Based on the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue, Room is a tremendously effective motion picture from director Lenny Abrahamson. Like the book, the film is a wonder of perspective. Abrahamson and cinematographer Danny Cohen craft a world of different spaces, shapes and sizes.
Room is about the experience and the recovery of trauma and it is about the complications of finding the world when all is gone. While the movie doesn’t tell any one particular true story, it does tell numerous stories in its addressing of seclusion, abduction and the inner damage suffered as the result of such harrowing circumstances.
Brie Larson stars as a woman named Joy. She has a son named Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and he’s celebrating his fifth birthday in Room, a tiny space that is the only home he’s ever known. Joy knows better, but she’s had to protect Jack by telling him there is no outside world. She’s also had to shield him from Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), the man who kidnapped her seven years ago.
The world outside slowly becomes of concern for Jack and he struggles with his new knowledge. Mom suggests they escape Room and a plan is concocted to fool Old Nick. Jack discovers the world outside in bits and pieces once he escapes. He meets his grandparents and tries to start living this funny thing called life as his mother recovers from unspeakable horror.
Larson turns in a remarkable performance as the suffering mother, but Tremblay’s Jack is the window to the soul of Room. The young Canadian never once “acts” his way out of a bad situation and everything about his performance feels organic and essential. He makes his way through Room without knowing anything is amiss. When the truth comes out, he doesn’t know what to think.
Abrahamson and Cohen reinforce Tremblay’s performance by setting the world at his level. The camera insists that he lives in Room, not just a room. It is a cramped space, but Jack’s level of internment isn’t something finite. He sees a world of routine, of play, of certain likings. He doesn’t know any better and the camera paints Room as endless.
For Joy, it’s a prison. Larson attaches herself to the churn of emotions and plays through the obstacles. Sometimes she needs to be strong for her son, but sometimes the anger flickers away just below the surface. Sometimes she can’t hold it in. When she escapes and tries to pick up the pieces, she feels resentment and rage and despair – all in one instant.
Other great character actors flesh out the cast, like William H. Macy as Joy’s faltering father and Joan Allen as her mother Nancy. Winnipeg’s Tom McCamus puts in a brilliant and understated turn as Nancy’s new boyfriend. He comes to represent unforeseen change and the first male presence in Jack’s life apart from his sinister abductor.
Room lives in Jack’s head, whether there’s a dog or a neighbour or a bowl of cereal to encounter. The tribulations of Joy seem almost too difficult to grasp and Abrahamson doesn’t expose too much. The audience doesn’t see the distressing requirements of her confinement. The lens peers through the slats of the closet, picking up blurs and blackness and sound.
Even as the world expands and Room becomes more conventional, the film works because it doesn’t abandon this vital perspective. When mom is interviewed for a television program, it takes place in bits and pieces and expressions. When the neighbour boy knocks on the window to kick the ball around, it’s a startling reminder followed by boyish understanding.
This is a terrific motion picture. It doesn’t spend much time on the particulars of the case or the action, although the escape sequence is yet another astounding example of effective point-of-view, and it doesn’t weight itself down in slushy melodrama. It tells the tale, real and raw like countless stories of captivity, and it opens the world anew.