“Truly inspired and unique”
by Rob Rector
We are first introduced to Room’s Jack (played by Jacob Tremblay) and his Ma (played by Brie Larson) on the morning of Jack’s fifth birthday. In typical childlike fashion, Jack is eager to celebrate as they share a modest breakfast, clean up and do some morning stretches to start day.
Within a few minutes, though, we see clues that there is a darker pall surrounding their humble living quarters. Aside from the obvious lack of windows (albeit for a solitary skylight), there is a sense of quiet dread when they speak of “Old Nick,” a man who enters almost nightly to sleep with Ma, as Jack must lie still and silent on the floor in a closet.
Room, at first, attempts to be just as protective of us as Ma is of Jack, understanding showing us the true severity of what is really happening would be almost too overwhelming to bear. But just as Ma feels as though she can tell Jack of what is truly taking place –that they are both being kept against their will and that there is an entire world outside Jack has yet to experience — we are exposed to the truths, and our fears and hopes begin to heighten.
As you may already begin to discern, there’s not a lot of light that breaks through the earlier scenes of Room, either. It’s subject matter, which is adapted from an acclaimed novel by Emma Donoghue, is one that is usually exploitative fodder for horror films or punctuated with commercial breaks and sanitized through a Hallmark label (despite the fact that there are very few displays of physical abuse ever shown here).
But for those who view film (and filmmakers) as opportunities to explore narratively bold and challenging paths, Room rewards with not only a structure that is not afraid to steer off the beaten path and also provide viewers with perhaps two of the finest on-screen performances on film this year by Larson and the young revelation that is Tremblay.
For anyone who has viewed the trailer, they will be aware that Ma and Jack do ultimately find a way out, but that is far from the end of their journey, as they both must struggle to readjust to re-entering society (and for Jack, this means tearing down virtually everything he has been raised to believe), and coping with the loss of time and to reconnect torn ties.
This means heading back home to her parents (played by Joan Allen and William H. Macy) who have since split after her disappearance and are leading separate lives. Macy’s character, in particular, struggles with the notion that Jack is the result of the rape of his daughter, and cannot bear to make contact with him. This is one of the few flaws that director Lenny Abrahamson seems to make in what was certainly a most challenging adaptation. There is only a scene in which Macy’s reaction is addressed, in which he is demonized and the character is subsequently dropped from the picture. This does not seem fair, as even though his anger at his daughter’s abductor is misplaced, he is not given adequate screen time for his fully justified initial reaction.
But that is only a small contention in an otherwise emotionally flooring film that further cements Larson as one of her generation’s finest. Sure, she’s sans makeup for most of the film (which is often referred to as Oscar bait), but her emotional display is also without artifice. She’s raw, strong, tender and determined in ways that few actresses display on screen in a lifetime, much less through one film’s runtime. Larson also conveys such confidence and grit throughout that the audience is never left in total despair.
And Tremblay, as her son, acts and reacts as though there is not a camera in the room documenting his moves and lines. Since he is the fire driving the narrative, any false note could have undermined the film, and he not only rises to the level of his adult co-stars, he helps to create one of the most memorable on-screen parent-child bonds seen in years.
Room is not the endurance test that it might seem, and despite its unrelentingly grim subject matter, it manages to still be truly inspired and unique in a way that demands viewing.