The recently released film, Room, adapted from the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue, is powerful and thought provoking at a number of levels. It tugs on the imagination, not only of the senses, but on the creativity of a mother (Brie Larsen) trapped in a small space with no real contact with the outside world in bringing up her child, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) from birth to the age of five. The film also raised for me how other Rooms are created and what happens to the people confined in them.
When their electricity is cut off, Ma hatches a plan to escape. She relies on Jack to attract the attention of someone to help them once he is taken from Room. Up until now Jack has been led to believe that beyond Room there is just space.
Seeing our world, the pace, the lights, the noise, the movement, through Jack’s eyes as he lies in the back of a truck is truly tense. What sense can he make of it? He is overwhelmed. Is he up to the task of rescuing his mother?
This story confronts us with the idea of being trapped in a confined space and not having access to the wider world and the experiences that it opens us up to. It would be easy to think of this as being one of the few isolated cases of a particular sociopathy. But it is more prevalent than we like to think and Rooms are being created by us and our governments.
We are often like the walking dead. We hardly notice the real world, that amazing multi-dimensional space around us or what decisions are being made in our name. We could be locked up in a garden shed that is totally insulated from the outside world bar a small skylight and the television or computer screen. But we aren’t locked up, are we?
There are people, however, who though not locked up in a garden shed, are locked in refugee and detention centres that are overcrowded and devoid of trees, grass, flowers and humming insects other than flies and mosquitoes. Imagine the ingenuity of parents trying to give their children, as Ma tried with Jack, a sense of the wondrousness of the real world where we can exercise and be stimulated by all of our senses in the most positive way possible. Spare a thought for them.
Australia’s High Court has recently ruled on the constitutional right of the government to create “Rooms” for people seeking asylum. These Rooms are based on Nauru (the size of Melbourne Airport and a former major world supplier of phosphate), Manus Island off PNG, and Christmas Island. Having ruled that the Australian government can detain people in these places, the Minister in charge will return children and their parents (usually traumatised mothers) who have been living in Australian communities or have been hospitalised to the detention camps where they will live lives not dissimilar to Jack’s only more uncomfortable and dangerous. These children will not have access to those facilities we regard as intrinsic to a child’s mental and physical well-being. They may not be as physically compromised as Jack because they have a larger space to move about in, but they will be experientially compromised by limited play areas, limited educational possibilities, parents that have no power over their lives and can be subject to “discipline” by the people that staff the facilities and who have no right to complain or hope that if they do that they will be heard; people who, despite the best will of medical personal, are denied the health care that many of us take for granted; people who cannot expect their safety to be protected or to protect their children from witnessing or being subjected to violence of all sorts. Worst of all, they have no power over their future or hope of any other future. One is doubtful whether thought has been given to what they might expect as they grow older and frailer. What will happen to the children growing up in this environment?
There is no doubt that in this situation, like Ma, parents try to do their best for their children, teaching them, protecting them as best they can, raising them according to their religious faith and teachings, but when parents have no authority, this can be very difficult.
We can sleep walk our way through life and see these problems as someone else’s or we can do something if only it is to prick our empathy for those people trapped world-wide in Rooms with limited hope of escape. But hopefully, we can use our empathy and call on our governments to reflect on the morality of their decisions.