**Spoiler alert: if you have not read the book ‘Room’, or watched the movie, you may want to wait to read this blog until after you do so.
The book, ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue, was recommended to me months ago, and I hadn’t yet read it when the movie hit theatres this past week. After seeing rave review after rave review online, I figured I’d break the cardinal rule and see the movie before finishing the book. I am so glad I watched it!
The topic was heavy: a 17-year-old girl is kidnapped, abused and held hostage in a garden shed (“room”) for seven years, during which time she gives birth to a son, and they manage to escape when he is five-years-old. The story is told mostly from the perspective of the little boy, but the movie portrays the storyline from a variety of angles, and does so brilliantly.
While it evoked a lot of emotions in me while watching the film, mostly that of sadness, it also caused me to reflect and think a lot. What I kept processing throughout my mind while watching it, was how it was a perfect portrayal of not only the effect of trauma, but the widespread effect of the lingering PTSD from a traumatic event or experience. The traumatic instances during the “room” scenes weren’t what affected me the most, it was everything that happened once the mother and son were back in the real world. That’s when PTSD took over, and showed us all how it can be.
The writing of the characters and their response to the trauma was perfection, and I loved how each character in the story dealt with the PTSD differently. While the son had obvious challenges, having never seen the outside of the “room” until they escaped, the mother had obvious trouble with her PTSD after escaping. Depression, anxiety, dissociation, attempted suicide—she was experiencing the depths of her PTSD.
There was a particular scene with her father, which he is completely shut off and can’t even look at his grandson in the face, and that really resonated with me. While some people wear their emotions on their sleeves, others completely shut down and avoid it.
But what really got me, was how the little boy, after being in the real world for a few weeks, yearned to be back in “room”. Even though he lived in such a traumatic place for the first five years of his life, it’s the only life and environment he knew. I had to look into this further, so I did some research online and found (among many research papers) a study on abuse and attachment in children.
This particular study looked at what affects young brains to foster attachment instead of fear in traumatic environments. While this study was done on rats, they found the information to be parallel to humans (which years of research has already proven).
In the amygdala of rats attracted to the aversive odours, there were lower than normal levels of the neuro-transmitter dopamine. This lack of dopamine activity may have turned off their brain’s fear response, enabling attraction to take place instead. A similar mechanism may occur in abused children, Sullivan says, although how much the amygdala is involved with early human attachment is unclear. Barr suggests this behaviour probably evolved as a survival tactic. “The animal has to be able to survive, which means it has to be attached to its caregiver no matter what the quality of care,” he says.
What I was left reflecting on after seeing ‘Room’, was that even after someone is taken out of their traumatic environment, the trauma still lingers in some way. We also get a glimpse of the recovery from trauma in the movie, and while there is certainly a hopeful ending, we get a realistic look at the process and how it differs from person to person. Healing from trauma takes time, and this movie portrayed that as well.
Trauma effects everyone. And the differing reactions to trauma in the film, is certainly the reason there wasn’t a dry eye in the theatre, we’ve all experienced trauma in some way. But healing is possible.
— Written by Amber Craig
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