Early on in Room, Brie Larson’s Joy, a young woman who was kidnapped and imprisoned in a soundproof room seven years earlier, nurses her painful, rotting tooth. Her five-year-old son Jack, a boy not born into the world but into the very same 10 x 9ft room, asks if it’s ‘Bad Tooth’ that’s ailing his mother, to which Joy replies, “Mind over matter.” Jack then gleefully declares, “If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
This concept of a person’s mind being a stronger fortress than the physical one they’re confined to is the essence of Room. Joy’s mental fortitude, not only to survive for seven years in a tiny room with no windows and weekly sexual visits from her captor, but also to successfully raise a child in such an environment, is simply staggering.
Larson’s performance perfectly captures and crystallises a parent’s animus to create mental and physical structures to protect her children. Despite it being just the two of them Jack has plenty of friends: he has his dog Lucky (which he drew on a piece of paper); Sink; Toilet; Chairs One and Two. He’s happy because this is all he knows – and the film deftly highlights the relativism of life: how can you know you are alone or trapped if you don’t know anyone or anything else exists? Larson deserves her Oscar nomination simply for showing the brutal toll of having – in her context literally – the knowledge of the world on her shoulders and concealing it from the one person who deserves to know it all.
However, while her mind protected her and her son in the darkest of times, it took her to the darkest of places once she left the room. That’s what makes the film one of this season’s standouts – it explores how the mental structures erected by Joy to cope with the severe trauma, fared once she and her son escaped. A lesser film would have presented the escape as the climax of the film. While it was one of the most intense scenes, made genuinely terrifying and breath-taking by the performance of nine-year-old Jacob Tremblay (who bewilderingly didn’t even get nominated for an Oscar) it would have been saccharinely pedestrian to end it there.
Room digs at the irony that ensues following Joy and Jack’s escape from their prison. While Jack takes his first steps into the new world and – albeit extremely tentatively – embraces it for all its novel beauty, Joy cannot fit in, precisely because she knows that nothing will ever be the same as it was before her capture. She looks at pictures of herself with her friends at school and tells Jack bitterly that “nothing” happened to them in their lives. She is angry because no one understands what she went through, because it didn’t happen to anyone else but her. Whereas Jack thrives in a new world, Joy wilts and she doesn’t even fully know why.
In the room it was “mind over matter” because it was the only way she and Jack could survive, but now those mental barriers have fallen into desuetude, forcing her to confront the horrors of the experience she had been putting off for five years.
Room is a beautiful film that rips your heart in two by showing Joy struggling to protect Jack from the brutal reality of their imprisoned existence. Then, as her son thrives in the brave new world and Joy’s mental strength shatters, so do our hearts. However this time, with every little piece Jack helps his mother to pick up, he gives us the “strong” to pick up ours. 5/5