Room is the emotional moviegoing experience of the season”

by Steve Pulaski

I remember seeing a trailer for Room months back in 2015 and being almost entirely mystified; it looked like a strange, almost ethereal mix of drama and science-fiction that even the trailer couldn’t adequately communicate. Not until seeing it, I realized that this is a film that isn’t easy to summarize in a brief two minute trailer, and I’ll undoubtedly struggle to illustrate the film’s genius with its review. This is the kind of film one needs to experience and feel; a film where words often feel either exaggerating or shortchanging in attempting to illustrate the film’s emotional power and exceptional narrative.

Simply put, Room is the emotional moviegoing experience of the season. A deeply moving film that combines the aforementioned genres of drama and science-fiction, Room is the kind of film that hits you with its most powerful shot after you walk out of the theater or turn off the TV. It lingers in your mind and the characters, their motivations, their conversations, their struggles, and their thoughts don’t escape you, unlike most dramas, where character names are probably not even remembered by most following the end credits.

The film opens with a young mother named Joy (Brie Larson) and her small child named Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who live their life in an enclosed garden shed of about one-hundred square feet and their only available sunlight is a skylight. They eat, sleep, bathe, and cook in there, and for Jack, it’s the only life he has come to know. At first, their routine actions and close relationship lead one to believe that they’ve chosen this life in order to free themselves from the constraints of society. However, we see the horror of their reality soon enough.

Directed by
Lenny Abrahamson
Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers
Release Date
25 November 2015
Steve’s Grade: A+

Seven years ago, Joy was tricked and kidnapped by a man known as “Old Nick” (Sean Bridgers), who raped her and had her give birth to Jack. Since then, she has lived inside this closed space; it isn’t until their escape-plan is successful that Joy goes back to her mother and father and Jack finally experiences the outside world. Previously, Jack believed, largely in part of his mother, who tried to make their life seem a lot less hellish, that outside of the four walls of “room,” as they referred to it, was outer space. The people on TV were just flat, and nothing else besides them and Old Nick existed.

Upon finally escaping and trying to return to a life that seems brand new to them, Joy struggles to get Jack to assimilate to the world. His entire life was predicated upon just him and his “Ma,” as he was largely kept hidden in the closet whenever Old Nick would come pay them a visit. Now, he must be socialized into the world at age five, and learn that there is not only a larger life, but a larger world outside of “room.” His mother, on the other hand, must grapple with her demons that have haunted her since she was captured.

If you look at Room from the perspective of Joy, you find a drama about being re-socialized into the world after living your entire life in captivity. It’s a familiar story, but one that is truly sad and potent, and Brie Larson brings such life and emotion to the role for a woman so young (her precocious acting reminds me quite a bit of Jennifer Lawrence). However, if you look at the film through Jack’s perspective, you see a film that plays with the realm of science-fiction. While nothing about Room deals with supernatural or “the unknown” in a grandiose sense, we do have a character who has never experienced life first-hand and sees everything around him not only as foreign but, for lack of a better term, alien.

This results in a film that’s very lucid and ethereal, largely in part because of Lenny Abrahamson’s (who directed 2014’s Frank, a strong film dealing with mental illness) unique direction and cinematographer Danny Cohen’s dreamlike grasp on reality. These beautiful and immersive aesthetic choices make the world and everything we take for granted and overlook on a daily basis look as if it’s an unearthly object, with extreme close-ups and high-contrast depictions employed by Abrahamson.

Room is a film largely bent on repetition; everything from Joy and Jack’s daily actions in “room,” Jack’s attempts to socialize with other adults, Joy’s attempt to come to terms with returning to her old life, and more are all showcased as recurring events in the film. This slowburn narrative tactic allows character motivations and interest to rise and boil accordingly, creating a film that turns impacting and even emotional when bigger, more elaborate events occur (the truck scene may be one of the best sequences I’ve seen in film last year). With all that and more considered, Room is a wonderful treat of a film; one that will hit everyone differently in a sense that it’s not a matter of if it will resonate with you but how it will eventually manage to do so.