Some Ramblings - Room (2015) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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No, please, this is much more than a mere story.

A few years ago, from a basement level window in a blue collar neighborhood on an idyllic Spring day in Cleveland, came sudden cries for help and loud banging against the glass window which caught the attention of the passers by. What unravelled in the next few hours was far beyond anyone's imagination and comprehension. Three ladies, all in their late twenties, along with a kid, were rescued from captivity by the police, followed by a swift arrest of the house owner. The three unfortunate souls have been kidnapped, a couple while still in their teens, and had been held hostage in the house for more than a decade, during which time the captor forced himself on the women resulting in several pregnancies only one of which lived to see the light of the day (strictly figuratively, as it was later found out, the kid never saw sunlight during all his days in the house), and the others terminated forcibly by the captor through several depraved acts of violent abuse. The horror doesn't just end there. Unkempt, malnourished and psychologically irreparable, the mental state of the inmates ranged from catatonic to stoic. How the kid survived all this and made it till the end of the ordeal is not just inexplicable, it is stuff miracles are made of. The latest reports suggest that all the ladies are back with their loving families trying to build back their shattered lives, one brick at a time, one day at a time. There is almost an O.Henry like twist to the story that the kidnapper committed suicide in his cell block a mere month into his 1,000 years of imprisonment, apparently fearful of the dreaded future that awaited him in the state penitentiary, where the abuse to perpetrators of crimes involving children and women at the hands of fellow violent inmates was just unimaginable. And just a couple of years before this incident was a similar one involving an Austrian father who held his daughter in a basement while she was still a teen and subjected her to intolerable cruelty, the least of which is begetting her about 8 children. By the time she broke free, she was in her 40s, and that was about a couple of decades of being locked up in a small room surrounded by growing children. Yes, there is a lot more to the story after the freedom that involves an arduous reconstruction.

'Room' is a searing piece of a fictional account certainly inspired by true events as above, about a mother and her 5 year old kid, who was born in captivity in a 10' X 10' room, with little to no exposure to outside world other than a skylight window above showing them the daily change of guard in the sky, and the occasional visit from the captor to 1) replenish the meager supplies in the room and 2) satisfy his animalistic rage and urge. Interesting, instead of focussing on the monster and his motivations (how does it even matter?), the movie chooses to turn its eye almost entirely on the mother and the kid, their life, their interactions, the kid who is slowly growing more curious about things. The writing and the direction truly sparkles for keeping the proceedings matter of factly without getting melancholic or overtly melodramatic. This is another survival tale of different pedigree. It is not just about the bravery and the courage that such harrowing tales usually highlight, but it is also the presence of mind, constantly looking for even the remotest of chances for escape, and the undying spirit of the mother trying to cobble together a sense of normality, particularly when there is a kid involved, with the only pieces available - a 10 X 10 room, a mom, an occasional visitor, and a near broken TV that has bad reception. It is reminiscent of the Nazi occupation sequence of the little town in Italy where all able bodied (young and old) are marched into a concentration camp, where a father tries to shield his little son from the horrors of wars and forced encampment by convincing his little kid that it was all an elaborate game, from the brilliant movie 'Life is Beautiful'. That these kids (in the movie, and in the real life events) somehow turn out ok instead of turning into monsters or madcaps themselves later in life, is a tribute to the resoluteness of those mothers who refuse to let their personal horrors and the crushing weight of their claustrophobic lives, rob their kids of their innocence, normalcy, and more importantly, their humanity.

And that is just one half of the story. Post their freedom, the reentry into their old and interrupted lives and readjustment to the once familiar environment forms the other half of the uphill task. If it is psychological toll for the mother, and a rebirth to the kid once again, it is nothing short of emotional turmoil the parents of the mother go through, who had earlier resigned to the fact that their little daughter can no longer be counted among the living and now suddenly have to reconcile with the reality that they have a new grand child, who serves as a constant reminder of the abuse and brutality visited upon their daughter. The movie has just a handful of characters, just a couple of locations - the room first, and a house next, and mainly functional dialogue, but the combined effect of it all is simply haunting. Most survival stories end with the rescuing of the abandoned, but for survivors of such physical and psychological upheavals, another much harder life awaits them at the finish line, and victory from that point on involves getting through the day in one piece to witness the sun clocking in the next day in those blue skies that for a quite long time remained obstinately grey.




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