Room is sitting at a tidy 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, so it’s not like anyone needs me to come to the movie’s defense, but I have heard and read a lot of criticism of the film’s second act. I won’t call it a consensus, but at least a minor upwelling of discontent from people who think the movie should have ended with her escape*
However, the film’s second act is exactly what I thought was so brilliant about it. Most movies WOULD have stopped halfway, right after the escape. The audience gets to feel good now that our heroes have made it out of the clutches of evil Old Nick. The End.
But the movie didn’t end. Their escape was really the beginning. The second half isn’t there to help us understand what happens after their captivity. The first part is there because if it weren’t, we could never really understand the second half and how much trauma Joy (Brie Larson) went through, and how important their fantasy world was to their survival.
Room is a movie about what happens after the trauma, and it’s small in scale, just like the room itself was, but I at least thought there was enough of that second half to feel that a) who knows if Joy is ever going to recover, and b) maybe Jack will be able to have a normal life, but maybe not. Who knows?
How long are the scars going to last? Who knows? The story isn’t wrapped up nicely. There’s hope, but there isn’t a lot of resolution. The father doesn’t come back. Joy isn’t able to reintegrate with her family, with society. Will she ever? Who knows? So we get the euphoria of escape, and a sense of justice because old Nick gets arrested, but we understand that for Joy there will never be closure.
I have thought a lot about what the movie would have been like without the first half, and I think it would have worked, but I prefer the dual structure. Without the first half, the audience would mirror the emotions of the supporting characters, never being able to fully understand the trauma that Joy and Jack had undergone. I think that would have been an interesting take, and would reflect the real world situation. No one understands the trauma suffered by survivors.
But without the first half, the movie couldn’t have been called Room. We’d have no way of identifying with the mother-and-son bond that had been created in such horrific circumstances, and we wouldn’t be able to empathize with the fact that even though they have escaped, they are still trapped, albeit this time in a bigger house.
Room certainly won’t be for everyone, but I personally like it just the way it is.