It’s been a long time since a film affected me to quite this extent. ROOM got to me on a primal level, it cut into my soul and left me a blubbering wreck coming out of the cinema. It isn’t so much the dark subject matter – kidnapping, children born into captivity, the difficulty of readjusting to a “normal” life – it’s the way writer Emma Donoghue and director Lenny Abrahamson treat this story. No matter how bleak things get, their takeaway is relentlessly positive.
For seven years, a woman (Brie Larson) has only known a tiny room. She has the luxury and the curse of memories of her life before her imprisonment, but her five-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) only knows Room. Luckily, Ma is clever and iron-willed, and after seizing their chance mother and son find themselves outside and ready to meet a much larger world.
This story could easily have been a rather depressing ordeal. Yes, it’s tragic that this young woman was taken and imprisoned against her will and that she had a child as a result of her rape. It’s sickening that a man kept her as his property for so long and that the child he fathered never knew anything beyond Room, his entire world. But Ma and Jack have each other and always will, they make the best of it and they dream of the stars.
I’ve always loved films exploring reality and humanity’s often warped concept of it. Ma was once an everyday girl with an everyday life before she took pity on a stranger and found herself trapped in his shed. She knows how wonderful the world can be but does not overburden her young son, dividing things into the “real” (things he can touch within Room) and the “unreal” (things on TV and the glimpse of sky and space they can see through their tiny skylight). Ma is determined to give Jack the best quality of life she can with the limited resources available to her. Just because you’re trapped in a single room doesn’t mean you can’t keep active and play. Jack’s concept of reality is of course a narrow one, but once he finally experiences the outside world he has some massive conceptual adjustments to make.
The entire film is from Jack’s wide-eyed, ever-wondering perspective. The first half is his world of Room in microcosm – he gives every object he knows a name and lives a repetitive, if happy, existence with his mother who tries to stay strong for him. In the second half of the film Jack’s world explodes outwards and he has to come to terms with an infinitely more complex, bewildering and beautiful outside.
As he demonstrated with FRANK, Lenny Abrahamson doesn’t pull his punches when it comes to talking about mental illness. Discussing it in too much depth would spoil a lot of the film’s moments of high drama, but suffice to say Ma isn’t the same person who went into Room, and her close self-introspection and heavy press intrusion nearly destroys her. We don’t see very much of her captor (Sean Bridgers), and we don’t get a rationale for his monstrous actions, but he’s clearly a very disturbed individual and also clearly very human.
Stylistically, Abrahamson doesn’t over-embellish. If you’ve got a script this soulful, themes so vivid and performances so exquisite, you don’t need to do anything showy to elevate the material. Jacob Tremblay is a revelation as Jack – natural, fizzing with energy and capable of conveying far more than his years might suggest in an expression or with his steady and frequently funny narration. Sorry, Cate Blanchett, but I think Brie Larson might have pipped you to the post for Best Actress. Larson’s performance is tender, unglamorous and the purest representation of unshakeable willpower.
Room is an experience, pure and simple. It’s emotionally rending but will leave you feeling uplifted in the best possible sense and taking in every little wonder in our very big world. Abrahamson, Donoghue, Larson, Tremblay and everyone involved in making this remarkable film have produced a tribute to the resilience of love and the importance of physical and emotional freedom that is nothing short of transcendent. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to cry myself to sleep to Stephen Rennicks’ painfully beautiful score drained but very thankful for my world beyond this room. SSP