Growing up can sometimes seems like being trapped inside a box. Young children grow up mostly being in only a few places in any given week and talking only to their parents and maybe a sibling or two. This box is their whole world and everything outside of this box that can be hard to understand. Emotions or relationships are simplified and rationalized so that it can fit into their very limited perspective. This concept is amplified in the film Room which sets with a mother Ma (Brie Larson) and son Jack (Jacob Tremblay). The duo live in a small, secured enclosure which they call “Room.” Inside “Room” is a bed, a toilet, a bathtub, a skylight, a wardrobe and a TV set. This “Room” is all Jack has ever known and Ma allows Jack to believe that it is all there is and the “real” world only exists on television.
Larson (Short Term 12) gives a moving performance that is both harrowing and heartening. She has a difficult task of playing a young woman forced into motherhood who is also obligated to maintain a sense of innocence and naivety not only for Jack but also for herself. Considering Ma’s character in the novel on which Room is based is only ever revealed through Jack’s limited perspective, Larson does a remarkable job portraying the character in a different, cinematic light. Larson has proved herself again and again to be a capable and skillful actress in smaller roles and with this film, she proves to be a more than capable lead. Director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank) and screenwriter Emma Donoghue, who also wrote the novel on which the film is based, teamed up to tell a cinematic story of survival, love, and innocence.
Ma was abducted and trapped inside “Room” where she has been locked away for seven years and Jack has been there his entire life. No one knows where they are and there is no hope of rescue. If they try to escape, they could be killed. This could easily be the summary for a horror or suspense/thriller film but this film is a decidedly contemplative drama that is both gripping, unsettling, yet ultimately uplifting. The film does not begin with dismay as the audience might expect from such a bleak story, but with excitement. Jack wakes Ma up by bouncing up and down exclaiming it’s his fifth birthday. Jack goes to each object in the house and says “good morning” with youthful excitement while Ma wearily gets out of bed. Jack’s youthful enthusiasm and childish antics are heavily contrasted by the ominous setting of Room. Ma and Jack are depicted as being surprisingly well adjusted to their life as they are shown exercising, maintaining a healthy diet, watching television before shutting the lights off and going to bed.
The only other person Jack has ever seen is their captor who they call Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). When Old Nick comes to “Room” at night, Jack sleeps in his wardrobe but he can still hear Ma’s conversations with him. The implications of his and Ma’s relationship are horrifying but are simplified by Jack who talks of Old Nick as though he were a regular part of any five year old’s life. Through all of the horrors Jack is put through, we are reminded again and again that Jack is innocent and strong enough to hold onto his youth.
In a scene worthy of tears, Jack hears the truth and learns his mother has lied to him about “Room.” She tells him and begs for him to understand that the world outside is big and beautiful and they are trapped and they must escape. Yet, in an attempt that is truly childlike, Jack wants to believe that none of what his mother says is true and “Room” is all there is. Though their living arrangements are not in any way ideal, Jack feels safe here. The audience is forced to imagine what it would be like to experience Jack’s situation but, by doing so, we are also forced to come to the conclusion that we already have experienced it. Every child is forced to realize, at some point, that there is a bigger world than the one they know but, unlike Jack, most are allowed to do it slowly and at their own pace.
The chemistry between Tremblay and Larson is evident throughout the movie and they make a remarkable team. Since most of the dialogue is between the two of them, if there were no chemistry between them, it would sound stilted or uncomfortable but both prove to be consistent and believable as mother and son.
Jack’s escape is suspenseful but, more importantly, it is beautiful. Tremblay is a one-of-a-kind actor who carries much of the weight of the film on his tiny shoulders yet delivers a performance that provokes a wide spectrum of complex emotions. It is obvious he is confident, comfortable, and capable to be on screen and every expression on his face and every tone in his voice looks and sounds extremely genuine.The role of Jack is one well known by fans of the book and he is a very intricate character but Tremblay is able to hold his own and play Jack with significant skill and talent.
It might be easy to think that once Jack and Ma are free, life goes on. Ma is reunited with her father (William H. Macy) and her mother (Joan Allen) and it may seem that she and Jack will live a life free of fear and turmoil but that is not the case. The world outside “Room” is immensely complicated, riddled with emotion and doubt and full of sickness both mental and physical. Though there are moments when Jack finds happiness outside “Room,” it is clear that he misses the innocence he left behind.
While it is uplifting, the film is also intensely tragic. Even after being free, there are still obstacles that Jack and Ma must face. This film is not for the light of heart and some scenes are not only tear-jerk inducing but downright painful to watch. Jack is constantly being bombarded with painful misfortunes after his escape and, even in the end, there is still a heavy layer of uncertainty.
The Verdict: 4 out of 5
The story of Room is, at times, both distressing and emotionally jarring but the film never once leaves the audience without hope. Jack is a beacon of strength and virtue, uncorrupted by the hardship he was born into. Room may be a drama but Tremblay’s energy keeps the film from veering into needlessly dark territory by being consistently entertaining and exciting to watch. Room vividly portrays the struggle of a mother who is both full of hope and doubt, unsure if her child can survive in the real world but is surprised to find that it she who cannot survive without him. However, it more importantly portrays the story of a young boy who is given a close look at isolation, fear, weakness, and misery yet still sees beauty in the world around him.