‘Room’ And What It Means To Be A Human

Before I get into the actual critique of Room, I need to say that I don’t really cry in movies. I can count on one hand the amount of movies I have cried in—My Dog Skip being the first, and Marley and Me being the most recent (I guess I have a thing for movies about dogs dying). With that said, Room not only made me cry, it invented a new kind of crying: the vomit-cry. This kind of crying is the kind of crying that comes without any build up or any warning—kind of like when you wake up in the middle of the night and vomit. As I watched, I was moved by so many things in the film, but I never cried. Then it happened. When my guard was down, when I didn’t see it coming, I immediately started weeping when one character said three simple words. I guarantee you, when you come to that scene, you’ll probably vomit-cry too.

Bearing that in mind, Room is the most “human” film I have seen in years. The reason I use this cliché movie adjective to describe Room is because the movie itself explores what it means to be a human being. I suppose all art does this to some extent, but this one answers the question head on.

The story—adapted from Emma Donoghue’s 2010 novel—revolves around Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who is a 5 year old boy, and his “Ma” (Brie Larson (who just won an Academy Award for best actress)). They are trapped in a room they have aptly named “Room.” From the beginning of the movie, you know something is wrong—even though you don’t exactly know why they are in room.

Two possibilities ran through my mind of what could’ve happened. The first was that they were trapped in the room because of some horrific worldwide catastrophe. Maybe a nuclear attack, maybe zombies, who knows. The second possibility was that Ma and Jack were being held hostage—even though we learn from the beginning that Jack has never left room. I desperately hoped it was the first. I knew in my heart it was the second. My heart was right.

Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay star in "Room." (Ruth Hurl/Element Pictures)
Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay star in “Room.” (Ruth Hurl/Element Pictures)

Ma has been held captive for at least five years by a man called Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). She’s a sex slave and has not left room since she was captured. She can only feel the air outside the walls of room when Old Nick opens the door for a few seconds as he comes in every night to rape her (Jack hides in the closet). It’s an intensely disturbing plot. Yet you cannot stop watching because every moment in the film hooks you. It’s otherworldly how much this film drew me in.

What this film is exploring—the most visceral aspect of it—is what it means to be a human being. It will have you wondering what it would be like to experience the world again for the first time. What does the wind feel like when you first feel the wind? What are the different shades of green in the trees? What does a burger taste like? Even more so, this film will have you questioning what even constitutes a human being. Are monsters like Old Nick even human? Has he forfeited his right for some aspects of being a human because he has deprived others of the full human experience, of experiencing the world in its grandeur as God intended and created us for?

The biggest question I had in my mind was what the long-term repercussions will be for Jack. Will he have any friends? Will he someday learn what really happened to him (Ma disguised what really happened by telling him that there were aliens out in the world and that the people in the TV were there by magic)? Will he hate himself, his Mom, Old Nick, everyone because of it? Will he even have the capacity to love another person? (The answer to this last question was the source of the vomit-cry, by the way.)

Through this film I discovered how love is the central aspect of all human activity. How those who love are the most human humans. That love knows no bounds. Even though a mother and her son are trapped in a room and have no contact with anyone in the outside world, they still love each other, they still are full and beautiful human beings.

There are also echoes of The Shawshank Redemption in Room. A man trapped in prison for something he didn’t do. So a woman is trapped in a room, being exploited in horrific ways, and her only fault was that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The entirety of Shawshank reeks of hope. In the entirety of Room, you will hope like you never knew you could. I found myself squeezing my cheeks with my fingers, barely able to catch my breathe, constantly on the verge of wanting to run up to the screen and punch a hole in it, all because hope was driving me crazy. I hoped she would get out with Jack, I hoped they would live a normal life, I hoped Old Nick would get locked up in a prison forever, and that hope made both me and the characters in the movie do insane things.

There are few movies that have compared to this one in the emotional range I felt while watching. The performances were perfect. Jacob Tremblay should’ve been nominated for an Oscar, and he could’ve given Leo and run for his money on the stage (a 9-year-old beating Leo, imagine that). The storytelling through the film was near perfection too. While it did drag a bit, I think this was an intentional choice by the filmmaker. It was only after it dragged on that I realized how trapped I felt within the film. I wanted to get out because of how horrifying it was, but I couldn’t. So the film not only made you feel for the characters, but made you feel what the characters felt—which is, in my opinion, the hallmark of an excellent film and one very few films actually achieve.

Go see this film, not because of the great acting, or great story-telling, or great cinematography. Go see this film to find out what it means to be human. Go see this film to feel.