Running Time: 118 min
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Cast: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers, Joan Allen and William H. Macy
“There’s so much of “place” in the world. There’s less time because the time has to be spread extra thin over all the places, like butter.”
THERE’S something strangely uplifting about Lenny Abrahamson’s latest feature Room, and that’s something I didn’t think I’d be saying considering its subject-matter. Thankfully not a remake of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, but an adaption of Emma Donoghue’s best-selling novel that deals with a mother and son’s imprisonment and subsequent release from a small garden shed, at the hands of a male captor known only as ‘old Nick’.
Brie Larson gives a powerful central performance as Joy, although she’s mostly referred to as ‘ma’ throughout the entire movie by her five-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay).She’s been held captive within this place for nearly seven years, her son’s birth during that time the product of repeated sexual assaults by her captor. Surprisingly she bears no malice towards Jack; in fact her paternal responsibilities have been her coping mechanism for surviving this horrendous ordeal.
She’s tried her best to normalize the abnormal for her son, raising him within the confines of the shed’s four walls; educating him with the limited resources at her disposal and doing her best to ensure he never forms any kind of relationship with his father. Jack’s only real gateway to the outside world comes from an old television within the shed and a small skylight on its ceiling; as he gazes up towards the window Jack daydreams about a world which feels so alien to him that he doesn’t even believe it exists.
If I’m honest I genuinely didn’t think Larson had this kind of performance within her, I’ve mostly ever seen her in supporting comedic roles within other films like Train Wreck, Don Jon and Scott Pilgrim; so I really didn’t expect her to give such a strong central performance here. It’s a difficult role for her to play, whilst she’s moved beyond the crying and screaming phase, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t given up escaping. Her character is both a victim and a mother at the same time and the actress portrays Joy as someone who is incredibly strong yet deeply fragile. Larson’s performance reminded me a lot of Jennifer Aniston’s Oscar hyped turn in Cake last year; much like with that movie I didn’t think the leading actress had that kind of performance within her, but unlike Daniel Barnz’s feature which couldn’t decide what kind of movie it wanted to be, from start to finish Lenny Abrahamson knows exactly the kind of movie he wants to make.
It’s such a beautifully shot feature; Danny Cohen’s cinematography never manages to make the shed feel small or claustrophobic throughout the film’s first half; it is after all the entire world for its two inhabitants. They carry out their daily routines within their cramped surroundings with relative ease; it’s not until near the film’s finale when we return to ‘room’ do we really appreciate just how small it actually was.
Whilst Larson is rightfully getting considerable praise and accolades for her performance, it’s Tremblay who stole the show for me, the young actor gives an amazing performance, it’s hard to believe it’s his debut. Like Danny Lloyd in The Shining he looks at this horrible situation with the genuine innocence of a child; adapting to a situation he can’t quite comprehend and doesn’t’ really understand.
Whereas most films would be solely content with dealing with the twos imprisonment and eventual escape, it’s really only half the story where this film is concerned. It gallops through its first half at a frantic pace, as mother and son plan an elaborate scheme to free themselves from captivity; culminating in a nail bitingly tense sequence as Jack makes his audacious bid for freedom on the back of his captor’s pickup truck; all whist experiencing the outside world for the first ever time.
After their release the film switches to tackling their attempt to adapt to the outside world, although it never descends into a courtroom drama or assigning guilt on their captor; but more so it wants to examine the scars this ordeal has left upon both mother and son. For Jack the real world is a strange and terrifying place, we watch as this young boy with his androgynous appearance and broken English adapts to the real world. Watching as he slowly opens up to the rest of Joy’s family, little moments like getting his haircut time or even playing with a dog for the first time are just handled beautifully.
Joy on the other hand has an even harder job of adapting to her old life; she’s changed drastically during the seven years of her captivity; unlike her son, she’s having dealing with a world she thought she knew and she struggles with depression as he tries to return her life to some sort of normality. Whilst I’m not a fan of praising actresses for their ‘bravery’ for appearing onscreen without any makeup, it really works here and doesn’t necessarily feel like ‘Oscar bait’; in one scene later on as Joy is ‘dolled up’ for an interview on TV she just looks like a completely different person.
Room isn’t necessarily going to be the kind of film you’d want to go see on a Friday night with a group of friends or even on a date night with your partner, but it’s nevertheless a powerful and moving drama that dabbles with some delicate ideas and raises some interesting questions within its narrative; rightfully it doesn’t try to answer them all and wrap things up nicely by the time the credits start to role.
The scars left by years of captivity may never fully heal for mother and son; but that doesn’t mean this film finishes on a downbeat, sombre note. It’s a feature that showcases the loving relationship which exists between mother and son, regardless of their horrendous situation and the responsibility being a parent can impose upon someone.
Little moments will stay with me long after watching this movie, beautifully tender sequences like a mother and son enjoying a burger together in a diner, or Jack simply playing in the garden whilst his mother looks on; bizarrely its a film that manages to put a smile on your face, despite its subject matter.