Lenny Abrahamson's "Room" (2015): "It cannot really be room if the door is open"

By Anirban Lahiri

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

Room, movie poster
Room (2015) - By Lenny Abrahamson
Our Rating: 8.5
IMDb Ratings: 8.3
Genre: Drama
Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Brie Larson, Sean Bridgers
Language: English
Runtime: 118 min
Color: Color

SummaryJack, born in captivity, escapes from the single room that contains his reality. How would he respond to the world outside?
This Canadian-Irish film is a brilliant effort, coming from the mainstream industry, about socialization. What happens when a university girl (Brie Larson) is kidnapped by a nameless guy (Sean Bridgers), and kept in an underground bunker for seven years? She gives birth to a boy, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who grows up in that single room, equipped with basics for survival, replenished by the captor on regular basis, and a TV.
Ma and Jack looking at the ceiling of the room
Ma and Jack looking at the ceiling of the room
While the first half of the film is about their growing accustomed together to the single space of their existence, the room, the second half is about how the boy would react to the outside world when Ma, his mother, tells him that animals and people he sees on the TV screen are apparitions of really real beings in the real world.

Post-Freudians call this "entering the symbolic order." Society of man is based on communication - giving names to things, learning those names and, through that, controlling the reality according to the deep-laid structure (Chomsky actually called this Deep Structure, in the context of language) in the patriarchal society. After Freud, in the peak days of the transformation of psychoanalysis, the French doctor, Lacan, would call it knowing (and coming to terms with) the Name of the Father. The name of the father (le nom du père) signifies the whole range of social identity that generates the self-esteem, love, confidence, sexuality, goal of life and the process of living itself to, at least, any male child anywhere in today's homogeneous world. Reality is a process. Identity binds us to that process. That identity is crafted, worldwide, in the name of the father.
Director Lenny Abrahamson briefing the leading actors
Director Lenny Abrahamson briefing the leading actors
In fact, Lacan, to a good extent in the line of Freud, coined three different, mutually exclusive, identity process for any (male) individual - Neurotic, Psychotic and Pervert. The point to be noted is that they are mutually exclusive. If one is conditioned to build up a pervert identity in childhood, he can never be either a neurotic or a psychotic. Neurotic is normal, Lacan says. We all are neurotic. However, we become a neurotic patient when our conflict with our own identity comes to the surface, producing symptoms, such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or different types of Paranoia, etc.

Room tries to bring us close to a child, practically without a father. He sneaks in to have a look at his biological dad, despite his ma's sustained effort to keep him away from His sight. Canadian cinema, despite its somewhat independent stance from Hollywood, has rarely attempted such a description of identity-formation in recent history. However, the reality budget - limits of a popular tale - takes over in the choice of the kid's gender. The kid is given a specific gender. He has to a boy. Room does not want us see the reality from a 'girl's point of view, although it is a valid proposition that inside the room gender should have no existence - it is only Jack and Ma. Jack has no gender, unless Ma succeeds in assigning that to him. She does not.
Jack and Ma
Jack and Ma
After the rescue, the biological dad is never shown again. That is the best point about the film. It is about structuring the identity, including the sexual identity of a kid who only interacted with Ma for the first five years of his life. The captor, ever evanescent dad, has no physical existence other than this. It is his name, or absence of name, that is put under question.

Room is highly significant in today's cultural context because in the extreme ideological homogeneity of our times, we feel confused about how reality takes shape for the next generation. A kid, detached from reality, but having access to TV and satellite channels, make out a version of reality, closer to the image-generation of today, which is real for him. 
A Still from Room (2015)
The room is a character in itself, in the movie
There is an interview in the film, where Ma sits for a long session on TV that tries to sensationalize the news of their release from the seven-year-long captivity. The interviewer throws a morality question to her - Why she did not opt to send Jack to a foster home, or asylum, so that he could grow up as a 'normal' boy. The interviewer hints that Ma was selfish in keeping Jack with herself. Obviously, TV provokes its participants, as well as audience, to create such sensations for its momentary, fragmented, success. In the process, however, it builds up a version of normalcy and sustains a hegemony of accepted morality positions.

This film evokes memory of another film, made in Canada a few years ago - Incendies (Directed by Denis Villeneuve, 2010). These films are about love, about the conflict between carnal tension and something more emotional. Even Room shows primitive sentiments in positive ways. The idea of a physical synecdoche - a memento of the beloved - in this case Ma's decayed tooth in Jack's palm is a sign of our tribal roots. These signs are still active in our rational life. They come out in the moments of crisis, where only intuition works.
Ma meets her parents after seven years
Ma meets her parents after seven years
Room is a reading of Jack, the process of construction of identity for any male child. This is why he wants to go back to the room, even after he was freed. This is like an individual's lifelong connection to the womb. 

I remember a peculiar instance from my mid youth. After a hiatus of six years, I went to my school to collect my last board examination certificate. In the mean time, I had studied in the university for five years. My horizons had expanded. When I went inside the school, once more in to the teenage connections, memories, the childhood corridor, I was shocked to find out that the corridor was too narrow, the rooms were too small! That was a big lesson. Six years at large had changed my mind so much that my previous, childhood-to-teenage, experiences went for a toss.
Film a scene of Room
Filming a scene of Room
It is the same with Jack. It is the same with the room. 

The room has shrunk in size, Jack has grown bigger in few days!

The film can be received, and enjoyed, metaphorically on a spiritual-religious level. Our reality and identities are constructed on the basis of what we know - our exposure to objects, images and apparitions. What if we come to know that all those were false?

When would our room shrink?

Readers, please feel free to share your views/opinions in the comment box below. As always your insightful comments are highly appreciated!

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4 comments:

  1. Wow, what a wonderful read. This is THE best review I have read on Dil Se so far. There are reviews where reviewers call the film(s) masterpiece but fail to justify it. You have done more than required. I am simply blown by the your writing. So much of unknown & essential facts you have added. Brilliant stuff!

    -Nafees Ahmed

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Nafees... coming for a movie aficionado like yourself, it means a lot! Actually, I have been wanting to write it for a very long but couldn't materialize it earlier. Finally mustered all my faculties and wrote 1500 words straight. Of course, I had to re-watch it at least half a dozen times in the process.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This has enticed me to watch the film again. One more thing, I never felt like I read 1500 words. Commendable.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Do share your thoughts based on the re-watch!

    ReplyDelete

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