There’s a beautiful moment in Lenny Abrahamson’s Room (now in limited release) in which the character Ma explains the reality of their situation to her bewildered son. Contrary to what she had taught up until that point — that they were the only people in the entire realm of existence, which was limited to the room in question — she explains that they are actually held hostage in a small garden shed in their captor’s backyard. Sensing that Old Nick, her kidnapper and Jack’s father, might kill them because he will lose his house, Ma enlists her son’s help in an escape plan.
In shock and denial he says, “I want another story.”
Ma replies, “This is the story you’ve got.”
Despite his isolation from the rest of humanity, Jack expresses what might be the most human sentiment ever uttered. It’s rare to find a person who doesn’t long for a different story than the one they’ve gotten. The beauty of Room is that it shows how love and joy can still be possible in the presence of grief and pain, and that the stories we’re given can still be healed and redeemed.
In case you haven’t read the book (I hadn’t), Room is the story of Ma (played by Brie Larson), a 20-something woman who was kidnapped as a teenager and held captive in her captor’s backyard. He rapes her repeatedly, and Jack is the product of one of those encounters. The film opens with a narration by Jack (played by the talented and stunning Jacob Tremblay) on his fifth birthday. We first see Room through his eyes. From the perspective of a five-year-old boy who has never known any other world besides these four walls, the bed, wardrobe, tub, television, and tiny kitchen look downright spacious. Ma and Jack have made the place home. And though she is literally breaking apart (she loses a rotten tooth), Ma holds it all together. After she learns of Old Nick’s precarious financial situation, Ma calmly devises a plan of escape — the aftermath of which explores both the complicated bond between mother and son and the way people deal with grief.
The relationship between Ma and Jack couldn’t exist without Room, which in many ways functions as another character. Room is referred to just that way — as “Room,” not “the room” — as though it is another member of their family. Room shelters them and provides a refuge for them. Room is always present in their lives. When Jack and Ma escape, he longs for Room and for its safety and confines. It is the place where all the joy of life that Jack knows occurs.
But Room is also a prison. It’s the place of much horror and isolation for Ma. And though Jack has never known it, it’s deprived him from so much of life, even experiencing natural light. It’s a reminder that sometimes the story you’ve got can be a trap, keeping you in the pain and dysfunction because it’s familiar. It’s only through accepting the story he’s living in that Jack can actually escape it.
As a Christian, it was this aspect of story and personal narrative that really struck me. The gospel is sometimes referred to as “the greatest story ever told.” The Christian faith is told through the lens of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. Even the way we share our faith is through testimonies of God’s presence or faithfulness in our lives.
In fact, it’s the promise of God’s willingness to enter and our stories that allows for the possibility of redemption.
When we can see and admit that we are trapped — by sin, by the hurts inflicted on us, the hurts we’ve inflicted, the mistakes we’ve made — it’s only then that we can experience the freedom that’s found in Christ. When we can recognize that the confines of the story we’re in can’t be all there is, it is an opportunity to invite God into the story to transform it.
Months after their escape, Jack and Ma return to the shed to see it one more time. As the movie began with a view of room through Jack’s eyes, we see it again through the lens of a captive who has been freed. It is shabby and small and cramped. It can no longer contain the world for him, nor remain a character in their story.
WATCH the trailer for Room: