Some movies devastate you. You watch them and you wonder about humanity and what you would do in a similar situation and are just shaken for hours after the experience. If that isn’t your kind of thing, don’t watch “Room” (2015).
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson with a screenplay from Emma Donoghue (based on her novel), “Room” is about a five-year-old boy, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and his mother, Ma (Brie Larson), living in a single room that is closed off from the world. Told from the boy’s point of view, we soon figure out that which Jack doesn’t understand – he and his mother are being held in the room by a kidnapper. Worse, Ma has been there for years and Jack was conceived there, the kidnapper is his father.
Again, all of this is beyond Jack’s knowledge. He is just a happy, relatively healthy, boy. He loves to play games, watch TV, and help his mother around the room. It is his whole existence and his mother has lied to him about the world and what it is, so Jack doesn’t understand that there is anything else.
Eventually though, Ma decides that Jack is old enough to know the truth and old enough to help them escape. It is an awful moment in Jack’s life. He finds out that the one person he spends time with, his mother, has been lying about nearly everything for his whole life and that which he thought was happy is sad.
It is impossible to watch “Room” and not feel for both Jack and his mother. It is impossible to watch and not hate the man who kidnapped her, “Old Nick” (Sean Bridgers). It is impossible to watch and not cheer as they try to effect an escape. It is impossible to watch and not fear that “Old Nick” might figure out what’s going on and do something even more awful.
What Abrahamson and company do is put you, the viewer, in that room with Jack and his mother. They force you into this confined space with them, make you a captive. It is intense and emotional and horrifying.
Larson is outstanding in her role, playing this woman who has tried for years to give her son the happy sort of childhood that everyone deserves as she suffers through her own personal hell. She isn’t just Jack’s support either, she leans on Jack as well, finding a quantum of solace in his exuberance, a solace which lets her continue living.
For his part, Tremblay is quite good as Jack. He has to make sharp emotional turns similar to the ones Larson effects as his entire life is turned upside down. If his performance were flat or not believable, “Room” would fall and it does not, not on any level.
More than some other films, “Room” feels like an incredibly delicate balance, one where everything has to be exactly right—the acting, the camera, the editing, the set, etc.—for it to work, teeter just a little too much and it will topple like a house of cards, like an escape plan gone awry.
It does not teeter, however. It maintains its balance and delivers an emotional journey the audience will not soon forget.
I could go into more detail. I could talk about the escape plans and Nick and what happens and how the film changes just as much as Jack’s life when he learns the truth, but to go into any of that in any sort of detail whatsoever would be to ruin the movie and I won’t do that.
“Room” is incredible. It isn’t for everyone, but it is an example of wonderfully powerful storytelling and deserving of many an accolade.
photo credit: George Kraychyk/A24