Room, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, explores the bond between a mother, Joy, and her young son, Jack, (Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, respectively) during and beyond a terrible trauma based on the novel by Emma Donoghue (who also wrote the screenplay). That pretty much sums it up. Here’s the trailer:
Just kidding its actually this one:
First of all I loved this film, it’s been receiving a lot of attention lately, courtesy of the Oscars, and I believe it deserves every little bit of it. The majority of the praise lands squarely on the two leads, Larson and Tremblay, who give exceptionally honest and natural performances. They are however backed by a stellar supporting cast of Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers and William H Macy.
The film is told from Jack’s point of view meaning that the film becomes one of the most in depth, heart felt, honest and often unsettling studies of the bond between a mother and child. He, by nearly all accounts, is a well adjusted child. Inquisitive, playful, delicate. His entire world is Room and he is content, this is solely down to the universe created by Joy. Everything is either TV or real. Her dedication and resourcefulness to engage and complete Jack’s world is seemingly endless. Joy kept the fact of their imprisonment a secret (until during the film) and as such allowed Jack to grow and be happy in spite of their isolation. This burden weighs heavy and unstable on Joy’s being. The first half of the movie rests entirely on this bond between the too and is a categoric success. Some of the hardest to watch moments are found through this bond particularly scenes with Jack in the cupboard and the arguments between Jack and Joy.
You should note that ”Room” is not ”The Room” or ”A Room”. Jack calls their home ”Room”, as if the name of character, and does the same with everything. In fact, the 11 by 11 square used for ”Room” is arguably the most important character in the movie. Ominous, imposing and claustrophobic with just a touch of nature courtesy of ”Skylight”. Yet despite this, Jack’s never flinching imagination and enthusiasm turn Room into an entire universe filled with soaring possibility. This is also a directorial master-class; not only was Abrahamson able to produce such a beautiful film but he did the first act sealed in ”Room” with only himself, the actors and a camera man. He then had to manage, organize and relay all the external information for sound, continuity, wardrobe within such a small space. THEN on top of that had to direct (with help from Larson) a child actor within that space. Jacob’s performance is not only a testament to his effortless acting but also to Abrahamson’s ability as a director.
If you’ve seen the trailer you can see that somehow Joy and Jack escape Room’s confines. Yet the scene in which Jack conducts the escape from Room, to the back of a truck, to a bewildered stranger is one of the tensest moments on film in the last year (if not decade). The cinematography, Jack’s expressions of excitement, fear and confusion, the score all fit together perfectly! Especially coupled with the visceral pain and horror Joy experiences upon being separated from her child for the first time, especially under such intense and dire circumstances.
Once in the outside world, the film becomes a study on change, handling and accepting it. Jack’s senses are completely overwhelmed every sight, sound and feeling is new and uncertain. Like anyone in those circumstances he wants the warm security of home, Jack wants ”Room”. But gradually, he comes to terms with the world and learns to engage with those around him plus there is this ridiculously cute scene with Jack meeting a dog for the first time. As he’d always dreamt of his imaginary dog in ”Room”.
His unbridled enthusiasm and happiness, that invigorated and uplifted the first act of the film re-emerges, evolves and is thoroughly engaging.
Joy’s journey, though, is much more difficult and begins to delve into the public’s morbid fascination with gruesome crimes. Jealously of the the lives her old friends have made. Anger at the time stolen from her. Being a parent herself but living in her parents house. Struggling to maintain her bond with Jack following all these new exposures. This all comes to a head when Joy does a TV interview and feature to bring in some money. Throughout the film she is bare-faced and relaxed but during this interview, fully made up with a brand new dress she looks terrible. Uncomfortable, scared and unable to understand why people will not leave her and Jack alone.
And unsurprisingly, the reporter ask’s her why she never told him to let Jack go, why she didn’t set him free. Joy is mortified by the question but begins to question whether keeping Jack safe by her side was the right thing. This leads to the most unsettling and difficult scene of the movie as Joy takes drastic action. Now this line of questioning is not surprising, both the media and audience are complicit in an obsession with tragedy and terror. Just look at the way news outlets, nearly, always report the worst (but most financially lucrative) take on a breaking story before there are hard facts. What the reporter failed to understand here is that by keeping Jack safe by her side, she knew he was safe and being nurtured and cared for properly. Not guaranteed by the alternatives: where either Old Nick disposes of him or Jack enters the foster system. But more importantly, she needed Jack. He kept her hope and dreams alive of one day escaping Room and without him Joy would surely not have endured.
However, it was refreshing for the film (and the novel) to minimize the role of Old Nick. So many shows and films try to humanize these killers and psychopaths to show everyone their own demons. But it was so, so good to focus on the victims and their love for one another rather than give an, albeit fictional, villain the limelight.
Now, my biggest critique (although a small one) is that while the film is mainly Larson and Trembaly’s to carry and that everyone else does a stellar job, the film criminally under uses William H. Macy; both a talented actor and a character with great potential. Robert Newsome (Macy) although overwhelmed with the return of his daughter cannot look at his grandson Jack, let alone accept him. He couldn’t accept the offspring of a man who took away his daughter and so leaves, and Macy disappears from screen for good. This could have been an exceptional story to explore and give Tremblay even more chance to shine. While this is probably explained by the choice of Jack as the POV character (as with the novel) it doesn’t change that this could have been a missed opportunity.
This film is a wonderful film with great visuals, directing and acting. The story is intriguing and real. There is something for everybody and that something will be different. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. I really do hope that Brie will win the Oscar as he performance is incredible.
VERDICT: ”When I was small, I only knew small things. But now I’m five, I know everything!”