Dear Dr. John Brier,
I should really schedule an appointment to see you, but that might be tough. Between publishing books on complex trauma, holding workshops across North America, and coaching soon-to-be A-list actresses like Brie Larson, you’ve got a full dance card. Still, I need to talk to someone. Room is a hard film to shake. Which is strange - most of your work is about helping people out of incredibly dark places. But in this case, you did the opposite. You threw us into it.
It’s a testament to director Lenny Abrahamson’s approach that he brought you on set. After his previous film Frank, a lighter look at a self-imposed form of entrapment, Abrahamson obviously wanted to help his team understand what it would truly be like to be locked in a room for seven years. Thankfully, not many people can relate. Having the book’s original author Emma Donoghue adapt her original story into a screenplay was another way to preserve the material’s emotional authenticity. But the success of Room comes down to tone and mood – which, I’m sure you appreciate, can make a world of difference when dealing with difficult subject matter.
I went into Room with some weighty expectations. My populist taste puts a lot of credence in the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival – not to mention the fact I have a well-documented affinity for Canadian film. So imagine my glee at finally seeing a film that checks both those boxes. Not loving it would have been its own personal trauma – or at least an existential crisis. And while it admittedly took me some time to calm the cheerleading voice in my brain and judge the film on its own merit, I was unquestionably swept up with emotion at the exact moment I was probably supposed to – the truck. In a scene loaded with re-traumatizing images, but also life affirming hope, it was to my surprise delight, only partway through the journey.
See, in the same way someone in recovery tries to avoid triggering flashbacks, my routine is to literally avert my eyes and cover my ears during previews for films I plan to see. I don’t want to be watching a film with images of the trailer running through my mind, anticipating upcoming plot twists or character developments. Like Larson’s character, I want to create a new reality free of expectations to re-discover child-like wonder. Now that I have a kid getting old enough to watch films, again, like Larson’s character, that’s getting easier. Not that I would bring him to see Room – that will ignite conversations I hope are still years away. But for the adult, parental me, it was certainly more uplifting and entertaining than a stale lecture on the subject of traumatization (no offense). And connecting to this material was much more of a joy than I expected.