Cast: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers, William H. Macy
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Writer: Emma Donaghue
What Emma Donaghue and Lenny Abrahamson have done with Room is such an incredible achievement that it almost defies description. To take such a dark, disturbing concept and turn it into something beautiful and inspiring is nearly impossible. Yet Room tackles its subject matter with such humanity and heart that I found myself greatly moved and deeply touched. This film depicts the tale of a woman who has suffered an unimaginable trauma by being held and used against her will and cut off from the entire world for almost a decade. Yet, while the film never ignores or undermines her profound suffering, it isn’t the focus of the film. Instead the focus is on the one good, wholesome thing to come out of this ordeal, her son. By depicting this story from the boy’s perspective, a person with a pure and innocent outlook on life, Room is able to transform what should be a tale of suffering and depravity into a tale of hope and love. I haven’t seen a film that has depicted such a serious matter from a child’s perspective with such insight and empathy since To Kill a Mockingbird.
Jack (Jacob Tremblay) is five-years-old and has spent his entire life living inside Room. There is no ‘the’ because Room is the only room he has ever known. He has no conception of existence beyond these four walls. With him is Ma (Brie Larson) who, for seven years now, has been the prisoner of Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), the man who kidnapped her when she was seventeen. Together in the ten-by-ten-foot windowless Room Jack’s life is one of games, TV and hearing stories from Ma about a world that cannot possibly be real. Every now and then Jack has to sleep in Wardrobe because Old Nick has come for one of his visits but otherwise it’s just them and Room. As Ma gets closer to her breaking point however and Jack’s curiosity grows, she hatches a plan for them to escape Room and return to the outside world.
If another director had made this film they might have decided to stress Room’s small size to emphasise Ma’s claustrophobia, confinement and despair. Abrahamson however takes the opposite approach and allows Room to appear bigger than it really is. After all this film is being told from Jack’s perspective and to him Room is the entire world. It is the biggest thing he can possibly imagine and what we see as a wall he sees as the edge of the universe. To have this one character define the environment rather than have the environment define this other character is an ingenious move on Abrahamson’s part. Donaghue’s writing is also a crucial part of what makes this film work so well. Her dialogue is so simple and natural that she is able to tap directly into the core of these character’s feelings and express them in such an affecting way. Jack’s narration in particular, when he outlines everything he knows and can do, provides such a poignant insight into this character’s outlook and innocence that you’re never sure whether you should be laughing or crying.
Whoever discovered Tremblay deserves a medal because as Jack he gives a better performance than some of this year’s Oscar contenders. Some of the credit should go to Abrahamson for knowing how to direct this boy but Tremblay himself is the one in front of the camera and his performance is what drives this film. What is so striking about Jack is not that he is unsuspectingly living this unusual, twisted lifestyle but that he is in fact a completely normal kid. He jumps, shouts, laughs, cries, loses his temper and shares a strong and loving relationship with his mother. Larson as Ma is just as much of a star as Tremblay is. Her balance between joy and despair as she lives this disparaging, oppressive life with her bright and lovable son is moving in its authenticity and subtlety. One particular speech she gives when she desperately tries to convince her son that there is such a thing as an outside world and that it is where they really belong had me on the verge of tears.
The parts of the film that I’ve discussed just about cover the first act and that’s where I want to leave it. Room is, amongst many things, a story of discovery which is why I think the story that follows is one that the viewer should discover for themselves. I think that the trailer gives too much of the plot away because the uncertainty of what comes next is such an integral part of what makes Room such an astonishing film. The challenges that these two characters face and the growth that they experience is so heartrending and extraordinary that I dare not give it away. Films like Room that are so effective in their rawness and simplicity and which convey such a deeply moving portrait of humanity do not come often and should be treasured when they do.