Josef, remarkably, let Elisabeth, the mother, go to the hospital, expecting her to stick to a cover story he had concocted, but she, not surprisingly, used this as a chance to gain her freedom.
In Emma Donoghue's 2010 novel and the screenplay she scripted, the abducted family has been reduced to two: Joy and her five-year-old son Jack, visited every few days by their captor, Old Nick. The scene is now Ohio, and Donoghue mutes some of the horror of the original story by making Old Nick a random sociopath, not Joy's father. Further, the shed they live in, while small and very shabby, is above ground and has a skylight, and Joy's abduction lasts "only" seven years.
|In the Room, jack and Joy string together egg shells into a snake to pass the time. Nothing is wasted.|
The film is emotionally powerful. I read afterwards that Brie Larson, who plays Joy, won the best actress Academy Award along with a Golden Globe and a slew of other prizes for her role. She was excellent, as was the boy, Jacob Tremblay, who played Jack. As I watched this film, which at the time I knew nothing about, I recognized a woman must have had a major hand in it, so was not surprised to find out the screenplay was by a woman.
While being locked for years in a small shed by a sociopathic rapist is inherently horrible, what struck me most about the film was the way, after they are saved, the boy, and me, as an audience member, had a longing to return to the simplicity of the Room. Life in the Room was stark, down to basics. Everything, from teeth brushing to exercise to baking a cake, took on a heightened importance. No detail, no matter how tiny, was insignificant. In addition, the bond between the mother and child was, unsurprisingly, extraordinarily tight. Although the product of horror, I felt the room contained a truth about life, the truth that concentrating on the essentials, that pushing away all the distractions, can lead, paradoxically, to a more intensely and minutely experienced sense of being than being spread diaphanously thin, as perhaps most are in the modern world.
Less, in other words, is more.
|Joy looks up at the skylight in the Room. You can see the edge of the pink bathroom sink to the right, that doubles as a kitchen sink. The 11 by 11 room contains an open pink toilet and a pink tub. It's not a pleasant place.|
I wondered if I were strange in my reaction of finding the Room itself compelling but in her Atlantic review, Sophie Gilbert captures a similar reaction:
It’s hard to imagine that such a bleak scenario could be made so beautiful, but Abrahamson finds poetry in the small details of Room, captured through grey filters to emphasize the lack of light. More, though, the film captivates because of its central duo, who are each other’s whole world. As much as the audience empathizes with Jack, and feels his agony at losing what he interprets as a safe and familiar environment, so too they feel Ma’s pain in having to disrupt it.
Manholha Dargis's New York Times review likewise records:
The constricted narrative and Jack’s point of view flow together. He doesn’t live in the same inhumane prison that Ma suffers in, but in a wide-open universe trembling with possibilities, with dancing lights, hand-shadow puppetry and amusements made with cardboard and eggshells. At moments, as the screen floods with close-ups, you share in Jack’s wonderment, in the granular, sensual splendor of this child’s cosmos in a few inches of sink, a shimmer of light, a mote of dust. “How many rainbows can light create for the untutored eye?” the avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage once asked. Jack is as much an inmate as Ma, but because he’s unaware of what lies outside the room – and not wholly aware of its inside horrors – his vision remains untutored, his soul free. Jack’s unboundedness, the joy he expresses with Ma, the room and their meager possessions — his laughter and delight and kidness — are visceral and pleasurable. Crucially, he doesn’t live in a room or the room, but in Room, which he refers to as if it were another living being.
To prepare for this blog, I revisited the Fritzl case and realized that, perhaps necessarily, the film mutes the horror of the reality. Yet even there in Austria, in the dim basement light, with the barely more than five foot ceilings, the sociopathic Fritz must have thought he was behaving humanely: he brought toys for the children, set up a television, VCR and a cassette player: or, do I project and was it just to keep the children pacified and to force the daughter to watch porn films with him--to keep himself amused and as a little annoyed as possible during his visits--that he provided these amenities?
I wonder if the film shouldn't have shown more of the horror of the situation: but then it would have been a different film. It has left me with much to ponder: much as I found it compelling, it was a conservative political film, and its message that beauty can be found anywhere is one to interrogate. Dorothy Day, a journalist for the communist paper The Call before the first World War, chafed at having to depict life in the New York tenements as relentlessly bleak and horrible, when, in fact, she experienced the deep joy of, say, an immigrant family coming together over a home-cooked meal. Life doesn't rhyme, and she longed to show the reality of good and bad mixed. This film seems to arise out of a similar impulse, and yet we must be careful, when showing that good can come out of evil, not to use that to justify or domesticate the evil. We don't have to have the evil to have the good. I keep in my mind Day's oft-repeated desire to help build a world in which it would be "easier for people to be good." In our case, the goal may be to create a world where it is easier for people to live simpler lives-- but without having to be held captive.