What does home mean to you? As an adult you will most likely spend hours deliberating over this very question. But if you asked your child this same question they would probably answer, without hesitation: ‘”You mummy.”’
This kind of blatant truth exists in the mind of a child. As an adult, the truth is more complicated. Or so we think.
The powerful, yet fundamentally simple message of the film Room is that in order to survive, all we need is some sort of community. But more importantly, the story is told from the perspective of Jack, a 5 year old living in a single, locked room with his mother. The devastation of such a situation is lightened by the mind of a reasonably happy child. Jack doesn’t know any different. He is loved and he is safe. He has his mother close.
Whilst they are held captive, and that is inhumane, their captor, ‘Old Nick’ at least provides them with food, books, electricity, TV and Sunday treat. On the surface, this is a tragic circumstance. But within that circumstance, what the story expresses, or at least what I got from it, is that perhaps we only need the basics to live a fulfilling and content life.
Novelist and screenwriter Emma Donoghue was inspired by the Fritzl Case, whereby a child sees the outside world for the first time in over 20 years. (In this case, Jack is 5 before he is exposed to the outside world.) This concept is fascinating because it questions the idea of what the world means to you. The outside world is not necessarily your world.
Jack need not adapt to his limited circumstances because in his mind, he is not limited. Jack is happy with his world whilst Joy (his mum) is thinking of ways to escape and return to the outside world where she assumes they will be happier. It’s clear that she has adapted, but this captivity reflects all the freedoms she has lost. It’s a shitty situation and because of this, she feels literally and mentally imprisoned.
In this era, there is a lot of press and research surrounding mental health and the benefits of mindfulness. Mindfulness, in this sense, for those of you who don’t know, is when you focus your awareness on the present moment, whilst calmly observing and accepting your thought, emotion and sensations without reacting. I have never been held captive in a locked room for a number of years but I have been held captive by my own mind many times.
At the end of the day, survival of severely unnerving situations or merely uncomfortable ones, comes down to optimism and attitude. It’s important to understand, (which in itself is mindfulness) how hard it is to let go of protective barriers and that it takes experience with stress, anxiety and mental breakdowns to be able to not only trust yourself but rely on yourself. This awareness is extremely powerful. But it is also innate.
I wept with relief when Jack successfully executed his mother’s escape plan. Jack was doing as he was told. And he did so well.
It is here where the strength of the story lay. Whilst Jack is unaware and therefore frightened of this new world, he is also naturally curious, so long as his mum is by his side. But as his discovery develops, his mother’s mental state spirals. Now in the protection of her own mother's arms, Joy is free to let go of her strong survival instinct that set her free from captivity. But this doesn’t go so well. Things are not the same. Things have changed.
Here, the shift in Joy’s determination tests the power of Jack’s nature. The roles have shifted. Joy has to rely on Jack now. What is really important to note though, is that Jack and his amazingness is a reflection on how well he was raised. And that is testament to a strong and stable mind.