To five-year old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) Room is all there is, it’s his whole world. Jack was born in Room and he’s lived there all his life. He doesn’t know he’s the product of rape, or that Room is actually a garden shed converted into a prison that sits in the backyard on a quiet suburban American street. The premise is bleak, but told from the perspective of Jack, Room is a story of love and resilience.
Joy (Brie Larson, Short Term 12, The Spectacular Now) was snatched off the street by a man at age 17 and imprisoned in his garden shed. Jack knows that the man (referred to as ‘Old Nick’) brings them supplies and treats, and that he often lays with his Ma; but doesn’t understand that he rapes Ma on an almost-nightly basis, or that they are Old Nick’s captives.
Joy has created a whole world for Jack in Room. As far as he knows, there is no world outside of Room. There is make-believe, which is the stuff on TV, and there is Room. In Room he has friends like egg snake, and he speaks to the room’s items like they are his friends, wishing lamp, wardrobe etc good morning and good night. He has a schedule which includes daily phys-ed, TV, and cleaning on Tuesday and Thursdays. He has been shielded from the true horrors of their existence by a woman who exists only for him. She has even turned their weak attempts to get help into a game – screaming at the skylight is fun for Jack, and pure desperation for her.
With Joy’s physical ailments taking a real toll on her, and Jack’s questions about Old Nick and life becoming more complex, she realises that it’s time to try to escape for real. Aside from being incredibly dangerous, escape means explaining to Jack that the world is a whole lot more than Room.
The genius of this film (and the book) is the fact that it is from the perspective of a five-year old boy. Had this film been from Joy’s perspective, it would have been an indescribably horrific tale of prolonged sexual assault and imprisonment. We can put the pieces together and understand it, but it isn’t overt as it’s not obvious to Jack. Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, What Richard Did) allows us a glance at some of Joy’s pain, a pain she hides with a smile the moment Jack is looking. From Jack’s perspective, the film becomes one about the love between a mother and a son. It is playful, hopeful, and filled with pockets of joy. Emma Donoghue has wonderfully adapted her novel, and brought Jack’s unique voice, so well-formed in the novel, to the screen. She has deservedly received an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for her work.
Brie Larson (Oscar nominated for her role) is a wonderful actor, whom many are only learning of thanks to the critical success of Room. Here she delivers another powerful performance, giving us incredible depth, but never straying into the overly dramatic. She’s restrained, and tells us so much with her body language. It’s actually surprising how physical her performance is, given the confines of the space. Jacob Tremblay is a revelation, a real young talent to pay attention to. His inquisitive nature and boyish enthusiasm infuses the film with much-needed lightness.
Abrahamson has received an Oscar nomination for his direction, and while he might be considered a surprise or contentious selection (especially considering the likes of Todd Haynes and Ridley Scott missed out), he did get incredible performances from his cast, particularly from Tremblay who is a relatively inexperienced actor.
What I take away from Room is hope and love. From the bleakest situation a mother has created a world in which her child feels loved and feels safe. Now, that’s true love.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Writer(s): Emma Donoghue (novel and screenplay)
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers, Joan Allen
Runtime: 118 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: January 28, 2016