“It’s a small world.” It’s a cliché made real in Room, in which Joy and Jack live in the smallest space imaginable for two people. Fit with just one bed, one wardrobe, a kitchen, a toilet and a bath, Room is their home and their world. Skylight gives them light. TV is full of imaginary people. There is only Joy, Jack, and Old Nick; there is only terror and innocence. (And, of course, spoilers.)
Room presents us with two ways of living in the world. One way is filled with terror, the other with innocence; terror is a post-innocence way of seeing things, when innocence has been stolen. For Joy, Room is a thing to survive. Food is supplied by Old Nick, when it suits him and what he can afford. Burning food means eating burnt food – nothing can be wasted. There is little space – though clever camera work makes Room look bigger – and twice as many people in Room than there was to begin with. Introducing Jack.
He’s five. Joy has been locked up in Room for seven years. The maths is simple, and the conclusion obvious and horrible: he was born in Room, and Old Nick is the only person to ever “visit”. But for Jack, Room is his whole world. Everything he knows is within the four walls and ceiling. His Ma’s terror fills his head with lies and ignorance. He can only see the best in his situation. While Old Nick rapes Joy, he supplies Jack with birthday presents.
When we leave Room – when Joy and Jack escape – we can conceivably expect things to change. Joy remains afraid. She struggles with her sanity and her mental health. She needs her family, and she needs Jack to adapt; despite this, she pushes people away – a consequence of her difficulty to adapt to life outside of Room, of seeing how people she knew as a teenager changed as they grew up and went on with their lives, children, careers, marriages.
Jack on the other hand, faces fear for the first time. Jack has to find a way to understand the size of the world – up until his fifth birthday, Room was the entire size of his universe. As well as adjusting to bigger rooms, natural light, and the threat of infection from germs he’d never faced before (not that he worries about the germs), Jack needs to adjust to his grandparents (the only other people he knows aside from his Ma) and to the concept of there being more people in the world than he’s ever met.
Room gives us a fresh look at the world from the perspectives of these two characters, and all the ways in which experiencing the world for the first time can lead to happiness and fulfilment against the odds.