Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Room, A Powerful Fairy Tale Involving Modern Monsters


Classic fairy tales often feature damsels in distress, imprisoned in inaccessible towers or trapped by sorcery. Some stroke of divine intervention or sacrifice frees them. Room, starring Brie Larson, is a classic fairy tale.

Ma is the name by which we meet the protagonist. She's a young girl with an old woman's name. She carries the heavy weight of sorrow upon her. Taken by a sociopath while just a girl--a teenager with her life unmapped, full of promise and tomorrows, Ma lives in an inaccessible place, trapped by a predator's sorcery.

Ma calls her kidnapper and rapist Old Nick, a name that signifies lord, and Old Nick is her lord. He giveth her food and taketh it away when she displeases. He leaves Ma and her child in darkness when he wishes to punish them. He provides shelter barely adequate for anyone's needs. She lives locked inside a garden shed in his backyard with a single skylight admitting the sun by day and stars at night. 

Old Nick is the father of Ma’s son, Jack, and for him, Ma invents fairy tales of her own. She makes an entire universe of a single room. She creates a toy snake from egg shells and gives inanimate objects identities of their own. She tries to create as much childhood and normalcy as humanly possible--all through the extraordinary love she feels for her child. Ma's love is truly unconditional.

Still, like Rapunzel, Ma longs for rescue, a knight who can save her from her isolation and give her son the life he deserves. Alas, there are no knights or even a prince in her future. She will have to rescue herself, but doing so not only requires daring, it also requires sacrifice. She must risk her son's life to set him free, and she must live with the consequences if she fails.

Stained Glass Art by Mary Cox
Photo provided by Al Griffin
Hoping her little boy can follow directions and believing in the kindness of strangers, Ma puts her plan into action. It nearly fails because Jack is so young and inexperienced. He's required to summon courage that's never been tested, duplicity that's never been necessary, and quick wit that's never been rehearsed.

When the plan succeeds, thanks to that random, kind stranger, a Fairy Godmother enters Jack's life. She wears the costume of a policewoman, eminently qualified, maternal, and patient. She pieces together the puzzle of Jack’s escape and the path back to Ma’s prison. That alone is a fairy tale ending, but this is a modern tale. It cannot end with Ma's release.

This tale springs forth in a time of raised consciousnesses and talk shows, from a time when we understand that trauma and stress twist and torture the psyche. We know that such terrible assaults upon the spirit may break some. Others may run and never look back, and a few, with help and love, may rise to reach for their promise once more.

Ma must be the architect of a universe much larger than a garden shed, an unjust burden because she's thrust into it; she cannot evolve toward it. She almost fails, too, but time and therapy bring her home to Jack who is healing, too, thanks to Ma's own mother and an amazing neighborhood friend.

When Ma returns home, she embraces Jack because she's missed him and he is precious. More important, she embraces the life thrust upon her: womanhood and motherhood. Together, Ma and Jack really do live happily ever after.

Reading Challenge:

Read Room as a fairy tale.

Writing Challenge:

Transform a classic fairy tale with modern-day.