Film Review: 'Room'
When a film hits so close to home and cuts so deep, it summons forth the most profound emotions lying deep inside the mind - and with it, the tears begin to flow. In this instance, it's the psychological drama Room - an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue - that does exactly that for any parent. It's a mother-and-child abduction tale taken straight from the evening news headlines, and director Lenny Abrahamson crafts it with such sincere force that it turns any mother into a bawling mess.
Serving as our narrator, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) has lived his entire life in a confined 10-by-10-foot space, with no windows and only one skylight. Trapped against their will, Jack is cared for by his eternally loving mother (a superb Brie Larson) who tries her damndest to give her son the most fulfilling childhood possible with the most limited resources. They exercise, play games, read stories, and do simple crafts, and Jack occasionally watches repeats on their small TV. This is the only lifestyle Jack has ever known; to him, this room is his world, and Ma names his universe “Room.” This is our universe as well, and we don't leave it.
The one door in Room – or “Door” as Jack calls it – is only opened once every night via a secret code, and through it enters a bearded, bespectacled man known only as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). After having noisy sessions with Ma in bed (without her consent), Old Nick replenishes their supplies and leaves. Old Nick is the malevolent master of Room, and Ma has spent all these years concocting an escape plan to save her son's life. Now that he's five and all grown up, the time has come.
Room is quite claustrophobic, yet it's incredibly rich with detail and originality; that's not only a testament to the skill of Abrahamson as a director, but the result of Donoghue writing the film adaptation herself, assuring the most faithful adaptation possible. What Room feels like is the manifestation of what she saw in her head as she penned her book, and there are no compromises in detail. Jack's world is incredibly authentic, right down to the affectionate naming of his furniture friends - Chair, Bed, Lamp, and Many More Like Them. It weaves innocence into what is, at heart, an incredibly scary scenario, and almost softens the blow, only to capitalize later on.
With Jack being so real, and Ma being so devoted, it's no surprise that Ma risks her own life to save Jack. And their execution of said plan proves to be an incomparably nail-biting sequence, and its stunning resolution is unbelievably moving – especially when its experienced through the eyes of a child. It's Jack's - as well as our - first exposure to what lies outside of Room; we feel his exhilaration and wonder because of Donoghue's writing and Abrahamson's skillful direction.
In the same way that Ma creates a loving universe for Jack, Abrahamson has built a stunning world that surpasses technical and narrative obstacles set by filming in such a confined space. The world gets even deeper thanks to an undoubtedly brilliant acting job by Larson, whose Oscar-worthy turn is the purest embodiment of a mother who has survived everything that her cruel captor and her confined lifestyle have thrown at her. We are only able to experience Jack's story because Ma's unending love for him has made her give up everything she has to allow him a "normal" childhood. She makes Room a sobering, realistic portrayal of a parent's greatest love and deepest fear all at once.
What truly separates Room from the pack, however, is that its almost glaringly obvious happy ending is not its true ending. Without giving away too much, Room does escape the confines of its titular location to bring a new arc for Jack, whose adjustment to a new life is his largest obstacle by far. This new chapter delves into a viewing of Ma’s unsteady mental state; like Jack, she must readjust to the life that had been stolen from her almost a decade ago, and the task ushers a wave of psychological struggle that would drive anyone to insanity. In this chapter of the story, most storytellers would quickly lose steam; Abrahamson instead turns up the dial and presses onward with the same force and bravery as Ma, combining great performance with a touching story.
Granted, Room's impact is slightly lessened when viewed outside of its target audience, but even then, one must respect the sheer effort put into making this universe as compelling as it is. It's not the most friendly for a rewatch, but for its one viewing, Room is a unique coming-of-age story that makes a wonderful vehicle for Larson's standout performance.
Written by Emma Donoghue (novel & screenplay).
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson.
Starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay.