Thursday, January 14, 2016

Room - celebrating motherhood in a melancholic, messed up incarceration (QFT & other chains from 15 Jan)

Ma and Jack live in a Spartan room with cork tiles on the walls: bathroom, kitchen and bedroom all in one compact 10’ x 10’ space. A skylight is the only source of natural light. A locked metal door ensures the pair cannot leave.
“The room’s not on any map.”
I found the first hour of Room incredibly tense as I was introduced to the backstory of how as a teenager Ma (played by Brie Larson) was lifted out of the real world and came to live for the last seven years in this ghastly alternative reality. Jack (Jacob Tremblay with incredibly long flowing locks) is five, the result of their captor’s nightly visits to deposit provisions and rape Ma. Misbehaviour results in the electricity cut off, and with it heating, warm food and television.

I remember reading Bye Child in English in school, a poem (by Seamus Heaney I now discover) about a boy living in a hen house. Bernard MacLaverty turned it into a screenplay and directed the fifteen minute short. As a schoolchild the poem was sad, but as an adult and a parent the concept of locking up a child is so much more disturbing.
“I’m your Ma. Sometimes I’ve got to pick for both of us.”
Ma’s priority is to keep her son safe, putting her body in the way to ensure Old Nick (Sean Bridgers, we never find out the devilish character’s real name) does not touch or harm Jack. The boy is unaware of his situation and knows no life outside the single room. What he sees on television, he files under make believe, as it has no parallel in his norm.

The pair’s security and insecurity are locked up in the room. A plan is hatched to escape, but can they really ever be free of the room. Can incarceration be excised from their psyche?
“Are we on another planet?”

New sounds. New smells. New colours. New views of a disturbingly large city and world. New rooms. New rules. New germs. New intensity of light. New loudness of sounds. New stars. New experiences of generosity. New infinities of ways to be overwhelmed. New questions. New disappointments. New ways to stretch inner strength to breaking point.

Lenny Abrahamson’s direction captures both the restricted nature of the room and the oppression that awaits the pair outside the shed that has sheltered them for so long. Brie Larson beautifully portrays the young mother doing everything possible – including continuing breastfeeding – to nurture her son while coping with depression. Her onscreen chemistry with young Jacob is very convincing.

Based on Emma Donoghue’s novel, Room is a melancholic, messed up film, though one which celebrates the responsibilities of motherhood, albeit questioning what the right choices are for a new child born into this hellish situation.

Perspective is a word that has dogged me so far in 2016. One of the moral questions raised by Room is whether it was in Jack’s best interests to be kept locked up with his mother, or whether she should have insisted that Old Nick took her new baby away and left him to be found and cared for by someone ‘on the outside’.

While Room is a fictional account, it mirrors too many real world instances of young adults and children being held captive across the world, as well as those in slavery, labour camps and being trafficked. However, Room also echoes the decisions being made by parents in many conflict zones of whether to send their children abroad, to flee from war and internal displacement and seek a better life elsewhere in the world.

As I left the Room’s preview screening I remembered Gulwali Passarlay’s lecture at Belfast International Arts Festival in October.

His mother took the decision to pay for 12 year old Gulwali and his brother to be smuggled out of [Afghanistan] to safety. Soon separated from his brother, it was a year long tortuous journey with repeated arrests, multiple imprisonments, a crammed boat, and many escapes from authorities and institutions. If I caught his narrative correctly, 7000+ miles through Afghanistan -> Iran -> Turkey -> Bulgaria -> Turkey -> Iran -> Turkey -> boat -> Greece -> Italy (from where he escaped from the third floor of a children’s home) -> Belgium -> France (Calais) -> UK.

Room is showing at Queens Film Theatre from Friday 15 January as well as other local cinema chains. Expect a good ten minutes of tears midway through the film followed by instances of blubbing until the end.

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