Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Cast: Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay
Running Time: 118 minutes
Release Date: January 15th
When the term “science-fiction” crops up in casual conversation, it is almost guaranteed that the first images envisaged are those of spacecrafts, aliens, laser guns, or toys still in their original packaging. Basically, people conjure up all those pictures, which make the genre off-putting. Hence, many artists who admire the ideas behind the genre opt to reshape it, in order to appear on a shelf not marked as “fantasy/science-fiction”. There is a fine line between the pulp and the profound, but in order to advance to the latter, the writer has to devote their attention to themes, as opposed sets.
When this occurs, science fiction becomes a breeding ground of creativity. Take for example, the psychological science fiction of J.G. Ballard, or Charlie Brooker. Their explorations of inner, rather than outer space spawned works, which truly resonate, by only looking five minutes into the future. Honing in on the devices plugged into walls, or the figures omnipresent in our media, the climactic findings state loudly that sci-fi is an everyday reality, not an escapist fantasy.
The other route is to look backwards, studying science fiction from a historical point of view. Recent examples of this are Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising, or Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg’s Kon-Tiki. Here, sci-fi is not a clairvoyant form of storytelling, but rather, a timeless metaphor for human development, and exploration. These stylized journeys into Earth’s own deep unknown remind us that the best works within the genre are, once again, psychological studies of character. Everything else besides is optional.
Therefore, by combining these two styles, director Lenny Abrahamson produced a fascinating piece of work with his adaptation of Emma O’Donoghue’s 2010 novel, Room. Inspired by the all too real and disturbing case of Josef Fritzl, the film is indeed a contemporary story, but one which uses a wide array of science fiction ideas to critique the peculiar state of modernity.
The basic plot tells of a man, known as Old Nick, who kidnaps a woman named Joy, and locks her in his garden shed, where she lives for seven years as his personal sex slave. However, his daily violations result in Joy giving birth to a boy named Jack, who, we immediately learn, has never ventured beyond this private prison. Whereas, Joy has a lifetime of memories to sustain her longing for something better, Jack has no concept of an external world, and hence, he lacks this despair, or sense of urgency brewing inside his mother.
In essence, he is a two dimensional being, unable to fathom a third dimension. Because of this, he begins to resemble a pre-17th century Christian convinced of the Earth’s flatness, shouting down Joy, who, as she reveals her own reality, becomes an ostracised Galileo.
As Joy attempts to explain to him the horrors she faces daily, Jack’s reluctance to believe her makes him an accidental antagonist. Yet, despite perpetuating her cycle of torment, by way of his ignorance, the message is clear: Jack is a cog in the system, not the enemy, even if he is opposed her view. He is human, happy to hold onto the spontaneity of everyday life, but fearful of change, because he does not see the liberating element, which Joy describes.
Here, the film argues that the only way of reaching partial salvation is by both embracing reason, and equally, dictatorial force. Joy cannot only use descriptions to sway Jack. She needs to demand his total submissiveness. Occupying a morally grey area, Room is not exactly a liberal film, instead, leaning much further to the left, especially since it refuses to accept that once the pair escape that life from thereon in will be utopian. There are an equal plethora of injustices and traps on the outside, which hinder the ideal existence.
Divided into three acts, and cynical on either end, the sole moment of partial euphoria appears in the mid-section, when we follow Jack as he flees the shed. This is when the deep space voyage idea appears front and centre. Visually, it is overwhelming, and beautiful, comparable to Kubrick’s final scene in 2001, albeit set in a dull American suburbia, but the anxiety of the first half still lurks in the background, as we prepare to witness how Jack will adapt to the irreversible change.
At this point, he becomes the critical eye of our own society, uprooting the deep emotional disconnect of humanity. People do not try to understand him, and he cannot try to understand them fully either. His new life is riddled with alienation, and cynically, there is little to indicate that such an issue can be satisfyingly resolved. Even if there are glimmers of hope visible at the climax, there are far greater a number loose ends, which Abrahamson intentionally leaves hanging to frustrate audiences. This ambiguity is his means of encouraging viewers to act, and tighten our weak embrace of tangible experience, in favour of comforting artificiality.