Emotions don’t always work the way you want them to. You can’t just have your way or make someone feel bad every time you think they should. The tone of your voice and a belief that you sound right isn’t enough to communicate with other people but especially not yourself.
Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) and her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) sound too much alike after being forced to live in a tool shed for five of the seven years in her post kidnapping life. Jack is the son of Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), the kidnapper who has been raping Joy, but this ma doesn’t have the psyche or the opportunity to face that quite yet, not until the worst possible moment for it, of course. She is caught up in her son, preoccupied with her world inside Room, the tool shed they call home, and realizing that Jack needs exposure to the World outside that he doesn’t know is real just yet.
Joy and Jack are inevitably and extremely close, think attachment parenting, but she is almost broken due to the predicament they face. Jack isn’t just her son, he is her lifeline. So, there has to be a way out for them now that he has turned five. The skylight feels like the obvious way, but she is bolder and more impulsive and needs to trick Old Nick. She is craving a way to beat him at his own game, and using Jack to do it is the only way she can muster.
As an undoing of a lie she told him earlier in his life about Room, she tries to cram all the information about their situation into Jack’s head in a matter of days. I found myself asking why she lied in the first place, but it is the thrust of the film. There is never an indication that Old Nick didn’t want Jack to know the situation, but maybe there was and I missed it. After he gives Jack a birthday present, there is a not so subtle hint from the scumbag that he might be willing to help raise him because he “knows boys”. The scenario is beyond uncomfortable to watch.
This is where the long term plan in question really starts to plague the film. How was this guy going to keep two (eventually) adults in a room like that? Did he think he would be able to turn Jack against Joy? Or was murdering Jack always in the back of his mind? Letting Jack appear out of nowhere to live with him in the world surely wouldn’t work unless he was able to somehow gain a real psychological foothold on the boy’s mind, but they don’t really get much time to bond. Maybe bigger accommodations were in the works.
For now she is stuck, and for that I can forgive the film. I don’t know anyone who would make the best decision in a situation like hers. She learns to let go by planning for Jack to escape Room without her, and comes up with a brilliant albeit insane liberation for Jack who is miraculously brave even if he fights it kicking and screaming. Jack becomes extremely stressed out over the whole ordeal and even screams that he hates her while she is showing him how to wiggle out of Rug after being placed in the back of Old Nick’s truck while pretending to be dead.
I don’t know how this person who had been raped nearly every night really dealt with the prospect of losing her son in this attempt other than knowing the mode her mind had to have been in to make that decision. She is in a state of sheer survival.
Jack’s survival mode isn’t quite as honed, and he barely makes it work. The escape would normally be the climax in a thriller based on the same premise as Room. The plan works when Old Nick can’t regain control of Jack and a witness becomes suspicious of the boy being dragged back to a truck he just leapt out of. Old Nick just takes off and leaves him there on the street with a total stranger. He must have had a plan B just in case something like this happened, but the film lacks any details of the antagonist after the mother and son are recovered other than he is arrested and will be facing a trial.
Joy must unravel herself and in doing so, becomes her own worst enemy to replace Old Nick in the story.
During the recovery of Jack in his escape, a police officer (Amanda Brugel) makes a brilliant connection while riding around with him in the back of a patrol car trying to find out where he had come from. He is completely in shut down mode and can only speak softly about details to help them locate Room. He tells her there were three stops, or stop signs, and she figures out they are right on top of the location.
Joy and Jack get to reunite with Joy’s family, and someone should have written her dad (William H. Macy) right out of the script. Wait. They did. Joy is on point for recognizing that he is rejecting Jack. The conflict is probably why Jack isn’t eating dinner at the table or speaking loudly enough. In bad form, her dad just takes off for the rest of the film and can’t handle the new reality. He also lives in another state and has to go back to work. Thanks, for nothing.
This is the sequence that allows Joy to enter into another one of defeat, and it lasts longer than it typically would on screen. Room doesn’t waste any time shifting from Joy as the central protagonist to letting Jack have an equally costly role, but the film doesn’t let Joy open up on her own on screen until she admits she isn’t really a good enough parent to her son, but this reality comes with a consequence. She has to process herself where she is in life, and she has wanted to be the best parent she can be, but living for Jack has forced her to sacrifice too much of herself. Now, she doesn’t want to live.
Clearly, Jack has been struggling with her issues and it was quite possibly his demands of her that led Joy to snap into action for the escape attempt.
Joy begins to grapple with really irrational thoughts and her explosive anger on the advent of the escape from Room and once they are back at her mom’s house. She does seem like a crazy parent who is too harsh, but this movie nailed the two sidedness of who she became in her ordeal. She is the most involved and optimistic parent she could ever imagine being, and also the impatient-constantly-at-her-limit and too harsh of a reactionary parent. She forgot how to be around other people than Old Nick and Jack, but she has no filter and needs to firehose out all the drama she couldn’t share with anyone.
It’s a little odd that she conducts a prime time interview after missing some therapy only to be berated by the interviewer (Wendy Crewson) for not pleading with Old Nick to take Jack to a hospital to give him a life outside Room while he was still an infant. Right, because then there’s no DNA out in the world to lead back to the father. Sure. Because there are no databases of any kind to run missing children’s code through that would match his to his missing mother’s DNA, a kidnapping victim. This woman would have been fired in the real world. Only because she asked Joy why she didn’t realize that being with her might not be the best thing for Jack. I emitted an expletive in the theater with that line delivery. But let’s face it; if Old Nick had fallen for the plan of just leaving Jack in a hospital, he would have probably been raised by Joy’s mother who would know she had him after his mother was identified through DNA evidence. However, the trail right back to the father was virtually inevitable, and he wouldn’t have fallen for that.
Room has a structure to the story that is off-beat and a shifting role of the antagonist that nearly makes it boring. It is being lauded as a triumph of structure, but I wouldn’t rush into the overstatement. It is a drama / thriller hybrid that is more like a vignette of the main victim’s ordeal, escape, and coping with life outside the situation she began in. Her son who is part of her is the only way she can see the result of what has happened to them outside of herself, and it is instinctual to want to help another person out of the same bad situation.
The premature goal fulfillment of the escape would normally be preceded with story about the family intertwining with the ordeal themselves, and other characters outside the small shared space who would be impactful once the breach of Room became successful. I think the film attempted to add some shock value with the negative outcomes that soon followed the post escape honeymoon period, but it didn’t really strike me as odd that Joy’s life was so turbulent or that she tried to kill herself once she realized she couldn’t cope like a regular person anymore.
I can appreciate the rawness of her character, and the honesty that nearly killed her in a world more sheltered from itself than she ever was from it inside Room. She let herself have their experience inside Room to keep herself wanting to live, but then there was no reason to with the denial she created gone for good. Her recovery is missing from the story. She just reappears once she realizes she wants to live her life with Jack who has made some headway with her family and spent a little time away from her which she thought she couldn’t live without. It was a tough transition, but she connected the dots. We just don’t get to see her actually do it.
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