Room

It is an absolute knockout of a film, “Room,” about a five-year-old boy and his mother who live in a shed, locked-in, with a skylight but no windows. He was born there and knows nothing else. There is, for him, Room; outside Room is space and heaven. There is also TV. Things in Room are real; things on TV are just TV. To watch the boy, to see how literate and numerate he is, fills the viewer with awe for this mother, who has managed to teach him songs and stories, to exercise with him, to make a world for him that is interesting and stimulating, all within the confines of a space about eleven feet square. Half the film leads up to their escape; the other half deals with their entry into the normal world. He, and she, are fragile yet awesome.           

Someone told me about the book that the film came from. Through a serendipitous encounter, I was loaned the book, which I took with me recently and read on a long plane ride. The book, too, is powerful. The storyline is much the same as in the film, and in this case, in my judgment, the film version maintains the strength of the book, although it is necessarily simpler.

But one thing left out of the film is the Christian story. In the book, the mother has taught the boy (from her own memory), among many other stories, stories that include Saint Peter and Saint Paul, John the Baptist and Jesus. The boy thanks Jesus when he eats. When he learns, late in the book, that he has a cousin, he thinks of John the Baptist. When he learns about someone who has the name Paul, he tells us (the book is in his voice) that this Paul is not Saint Paul. And so forth.

Was the Christianity excised as part of the necessary simplification that goes into making a film? Or was it . . . something else?

Room would be a great book for a church discussion. You could ask whether the little pieces of the Christian story that this remarkable boy knows are in any way essential to the story itself. I myself wonder whether it is significant that their escape from Room occurs round about Easter.

And we could ask—in fact, I think we Christians need to ask—why it is hard to depict Christianity in art that has integrity and power in our culture. It isn’t only “Room”: when the film version was made of P. D. James’s distopian novel, Children of Men, the priest was excised from the plot. Perhaps he was a minor character—but was he dispensable?

The bigger question—the challenge for all people of faith who are involved with the arts and media, and indeed for every parent—is how to make Christianity a compelling part of reality.

At the end of the book, they revisit Room. It is empty now, only (the boy says) a crater where something happened. A theologian has used that word, “crater,” to speak of the mark left upon the world by the Incarnation and Crucifixion. The crater was left by one who has gone ahead of us. He has gone ahead, he said, to prepare a place for us. To prepare a Room.

Click here and read the Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin's article in the Wall Street Journal. 

The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."