One of the strengths of art, particularly narrative art, is its ability to stir empathy within the viewer. Whether one is watching a recreation of historical events or following a completely fantastical tale, that vital, vibrant exploration of the human experience under different circumstances allows for the audience to be touched by situations far beyond imagining. Where other films are concerned with the fate of entire worlds, Room is on the opposite side of the spectrum. At its heart, it’s about two people: a mother and her son.
The circumstances of their life, while not fantastical, are difficult to comprehend. Abducted at the age of seventeen, Joy (Brie Larson) now lives in a single room alongside her young son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who was born inside it. Jack’s world is the room, so much so that he refers to it and many other objects without an article. Their table is simply Table. The skylight is Skylight. Slowly, the unique and narrow nature of Jack’s understanding of the world is made clear; he has no concept of life beyond the room and so he does not long to leave. Joy (also called “Ma”) does not enjoy that ignorance. Her life has been interrupted by tragedy, stalled and abused by her abductor, a man known only as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). Throughout the film, Joy is forced to reconcile Jacob’s reality with her own; she struggles to be a good mother, but cannot relate to Jacob how tiny their existence is compared to the massive possibilities presented by the world outside. When Jacob turns five, Joy decides it is time for a change. They need to escape. Tentatively, she begins to tell Jacob more about the real world, rectifying the lies she once told him to shelter him from the ugliness of their situation. As he begins to understand the truth about their circumstances, Joy develops a plan – one last, desperate gambit – to give Jack the life he deserves.
And that’s all I have to say about the story. Room is best viewed cold. What I will say is that it is a deeply human exploration of the connection that exists between parent and child, and more importantly, the importance of love as a driving force for change. While that explanation sounds corny, the earnest, soulful performances in Room make sure it never comes close to melodrama. Brie Larson is fantastic as Joy. Already an impressive actress (watch her awesome turn in 2013’s Short Term 12), Larson has outdone herself in Room and is rightfully deserving of the acclaim she is receiving for her performance. Joy is, above all, human. Despite her love for her son, Larson imbues within Joy a constant weight of sadness and frustration at everything that has been taken from her. Though she has Jack, his inability to understand the depth of the violence committed against her leads to a quiet grief that Larson effortlessly conveys. Larson’s powerful performance would still suffer if her acting partner was not up to the task, and thankfully Jacob Tremblay delivered. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a nuanced, affecting performance from such a young actor. Tremblay, from his line delivery to his physical performance, is simply brilliant and I look forward to see what he does in the coming years as he grows and matures in his craft.
On the technical side, Room is also impressive. Director Lennie Abrahamson utilizes the same strong, stylistic tendencies seen in last year’s Frank (one of my recent favorites) in order to make a film that is both claustrophobic and expansive – the former when the story is focused on Joy, the latter when seen through Jack’s eyes. Along with the tasteful, creative eye of cinematographer Danny Cohen (Les Miserables, The King’s Speech), Abrahamson has managed to make an aesthetically satisfying film with imaginative touches that add rather than detract from the whole. This, along with the excellent writing by Emma Donoghue (who also wrote the novel upon which the film is based), make Room an experience to remember.
Room is a singular experience and one that deserves to be seen. Told with imagination, subtlety, and true heart, it’s one of the most moving, deeply affecting films I’ve seen in recent memory. A potent commentary on the necessity of human connection and the life-altering power of love.