Room (2015)

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
Written by Emma Donoghue

The art of cinema has such a wide variety of stories to tell, with so many genres and styles. The beauty of the art of cinema is the movie-goer’s ability to go see a movie about anything, to be taken anywhere in the world (or beyond), to be placed in any person’s shoes, to laugh, to cry, to smile. The emotional gambit that is cinema is truly remarkable, and this holiday season many people will flock to the theaters for a great, heartwarming family tale, or something to make them laugh, feel happy, be thankful, and be merry. With Room, the film based on Emma Donoghue’s best-selling novel of the same name, audiences should proceed with caution. If you have a soul and a heart, you will cry. Room is not the type of heartwarming film you may think of during the Holiday’s, but it is the type of film that portrays the incredible resiliency of children, and the indelible bond between mother and child.

Room represents a singular space. Four enclosed walls, a sink, a bed, a bathtub, a skylight, and a wardrobe. Room is where Joy (Brie Larson) and her young son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) live their lives, imprisoned by Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), who appears once a week to take advantage of Joy and give them their “Sunday treat”, which is often something simple that most of us would likely take for granted. Born into this condition, Jack does not understand the world as we do. Joy has meticulously protected Jack from the horrors of their situation, making up stories to explain the unexplainable, to make Jack happy in the unhappiest place on Earth. Living under such conditions, it becomes harder and harder to explain the world around them to a developing Jack. It becomes unthinkable for both of them to ever adjust back to normal life, to understand the changing world around them, the shock of a world beyond Room should they ever manage to escape their horror.

At first glance, this is the kind of story so unthinkable and sad that you might think it overly dramatic and unrealistic; the type of story you might see on Lifetime. In some ways, you would be right, although these horrors are all too real, as recent events in the news have shown (re: Lifetime’s Cleveland Abduction). But Room is not a Lifetime movie, looking to take advantage of the more shocking aspects of the story. Donoghue, who penned the screenplay here as well, and director Lenny Abrahamson focus on the raw human emotions brought about by a story like this. The film’s first great success is having Donoghue script her own story, as her connection to these characters imbues an unbelievable ability to sympathize and communicate the love they have for one another, and the emotions that pours out of their situation.

The perfect actors have been cast in the roles of Joy and Jack to help Donogue communicate these emotions on screen. Brie Larson, who impressed in Short Term 12, remains one of the best young actresses working today. Her ability to fully inhabit Joy transports not only herself, but the entire audience into her shoes in heartbreaking fashion. Joy is a flawed character, doing her best to provide and protect her son in impossible settings. Jacob Tremblay, on the other hand, is truly amazing as Jack, representing a little boy who does not understand what is happening around him. The difference between Joy and Jack is Joy’s full comprehension of their situation. Told from Jack’s perspective, the story takes on a different viewpoint than many may expect with such a traumatic story.

In many way, the film’s greatest strength is in its perspective. Jack is an innocent young boy who has never been exposed to anything other than Room, and as such, he is stripped of all the entitlements and presumptions of other children of his age. As a result, seeing the world in such a simplified manner allows us to appreciate everything we have that much more. Freedom is truly a wonderful thing, and all the material things we own are great, but the relationships we form with our family and friends is tremendously more important than anything else we might own. The understated style of the film allows Room to be a small film about emotions and people instead of a big, dramatic extravaganza about the unthinkable. We never get to know Old Nick because his story isn’t important as the villain. Donoghue would much rather the audience get to know the incredible relationship and story of Joy and Jack. Larson and Tremblay make sure it’s one we’ll never forget.

***1/2 – Great

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