Faiza Mardzoeki

Review Film Room

Room: Inside the Head of the Entrapped

Room helps her learn about inner struggle and understand the depth, distance, darkness and coldness of being a survivor in a world still marked by violence and injustice.

There are many horrible things that humans can experience in a world of war, disease and pestulance, miserable poverty, oppression and discrimination, and daily alienation. There are many novels, poems, art and films about this or set against this horror. It is never really possible for those who have not experienced such horrors to understand what it means to experience them. But their common presence in the arts and literature and popular culture makes it seem that we can perhaps imagine it.

Then there is a story like ROOM, the film directed by Lenny Abrahamson, based on the novel by Emma Donoghue. About the experiences of a young woman, Joy/Ma (Brie Larson) and also her child, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) which is also beyond the imagination of the average person. (Or is it?) A 17 year old young woman is kidnapped by a man who then imprisons her in a tiny shed for 7 years, where he rapes her almost every night. After two years she gives birth and brings up her child to age 5, imprisoned in the tiny room, and initially told that what he saw on a grainy TV is not real. For the young child, Jack, the room is all of existence, extending all the way in all directions. For the mother it is a real prison, with its nightly horror of rape by “old Nick” ( name for the Devil in western beliefs),  (Sean Bridgers), the 40 year oldish man who has imprisoned her in the shed soundproofed from the world outside, which only Joy knows exists as reality.

The film’s great accomplishment is that it makes this unimaginable experience accessible. It does leave what can only have been the most horrific part of the experience – the original imprisonment, the first realisation of no release, the first rapes and violence, the two years of no company without the child —  to the imagination of the viewer. The imprisonment and violence that we see in the first part of the film is that of a woman who has asserted “mind over matter”, as Jack quotes her no doubt often repeated advice, domesticating the imprisonment and seeking some humanity in the loving relationship with her son. The great acting in the roles of Joy and Jack, one aware of their imprisonment, the other oblivious to it (at first) allow us into a world that may otherwise be too hard to imagine. Brie Larson won an Oscar for her role as best actress.

But starting the story five years into the imprisonment does allow for the ROOM to also speak metaphorically to an experience that we know thousands of women experience: being trapped in an abusive relationship that they can’t feel they can escape. Old Nick, the “husband” provides the minimal material needs of mother and son to the extent that he is able, but, as Joy tells an idiot TV interviewer after they escape: “there was no relationship”, “Jack has no father”. For Old Nick, Joy is nothing but an object that allows him to sexually gratify himself violently and cruelly – basically just masturbating himself insider her. 

We are left with a strong empathy for Joy and for her son.

The trust between them enables Jack to do the fantastic thing necessary to escape, and the skills he has from his ROOM existence means that the shed of imprisonment can be found. Joy escapes also.

The second half of the film deals with how these survivors deal with the world, of or Jack the “WORLD” which now exists as real outside the ROOM. In the ROOM outside was freedom, and, of course, it was.  Neither wants to close the door and be inside the locked room again. But neither is the outside world without its imprisonments.

The outside world finds it hard to understand the psychic and inner struggle of a woman who has suffered the violent horrors that Joy has suffered: years of repeated rape in a violent imprisonment, isolated with a robot-like tormentor, made pregnant and then while suffering her torment she must care for and bring up her baby.

The media seizes on the incident for some sensationalised reporting and with almost no empathy for the victim. A TV journalist asks idiotic questions like: “Did you ever consider killing yourself?” Worse still: “Why didn’t you ask the man to take the new born baby and leave it anonymously at a hospital? Wouldn’t that have been better for the baby?” A mother, so goes the assumption, is only allowed to think of the child, never herself, even in a survival situation. In any case: let her baby out of her sight by handing it to a rapist who has proved himself cruel and inhumane?

And Joy’s parents? Her father cannot bring himself to look at or talk with Jack. Somehow the victims are to blame and wear the stigma.

And Joy, Jack’s Ma; how does she fare? Trauma looms. She is reminded of her life before imprisonment: she was a “nice” girl, along with the other nice teenage friends to whom “nothing happened”.  She feels the loss of “nice”ness but blames her nice upbringing as well, exploding to her mother: “Maybe if you hadn’t taught me to Be Nice! I wouldn’t have stopped to help the man who said his dog was sick – Old Nick! It was then she was tricked, imprisoned and the rapes began.  So a darkness descends into her that she must deal with ruthlessly to survive: she cries out to her own mother: ‘I am sorry , I am not nice anymore”

The internal struggle of a victim of sexual violence has many difficult stages. Both her soul and mind must deal with the darkness of the experience ALONE. It is her mind and spirit alone that is the focus of struggle. By HERSELF. It is she BY HERSELF that walks the dark alleys, cold and frightened. It is a new struggle to find a way to survive dealing with her new new and terrible wounds.

And in Joy’s case she must also help heal Jack’s wounds. Jack is a product of her relationship with her own inner struggles, her struggle to survive. It is Jack and her relationship with him, that helps her keep her resilience. They give each other strength and are each other’s companions. They unite in their darkness and seek the “light” they need to deal with the darkness of the violence and evil they have experienced.  Such is a real relationship.

ROOM helped me learn about inner struggle, helped me understand the depth, distance, darkness and cold of being a survivor in a world still marked by violence and injustice, and the inability of many to achieve empathy with those whose experiences are near unimaginable. In this instance the unimaginable horror of being trapped, with almost no hope of escape,  suffering perpetual sexual abuse and kept by a “man” for no other purpose.

by Faiza Mardzoeki  – Published in Magdalene