Room: Both Metaphor and Not

Dec 8, 2015 by Nickelodeon on The Nickelodeon Blog

It seems both intuitive and unfair to think of Room as a metaphor for parenting. In its barest plot, the movie is simply too harrowing to have wide applicability: abducted and held hostage from adolescence, Joy has spent over a decade in an 11′ x 11′ soundproof shed raising the son she bore by her kidnapper. Every so often, the kidnapper drops off food for the two. Within these extreme limitations, both physical and epistemological, Joy teaches Jack how to read and communicate, but convinces him that their “Room” is the only thing that exists. Then they escape.

This is a vision of parenting as a lucid nightmare, where a mother’s biggest fear (child abduction) has not only come to pass, but forms the precondition for how she must raise her son. She asks what it means to protect her son from a world he will never have access to, but the hopelessness with which she answered the question leaves him unable to cope when they finally enter the real world. The movie presents a cracked version of domestic abuse from the perspective of a child—allusive, haunting. These fears and questions resonate deeply through Brie Larson’s piercing, acute performance and Jacob Tremblay’s uncomfortably precocious intensity.

There’s something more, though: when we see the film as a metaphor, we lose the ability to connect with Room‘s deft, subtle project of denying empathy. Director Lenny Abrahamson continually reminds us that we have never experienced anything like these two, and that while the questions of parenting may be universal, the environments in which parents must make their decisions are decidedly not universal. Because there is friction between us and Joy, and us and Jack, Room gives a new understanding of parenting, one based not on the rules offered in child-rearing books, but the constant negotiations between parent, child, and environment among which we all grow up.

—Mike Opal

Showtimes and tickets here.