Based on Emma Donoghue’s Booker Prize-nominated novel, Room is an exquisite film that manages to delicately balance its heavy subject matter with fantastic restraint and optimism. It is at times one of the most difficult films to endure, and ultimately one of the most triumphant and rewarding films in contention for the upcoming awards season.
Room tells the extraordinary story of Jack, a spirited 5-year-old who is looked after by his loving and devoted mother. Like any good mother, Ma dedicates herself to keeping Jack happy and safe, nurturing him with warmth and love and doing typical things like playing games and telling stories. Their life, however, is anything but typical–they are trapped–confined to a windowless, 10-by-10-foot space that Ma has euphemistically named “Room”. Ma has created a whole universe for Jack within “Room”, and she will stop at nothing to ensure that, even in this treacherous environment, Jack is able to live a complete and fulfilling life. But as Jack’s curiosity about their situation grows, and Ma’s resilience reaches its breaking point, they enact a risky plan to escape, ultimately bringing them face-to-face with what may turn out to be the scariest thing yet: the real world. (A24)
To Jack, the universe consists of Ma, “Room” and Old Nick, a mysterious man who comes by every week to drop off supplies and sometimes hurt Ma. Ma keeps all these hard realities of life from her son. As their situation changes, Ma finally reveals the world to Jack in a desperate bid to escape. Room is not only the story of enduring captivity, it beautifully reveals the life after escape – as Ma and Jack struggle to understand and fit into the brave new world outside of “Room”.
Lenny Abrahamson has directed a film that is so agonizingly heartbreaking and gloriously hopeful. “Room” as it exists for Jack, is the entire world, where inanimate objects such as table, rug, and wardrobe are not only functional items, but his friends. “Room”, as filmed from Jack’s perspective seems like a vast space in which he has adventures. To Ma, “Room” is her prison, a cell in which she’s been kept for seven years since she was kidnapped at 19 by a man who has raped her countless times and fathered Jack. From Ma’s perspective, Abrahamson conveys a feeling of gasping claustrophobia – a clawing need to escape – “Room” seems almost too small to contain Jack’s enthusiasm and Ma’s desperation. Cinematographer Danny Cohen aptly uses light and color, painting “Room” in a dull and dreary grey ambiance, Jack’s introduction to the world in heightened light and sound, and Jack’s boundless joy and curiosity in more vibrant hues. Abrahamson (working from an adapted screenplay from Donoghue) carefully navigates the tone of the film, which at its heart, is a poetic survival story.
Room also allows the audience a rare glimpse of the “aftermath” of such an emotional journey. While Jack readily embraces his expanded universe in the outside world, Ma (who is revealed to be known as Joy Newsome) struggles with “freedom” in the form of PTSD – Ma is not the same Ma for Jack – life went on as Joy’s life was invariably put on hold. It’s a heartbreaking thing to watch.
Brie Larson is an absolute revelation as Ma – she gives a raw and honest performance that is sometimes so wretchedly real that it’s almost unbearable to watch. She deftly carries the burden “victim”, while maintaining a protective maternal focus on Jack. I was completely blown away by this performance – forget all of the other potential nominees – Larson’s performance is the standout.
Jacob Tremblay is a wide-eyed wonder, playing the role of Jack with startling innocence without a hint of precociousness. He’s an absolute revelation – just as Ma wouldn’t have survived without Jack, the audience wouldn’t survive the film without Jacob Tremblay’s pure and lovely performance.
The small, but fantastic supporting cast, including a sublime Joan Allen (please, Academy, consider her for this) as Joy’s mother, William H. Macy as Joy’s father and Tom McCamus as Ed (Joy’s stepfather). The small cast and confined spaces make this film feel so intimate and real.
Room is a powerful film, which left most of the audience (myself included) as a weepy mess. It won the People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, with much of the audience leaving to embrace each other or call their mothers.
Room is profound and deeply moving – a film that asks much of its audience, but offers so much more in return.