by Dan Webster and Bonnie Anderson
‘Room’ is the spectacular fictional story based upon Emma Donoghue’s book of the same name. The author masterfully adapts the book for the screen and director Lenny Abrahamson, without loss of the story’s emotional depth, brings the audience into the tiny, sound-proof room of a garden shed where five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and Ma (Brie Larson) are held captive (Ma for seven years and Jack for five).
The excellent performances by Tremblay and Larson, give a new dimension to the relationship between mother and son. Ma is the only person to whom Jack has ever spoken. Mother and son omit the article “the” and create a sense of “community” with inanimate objects that are part of their daily life; Room, Plant, Sky (seen through a small square skylight in the ceiling),Toilet, Sink, etc.
This is a film that we don’t want to spoil, so we won’t go into the details of the story. But, we will say that the audience is drawn in as the film progresses and situations change. Given the news stories in recent memory of young women, held captive for years and giving birth, this is an entirely believable story. And maybe that’s what is so shocking. ‘Room’ is a one-of-a-kind film. It’s not your typical crime story. You’re going to hear much more about ‘Room.’ There’s Oscar buzz in the trade publications about Best Picture and Best Actress.
It has been a long time since we’ve been in a theatre where the movie-goers (all adults) are so captured by the story that they spontaneously shout encouragement and advice to the actors on the screen. The film ended to the loud applause and shouts of appreciation by the audience. Why? We are empathetic.
What is it about this film that ignites such a strong empathetic response in mature movie fans?
For one thing, this film is not what we are used to seeing. We are familiar with the dramatization of abduction and this film is not about that. It is not about the abduction or the abductor. There is no overt violence, no “language or drugs.” There are no dramatic courtroom scenes and no explicit sex. We are refreshed by the lack of sensationalist depictions of heartbreaking crime.
But more importantly, in this film, it is the lens of life through which we look. We experience life through the eyes of a child who takes his situation for granted.
But the audience sees what Jack doesn’t see. The audience knows about the world “out there” and we know what Jack is missing and we want him to have it. We want him to know the freedom of experiencing a full life and we are pulling for Jack and Ma with all our hearts.
We have been given the gift of empathy. It is in the depth of empathy that we are closest to loving others as we love ourselves.
The marketing for this film does not try to hide the message producers want to convey. “Discover your strong” has a poignant connection with the story we see on screen. It is carried over on the movie’s website which is really quite cleverly done.
It is not too much of a stretch to connect to God in the movie’s message. It promotes community, sharing, discovering the true self in each of us. It is, as St. Paul says, about faith, hope and love. And clearly love wins out in this movie.
Bonnie Anderson is a very active lay leader in her parish, diocese and in the wider Episcopal Church. She is an experienced community organizer and lives in suburban Detroit. Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest in Baltimore, Maryland and a former broadcast news executive. But don’t expect only east coast urban perspectives here. As it turns out, they both grew up in Southern California. They blog about films and faith at Faith Reels.