By J. Adrián Tolentino García (Mexico City)
Room: The Alterity of the World
“We comprehend what we do not comprehend
in terms of what we do comprehend.”
Luis Vergara Anderson
Each person carries out a determined way of living. This seems like a corollary. However, we should ask ourselves: what does ‘determined’ actually mean? Naively, there are those who will think that it’s the person who determines his or her way of living. They will assume that he or she freely choses the people with whom he or she relates, the occupation that he or she exercises, the hobbies he or she practices and the words he or she pronounces in each daily conversation. Even though our decisions seem voluntary to us, in reality the mechanism in which our will works is way more complex. We don’t really determine our lives, but on the contrary: our lives determine us.
We live immersed upon an environment that throws an infinite quantity of stimuli. Each of our senses deals with them and, altogether, they form the perception we have of the world. Our sight thus deals with infinite forms, lights and shadows. It sends these elements in the form of images to our brains and this one, when processing the information, recognises them as trees, clouds, houses and more. The same happens with our taste, our smell, our ear and our touch. We thus gradually build our mental representation of reality. But, how come our brain recognises this or that thing as a tree or a cloud? Through what is being told to us. On the one hand, our parents begin teaching us what a dog is or what a milk carton is. Then, at school, these teachings deepen to the point where we learn about the evolution of species and the process of pasteurisation. Block by block thus our world becomes edified. Our lives determines us.
On childhood we continually became surprised. Since the things with which we came across were unknown. There were no concepts inside our brains yet. Therefore there was no sort of recognition until we asked our parents: what’s this?
There lies the alterity. Each time we deal with something upon reality that we don’t understand, we encounter the ‘other’. Kids are all the time dealing with alterity and trying to apprehend it, thus trying to make it theirs, trying to make the ‘other’ the ‘same’.
The terrific film of Lenny Abrahamson, based on Emma Donoghe’s novel, shows with solid precision all the ‘other’ there is in the world. We are used to children’s curiosity. Today, there’s nothing new to us on the way children learn. Abrahamson brings back the wonderfulness there is in the encounter with alterity through the case of a boy that was born inside a shed.
Since his birth until his fifth year, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) knew that reduced space as his world. The whole existent universe was confined to four brownish walls, a bath, a sink, one bed, the kitchen’s adminicles, a wardrobe —where he slept— and some poor-reception TV programmes. The idea he had of reality was microscopic, to our understanding, but significantly large for his perception. Every single interior detail from the shed was perfectly known by him. Watching Jack interacting to his world results touching. A routine, inexhaustible small talks with Ma (Brie Larson), stretching exercises and races from wall to wall. Ma is the one who introduces, conceptually, the world to Jack. And all what she teaches brings out meaning to the tiny, and yet monumental, world of Jack. Except that Ma’s world isn’t anything like Jack’s world.
Outside the shed there lies a radical alterity. One that is unbearable and unthinkable to Jack. How much this reminds us of the moment when Europeans came across with the territory that today is America. Think of how Eurasia and Africa were, to their minds, the totality of the world and, all of a sudden, they discovered something that was always there but had never suspected of. Spine-chilling! The same happened when man stepped first on the moon.
Room has so much to teach to its viewers. To us, Jack’s life is different. We are fascinated by the strangeness in which he lives, since it contains comprehensions we will never be able to know. What will having such a reduced universe be like? What will it feel like to inhabit a universe with such a few people? How much would it take to become fed up? This film is thus positioned among the leading movies that re-actualise the notion of the ‘Other’. We not only watch how Jack deals with a reality absolutely unusual, but we ourselves, the audience, caress the alterity of Jack’s life. We get surprised to see such a strange way of living without even thinking in the infinite alterity of our world.
For people who are desiring to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary, it is safe to say that Room is the right movie. To re-think that which surrounds us might be the new way to relate to our reality. Certainly, the world urgently requires to renew this relation to really appreciate all that which ‘we are used to’.