‘Room’ transcends tragedy to portray hope in the horrifying
It’s hard to imagine living in just one room for seven years. It’s even harder to imagine turning the survival story of the woman held captive and the coming-of-age story of her son into a successful, uplifting movie. Instead of portraying a tragedy as yet another emotionally draining drama, “Room” manages to find hope in the horrifying, resulting in a powerful film that carries the weight necessary to contend with the other great works in its Oscars nomination category.
“Room,” based on the New York Times bestselling book of the same title by Emma Donoghue, tells the story of 17-year-old Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) who is kidnapped and held in a shack for seven years by her kidnapper Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). In that time, she gives birth to a boy named Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and raises him to the best of her ability, teaching him that their garden shed, Room, is all there is to the world.
One of the highlights and unique features of the movie is the fact that it is narrated by 5-year-old Jack. His innocent perspective not only provides optimism in a bleak situation, but also depth as he explains how Room is his world, and humor as he explains how aliens control heaven and birth. For such a young child actor, the depth of emotion accurately portrayed is nothing short of amazing. His dialogue is also carefully constructed, taking into consideration how Jack bases his whole existence off one room. The outside world is simply “space” and his disbelief in the existence of things like dogs and trees is communicated through his anger and fear manifesting in a tantrum and the words “You’re lying!” In other scenes, however, Jack plays with the childlike abandon shared by all 5-year-olds, resulting in a compelling character able to tie innocence and joy to what is by all accounts a nightmare.
Director Lenny Abrahamson, also nominated for an Oscar, utilizes camera angles and lighting to full effect. When Jack sees outside the room for the first time, the glaring light hitting the camera matches what his sensitive eyes would see. When he’s crouched on the floor the camera also lowers, and when he’s in argument with his mother the close-up facial shots convey the smallest changes in emotion. One issue with Abrahamson’s use of the camera is that at certain times it feels overly realistic. Shaky cameras, when used in moderation, add to the performance, but in excess make the scene overwhelming for the wrong reasons.
In all aspects of the movie, a clear effort to strip away the glamour of the traditional Hollywood drama is apparent: ordinarily beautiful Larson appears limp and pallid in soiled costumes, Old Nick is a rationalizing, unemployed middle-aged man instead of the stereotypically violent aggressor, and Jack is not completely oblivious to the injustice of his situation despite his misunderstanding of the outside world. The movie gains gravitas from choosing to present moments that show this honesty, like shots of Jack listening to his mother’s interactions with Old Nick at night, instead of the more stylized sequences often favored by other dramas.
One of the beautiful parts of the movie is that the director does not rely on dramatic music to make his points, and instead lets silence illustrate emotion. In one particular scene, as Joy contemplates the risk of her escape plan, her face, the rhythm of her breathing and her tightly clenched fists say it all.
Larson’s performance is outstanding. Her character radiates the fierce maternal love so crucial to Jack’s protection through the smallest glance or shift in tone. Her role encompasses nearly the entire range of human emotion in one film, and Larson meets each shift with underplayed intensity. From the very first opening shot, the audience is rooting for her, and though nothing like Joy’s sacrifices are experienced by Larson, Larson’s character remains stunningly believable throughout the film.
In short, “Room” is a film about perspective. As Jack and Ma lean on each other through their extreme escape, they realize the power of love and hope. Their ability to find the humor and excitement in everything, and their experience of looking at the world with fresh eyes is a valuable lesson in enjoying the little moments in life. “Room” is a powerful, out of the box film about our ability to survive and adapt when all we have is love.
1 hour, 58 minutes
Release Date: 16 October 2015
Rated: R for language
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers