip of a monster.

* * *

“Room” is based on a novel of the same name by the film’s writer, Emma Donoghue.

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A movie about the life of a pair of captives in a small shed (at least in the early scenes) may not hold enough appeal for a general audience, which may explain why it was produced by a group of small independent Canadian-Irish film producers.

But in the months since its release, “Room” has received critical acclaim, especially for Brie Larson, a relatively unknown performer, who has won as Best Actress (for Motion Picture–Drama) in the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Awards, the Screen Actors Guild awards, and is at present nominated for Best Actress in the Oscars and the British Film Awards.

What was really impressive for me, though, was the performance of Jacob Tremblay, who portrays Jack with innocence and grit, authenticity and intelligence. For this compelling acting accomplishment, the young Tremblay was named Best Young Performer in the Critics’ Choice Awards.

I had read about “Room” the novel and come to the conclusion that it wasn’t for me, for the prospect of reading a book that tells a boy’s version of his life of five years of confinement seemed to me much too depressing. And then I heard about the movie, and I wondered how such a bleak tale had been translated into the big screen and became curious about it.

I have no regrets. Other people at the sneak preview asked if I hadn’t been moved to tears, as I so easily am. Strangely, I never felt like it, for I was by turns repulsed and angered by Old Nick’s senseless cruelty, but also amused and delighted by Jack’s pluck and his terrible love for Joy.

* * *

At one point toward the end of “Room,” Jack proclaims that the world outside Room is “so large and wonderful” and that he and his mother have decided to live in it “forever until we die.”

Indeed, we never know what riches and joys we have in our lives until we lose the world and everything—including other people—in it.

Of course, “Room” is a Valentine movie, because it is a movie about love—the love between a mother and son; the love for life that a cruel, hard man had tried to drain out of a young woman and her child; the love that kept them going despite the harsh light of the world outside that was softened by the love they received from other people around them.

Every life, every love, is large enough to contain the world, as long as it is filled with hopes and dreams that stretch far away from the four walls of a Room and bring one to worlds once unknown, but now familiar.

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TAGS: Films, Movies, Room, Valentine’s Day
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