Room. 2015. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Screenplay by Emma Donoghue, based on her novel of the same name.
Starring Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers, Joan Allen, Wendy Crewson, Amanda Brugel, Joe Pingue, William H. Macy, Randal Edwards, & Justin Mader. A24/Element Pictures/No Trace Camping/TG4 Films.
Rated PG. 118 minutes.
I’ve not yet seen director Lenny Abrahamson’s 2014 film Frank, but awhile back I had the chance to see his earlier film What Richard Did and found it incredibly thought provoking, as well as intense and visceral. Abrahamson certainly has a knack for tackling darkness, and from the looks of Frank he also traffics in weirdness, too. Which is great because his latest directorial effort, a screen adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel Room, is equal parts odd, heartwarming, and boasts a heap of darkness (though not in a horror-ish sense). With a true story serving as the jumping-off point for Donoghue, her story tackles the life affirming relationship between a mother and her son, despite all odds. And yet, as I’ve said, the dark aspects of the plot are constantly worming in and out of the story as it goes. I’ve never read the novel, but I hear great things. If it’s even half as good as the film (luckily the author adapted the screenplay herself; usually a plus), the book is bound to make me run the gamut of my emotions. With a sparse yet engaging style, Abrahamson takes us through this whirlwind story, finding aid in an incredible pairing of Brie Larson and child actor Jacob Tremblay. If you’ve heard lots of hype about the film there is a reason for it. The hype is very real and every last bit is well deserved.
Loosely inspired by the real life case of Josef Fritzl, Room tells the story of Ma (Brie Larson) and her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who live together in a small ten-by-ten room; a shed, essentially. Inside, they live out life one day at a time. They have the basics: a place to use the bathroom, to cook, to wash dishes, a place to sleep, too. That’s about all, though. Their keeper, a man they simply call Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) – the one who kidnapped Ma and brought her to Room – comes down from time to time to sexually abuse Ma, as Jack hides in the closet. Occasionally, when needed, Nick brings supplies like food and other things to the family of two. It is a bare, horrible existence. Jack doesn’t know anything of the outside world, except what he sees on television.
After he turns five-years-old, Jack begins to learn about the world outside Room. But he doesn’t exactly like what he hears, as it breaks down his preconceived notions of what the world is, being the four walls around him. As Ma tries her best to help Jack understand, she also formulates a plan. She wants her boy to help trick Old Nick.
Thus begins the hopeful escape of Ma and Jack. And it’s only the beginning.
One impressively tragic moment early on is when Jack tells his mother “next week when I‘m 6” she’d better get real candles. She has to correct him that he means next year. Right then and there we understand how blatantly obvious the damage done to him is, as in he’s unable to determine between a week, a month, a year. Because in Room, time is nothing, it is a measure of something the child can’t begin to comprehend. Outside, time goes by, but in there they’re stuck living the same day, over and over. Only minor changes happen. I love that within such a short frame of time we’re already able to understand the isolation.
Later, when Ma has to explain to her boy about the outside world it is intense and sad. It hurts to see Jack unable to get “what the world is.” He thinks it’s all a part of an awful process called growing up. He doesn’t get that the world is out there, they’ve simply been shut off from it by the hideous man known only as Old Nick.
My heart officially broke, yet opened wide, as Jack finds himself for the first time in the outside world beyond Room. Laying in the pan of a pickup truck, he looks directly into the sky and watches as the vast blue ocean above him passes by. It is one of the most emotionally intense scenes I’ve watched in awhile. At once, you’ll be so happy and simultaneously you’ll feel everything shatter. Honestly, it’s rare a drama gets to me so thoroughly and deeply. The way Abrahamson shoots this sequence is so powerful; it plays with your emotions, though, not in a way which tricks you. It is a pure and raw scene filled with beauty of the deepest kind.
The writing is incredible. I’m sure the novel is a powerhouse, because Donoghue adapts it well for the screen. One part I enjoyed so much is the narration by Jack, especially after they make it out of Room and into the world. He talks about being “in the world for 37 hours“, as if he was never actually in the world locked in that shed, which of course he really wasn’t, I suppose. But the way Tremblay talks, his way of expression, the inflection of his voice, it is so crazy to imagine he’s a child. It’s as if a grown man is inside him acting. And Donoghue’s words shine through him. The way she explains things via the Jack character is exposition, but it doesn’t feel that way. We really get life from his perspective, as it would likely be if a kid was hidden away for his entire first six years then suddenly released into the outdoors. Even the way we literally see shots from Jack’s perspective, it holds the excitement and wonder of a little kid, something we all can remember looking back on the early years. So combine Donoghue and her writing with Abrahamson’s directing style, and everything converges into such a perfect mix. The screenplay’s basic and honest storytelling is complimented by the way Abrahamson pushes things forward with an equally honest, compelling view into the life of all these people affected by tragedy. It is not an easy story to tell, in any sense, yet these two artists, along with a great team, make Room into one of the best movies of 2015.
A flawless 5-star film. Perhaps it isn’t everyone else’s cup of tea. Maybe others may expect more outright darkness, but that’s just not this movie. Room tackles a difficult story, one loosely based in real events. It tackles the difficulty with grace, subtlety. The main actors, Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, knock their characters out of the park; their chemistry is unreal at every moment, in every last scene, and you’d swear they lived together for a year before filming. All cylinders pump from the moment Room begins, to the minute the credits roll. Not often am I visibly affected by a drama, though, every now and then one comes along that captivates me, takes me to another place emotionally, mentally. Room is one of those very films. It won’t be soon that I forget it, either. Neither will you, I suspect.