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Part II of Room: A Lesson on Parenting.
Room is about a young mom and her son trapped in a small shed. In the first part of the movie, the director offers a heavy dose of realism, in that the audience’s reality was limited to the reality of the room’s occupants. We too were held hostage and trapped in a small space. We too were unaware of that which was on the other side. We too (like the mom) were burdened with heaviness that all there was and would ever be was the hopeless existence of those four windowless walls.
After leaving the show, I immediately accepted the film for its philosophical undertone as relating to the theme of parenting, the theme of time and space, and the theme of personhood. But, it wasn’t until the next morning, after some distance allowing my mind to explore and to integrate, that those themes began to collide giving me an entirely different perspective than what I had when I went bed.
Spoiler alert: If you want to see the movie for yourself, I encourage you to stop reading here as I am going to talk in fair detail. In order to make a point about the relationship between adult health and childhood trauma at the hands of parents (as is the point of this series), I will share specifics about the mother-child relationship in Room.
About half-way through the movie, mom (Joy) and child (Jack) were able to escape their captor through a ruse the mother created. Joy coached Jack on how to play dead so that in route to being buried, he could jump out and scream for help.
Aside from seeing Jack as a hero (in his role in their escape and in his adjustment to a new world), the director allows the viewers to focus on the challenges of the mother as we learn about her life before she was abducted by her captor. We see her struggle with realizing that she had lost an innocence that her friends and even her own parents still had. And, we see her wrestling to parent Jack in a larger sphere of the world where for the past five years, the space in which she parented was quite limited.
And, through this lens, we see Joy as a hero… in her mental endurance within seven years of captivity, in her strategic mastermind for escape, and even in her struggle to be reintegrated into a world that no longer felt safe.
But somewhere in the third part of the movie, the director gives viewers a peak into seeing Joy as deeply flawed. Joy is being interviewed on national television and the reporter asked her why she did not have their captor drop Jack off at a hospital when he was born. On her face, you can see that Joy is confused by the question. The reporter pressed and asked Joy if it would have been better for Jack if he had been released into the world where he could have been given a normal life. Joy’s response was “No. Jack had me.”
Such a simple and pure response opened a window for viewers to see her as less than heroic. For me, that was tough because I did not want to see this mother, this survivor, as flawed.
While watching the movie, I experienced a disdain for the reporter (who for a split second showed up as Joy’s nemesis). The teacher in me that tries to refrain from blaming parents thought how completely insane and insensitive for the reporter to challenge the mother about her parenting when clearly, she (along with her son) was the victim in this story… not the assailant. Even though there were several times in the second half of the movie that made me wince, in the development of the boy’s identity of being his mother’s savior, I chose to focus more on her pain. As I left the movie, I found myself more connected to the needs of Joy (as mother of the boy) than I did on the needs of Jack (as the son of the mother). And, I resolved that she was nothing more than a hero.
Tomorrow I will discuss a different side of Joy. I will explore her as Joy-the-mother as opposed to Joy-the-victim and I will question her status as the hero. Please stay tuned.