Lenny Abrahamson’s last film, the fantastic Frank was like a dart of originality between the eyes. I remember coming out of the cinema thinking if I was to ever make a film, I’d want it to be just like Frank.
Coming out of Room I felt exactly the same way, because Room is electric filmmaking. It sticks a pair of nodes in your neck and shocks you with imperceptible emotion, truth, horror and ethereal beauty in a way that few films ever achieve.
Room tells the story of a young boy named Jack and his mother Joy, both of whom are trapped in a small and very dingy room and have been the last seven years (Jack is five and so knows nothing other than the room). Joy was kidnapped by a man known only as Old Nick when she was seventeen, and has been the victim of regular sexual abuse in the years hence, Jack being the product of said abuse.
She has allowed this torment to continue because her one attempt to escape went awry and her only priority now is the wellbeing of her son. But Jack is getting older, and now the outside world is calling to Joy, imploring her to get Jack out so that he can be free.
You might be under the impression that Room is primarily a visceral depiction of imprisonment and torture. But be aware it is nothing close to that. The focus is on the worlds we build to create our own freedom, and the lengths of the human spirit to endure trauma if it means a happier future for those closest to us.
if you’ve seen the trailer this will not be spoilery, but if you know nothing of the film at all, the following contains a spoiler.
There is a distinct shift halfway through the film, after Jack finally does find a way out of the room (or just ‘room’ as he calls it). Joy’s life has been building to getting them out into the ‘real world’ in any way possible; to finally give Jack the life he deserves. But what follows is a heavily ambiguous commentary on the validity of how we perceive freedom based on purely external elements alone.
Just being out in the wide world, it tells us, means nothing if we continue to be shackled inside our hearts and minds. And as Joy struggles even more than Jack to adjust to the world outside of ‘room’, we realise that the world of her captivity may have offered her more freedom to be the mother she needed to be.
She struggles to rebuild relationships with her family. She crumbles in the face of an invasive media – presented as rapists in their own way. She cannot quantify the life she used to have; her same teenage bedroom and memory books are now strangers rather than nostalgic reminders of a life well lived. All of this tells us the real truth: The world is what we make it. We can choose freedom or be eternal prisoners, irrespective of the space we have.
It may sound like the film is ultimately a dour prospect, but the sum of the parts in fact add up to a hugely life-affirming whole. Sometimes it takes a look into a difficult life to remind us of the power we wield over our own destiny. Room will make you question yourself, the world, everyone around you and may even make you change your life for the better. Not many films can say that.