LOVE KNOWS NO BOUNDARIES.
The same day I’m writing this review I read about a 38-year-old physician in Sweden who was sentenced to prison for having abducted a woman. His plan was to keep her captive as his sex slave for years in a bunker that he had built, but his scheme fell apart after six days when he had to make an unexpected visit to a local police station. One easily becomes fascinated with cases like this; it’s hard to understand how men like that function on the surface in society. Abductions like that have been used as fodder for thrillers. Room, however, is different.
Celebrating a birthday as captives
When we first meet Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay), we know nothing about them. As they’re celebrating Jack’s birthday, we realize that the shabby place where they live, referred to by Jack simply as “room”, is a prison for them. At least for Joy, because Jack doesn’t know anything else; he has no idea that there is a whole world outside. “Room” doesn’t have any windows, except for a skylight, which shows heaven, the place Jack thinks he came from.
There is another person in their lives, called “old Nick” (Sean Bridgers), a brutal man who buys them supplies and comes for nighttime visits with Joy that Jack don’t really understand. Shortly after Jack’s birthday, Joy decides to tell him the truth about the world outside “Room”… and of her plan to get out.
Driven by tension
The first part of the film, which is based on a Booker-shortlisted novel, is driven by tension. We quickly understand what happened to Joy seven years earlier, who Jack’s father is and what their situation looks like. The filmmakers explain how it is possible that they haven’t escaped before and what happened the time Joy tried to do that. The filmmakers present “old Nick” in a clever way, first as an unseen monster, then stripping him of everything until what’s left is an ordinary man, showing how a sex criminal of this kind can be anyone.
I won’t reveal what happens next, but the film’s second half takes a different turn and can no longer rely on the same kind of tension – but we are still compelled to follow what happens to Joy and Jack because their new circumstances aren’t so easily accepted either. What hooks us in an unforgettable way is the relationship between the young woman and her boy. It is established early on as playful and loving and remains truthful and gripping for the entire story. It couldn’t have been done without the extraordinary performances by Larson and young Tremblay. Neither of them is a newcomer, especially not the former, but this was a solid breakthrough for both. Nothing in their acting and how they work with each other looks false. They’re matched by Joan Allen as Joy’s mother, whose life was shattered seven years ago.
The film is an opportunity to explore an extreme situation through the eyes of a child, and it is done with a sense of imagination and innocence, perfectly illustrated by cinematographer Danny Cohen who captures the intimacy that exists in “Room” in spite of the circumstances, and the overwhelming impressions of the world outside to a boy who’s only seen trees or cars on TV before. The very different mental states of mind that Joy and Jack struggle with in the film’s second half are brilliantly conveyed; angst-ridden and moving, those scenes show the complexity of a newfound freedom that has its own walls.
Director Lenny Abrahamson got some attention for his comedy-drama Frank (2014), a film that has Michael Fassbender walking around wearing a papier-mâché head. Room is also a thoroughly original experience that isn’t too artistically pretentious to cheat us out of a highly satisfying emotional payoff.
Room 2015-Canada-Britain-Ireland. 118 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by David Gross, Ed Guiney. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Screenplay, Novel: Emma Donoghue. Cinematography: Danny Cohen. Music: Stephen Rennicks. Cast: Brie Larson (Joy Newsome), Jacob Tremblay (Jack Newsome), Joan Allen (Nancy Newsome), William H. Macy, Sean Bridgers, Tom McCamus.
Trivia: Shailene Woodley was allegedly considered for the lead.
Oscar: Best Actress (Larson). Golden Globe: Best Actress (Larson). BAFTA: Best Actress (Larson).
Last word: “You have to find a way of translating the events and the situation into language [Tremblay] can understand and that was safe enough for him and protect him from the darker aspects of the story. And also, bringing him to the right point in each scene and helping him through it. If you’re watching the rushes, you’d hear me talking to him all the way through scenes, which shows even more what an amazing actor Brie is that she can tune that out and still be there, and not only tune it out but sometimes help me. ‘Come on, Jake, just turn around a little bit. You know how you’re supposed to sit back like that?’ and then she’d slip right back into the full emotional intensity of whatever she was doing.” (Abrahamson, Coming Soon)