Room: A Defining Landmark in Faith and Storytelling
I first heard of Room through my fellow contributors at NewReleaseToday and have been following its popularity for the past few months, and particularly through its strong showing in awards season, both for its nominations, its wins, and even its widely agreed-upon snubs. When I found myself with a few days of free time, being the curious little aspiring author that I am, I decided this was as good a chance as any to dive in head first into both the book and the film. What I found was nothing short of a profound and enlightening art experience.
Both the book and the film have achieved well-deserved critical acclaim. Room is one of the few books I’ve actually seen some say improved as a film, although I am sure that’s not a universal belief. But taking a look at each, they both stand out as defining achievements of their respective mediums. First, the book. I read it over two days and found myself engrossed in the unique character of its young narrator and the astonishing world it creates contrasting the ordinary against the horrifying. Jack is both believable and unique, a rare trait to find in a young character. Kids in stories tend to fall into either overly precocious or bland and underdefined. As an author who strives to create believable young characters myself, this was a fascinating example of doing it right.
The book is told entirely in Jack’s voice, and it’s the first time I have ever felt the first person present tense actually work for a book. (My own views on tense being just mine) The supporting cast is a mixed bag in terms of likeability; even “Ma” can come off a bit callous at times. But I can also chalk this up to the sometimes-adversarial view children can have towards adults, and this works with the narrative voice established. While there are definitely a few too many details I probably could’ve done without, the book as a whole is nothing short of a literary triumph. It manages to be both commercially appealing and literary relevant. Had the conversation on the story ended there, it’d still be worth talking about. But then came the film.
Room was always a bit of an underdog of a film. There weren’t really any A-list stars going into it, and the better-known names took very supporting roles in the film’s back half. The entire film lives or dies on the strength of the unique premise and the performances of its two leads.
On the premise, it’s actually very intriguing to see how a movie could have a large chunk of its runtime take place in an 11×11 shed. You would think it’d get boring fast, but just the opposite. Like the book, the screen adaptation is filled with both wonder and tension. Little details we could only touch at before are brought to life before our eyes. And the performances in this film are top notch. Brie Larson essentially swept the Lead Actress award season, and with good cause. She’s astonishing in the film. While the character of Ma can be a bit hard at times, it’s understandable given her trauma and her own young age. But Larson navigates the emotional depths of this character with such an honesty that regardless of my feelings toward her at any given second, I believed her.
As for young Jack, Jacob Tremblay turns in what could be a career-launching performance. While almost completely snubbed by stateside awards, Tremblay instantly became one of the more recognizable child actors as a result of his work in this film. While the actor has an undeniable charm all his own, Tremblay makes Jack more than just a typical “cute movie kid.” The character of Jack goes through his own harrowing emotional journey and Tremblay, despite his age, is able to disappear into his character to a level even many seasoned actors would envy. Together with Larson, the two convey such an honest and comfortably authentic mother-son dynamic that the film’s emotional roller coaster ride not only straps you relentlessly in but you are in no desire to get off despite the quiet intensity of the ride.
So what does any of this have to do with faith? After all, Room is a “secular” movie. Well, for starters, the book especially is rich in a lot of Christian imagery. Be it the “Samson” motif of hair symbolizing strength or frequent prayers and allusions to heaven and “baby Jesus.” The movie doesn’t dwell on this angle nearly as much (and in the process also culls some reincarnation dialogue as well), but the parable aspect is still there and actually conveys a stronger faith message than many faith films.
Another thing that is relevant to the faith crowd is its pro-life message. Both the book and the movie serve as strong pro-life arguments, even against the biggest point of controversy in the entire debate. When the book includes a completely unneeded service line to abortion, it almost seems an attempt to apologize to certain readers for the profound argument for life the story makes. Luckily, the movie has no such line and thus stands uncontested. It’s not that this movie is an excoriating picture of the horror of abortion. Rather, it’s a portrait of the intrinsic beauty and value in life, and in particular that even a life conceived through horrifying circumstances still has worth and joy, and can serve to be a means of saving rather than despair. Few to no films shooting for such a theme could ever present such a powerful argument for life.
Room has been a legitimate phenomenon. The book, the film, the entire idea are all so unique and defining. Having consumed both in a short amount of time, I can finally say that the hype is well warranted. While individual tastes and new shiny toys will likely dull the critical spotlight (as time always ensures) I think Room will manage to stand the test of time and remain a cult classic that will shine as one of the best examples of “art.” While both the book and the film have strengths, and the book notably has a few things that I would’ve culled, the overall feeling I come away with remains the same.
This is a story about the beauty and resilience of human life, of motherhood, or childhood, and of being alive. The film has made stars out of its two leads and I will be watching the careers of both eager to see what they do next. But perhaps most importantly, I think this “secular” story of hope and triumph can serve as a reminder to the faith-based crowd that sometimes a more subtle approach to themes of faith actually paints a more vivid and impacting picture.
The Bottom Line:
Room is a treasure. If you haven’t yet, you should make it a priority to discover it.
Room is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
By Jonathan Francesco