By Leya George (Bugle Team)
A typical day for Jack: he wakes up with his Ma, who makes him breakfast, brushes his long hair, plays with him, watches TV with him, and answers all his questions. At night he sleeps in the cupboard; his Ma hides him there initially before Old Nick comes to visit. If he’s lucky, he’ll wake up next to Ma in the morning.
A typical day for Ma: she wakes up with her son Jack in the same bed she has been forced to sleep in for the past seven years. She goes through the rudimentary process of looking after Jack: feeding him, bathing him, putting aside the atrocities she has faced and continues to face. All so Jack can happily go about his daily life, exploring the world around him.
‘Room’ being the only world he has ever known.
Ma is a victim of abduction and rape. Jack has been brought up in an old, 12-foot-square shed his whole life, and has never stepped outside. Everything he knows exists only in Room; any mention of the outside is seen as alien, as abstract as outer space is to us. These are, everyone would agree, incredibly unusual, harrowing circumstances for a child to be raised under.
Room provides an intelligent insight into child development, for anyone interested in this topic. Despite what you might think, Jack generally shows signs of typical child development – considering the confines of his environment. The film and the book are narrated from his perspective, so the audience gets a clear understanding of his outlook and cognition. Like any other child, Jack engages with his environment, he is imaginative and flexible in his perception of objects – as shown by the semi-personifying of the furniture. He greets Wardrobe, Plant, and Stove every morning. He is curious, linguistically intelligent, and even shows signs of independence when his mother experiences periods of depression. It is clear that Ma has worked hard to create as normal a childhood as she can. She has provided a nurturing, entertaining, and educational environment for Jack. The story emphasises the importance of the caregivers’ input in early childhood development.
The story however is not confined to the ‘Room’. You will be glad to discover that they manage to escape. This isn’t quite a spoiler – this happens fairly early on. I enjoyed how the majority of the story focuses more on how Ma and Jack adapt to the outside world. This is especially significant for Jack. Remember, he had already created a mental construal of his environment, and understandably gets upset when this representation is threatened. His developmental trajectory is thrown off track – however, as a doctor later comments, Jack is fortunate enough to have escaped while he is ‘still plastic’. His brain is still making sense of the world around him, and though this world suddenly becomes much bigger and more confusing, he can adapt and change his mental representations more readily at this stage of development, without severe long-term consequences.
Looking through Jack’s eyes lends the story an air of innocence that helps alleviate the disturbing situation you know they are forced into; on the other hand that very knowledge makes his naivety all the more upsetting. There wasn’t a dry eye in the cinema for the whole two hours.
The story is in part inspired by the case of Joseph Fritzl in Austria, and other cases of kidnap, but is entirely fictional and works as more than just a victim-and-survivor story. It is a story about the powerful bond between parent and child – powerful enough to escape a life-or-death situation. More importantly, the story is about preserving your sanity in the often more troubling aftermath of a traumatic environment.