Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson
Written by: Emma Donaghue (based on her novel of the same name)
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen
It’s hard to know what to say about Room without saying too much. I have so many things I want to express about my experience with this film, yet to express them would be to perhaps rob the reader of the privilege of sharing in them. The most frustrating catch-22 a critic can face, when the verbalisation of what makes something good, even just a little bit, can remove the goodness for virgin eyes and ears.
Of course, the film’s trailers and marketing already reveal more than I would have cared for would-be viewers to have known beforehand, which makes my preservation efforts a much more futile. But on the off chance that you, dear reader, know absolutely nothing about the film, I offer you only this morsel: Room is a stunning picture, an affectingly emotional and organic melding of adult grievances with infantile whimsy, and the best film I’ve seen yet this year. I insist that you go watch the film now and not read another word.
Room begins in tight quarters with Ma and Jack, a mother and son sharing their small world together in a small space known as “Room.” Room is everything that Jack knows, and he’s convinced that nothing exists outside of its four walls – that is, until Ma explains to him the true nature of “Room” and creates a plan to escape to what lies beyond it: “the World.” When he finally sees the world, wonder and fear simultaneously flood Jack, like he’s been born again.
The film follows his perspective, a dark adventure of innocent discovery through childlike ignorance, and this is its greatest achievement. While the adults around Jack process unimaginable trauma, Jack is caught in the middle of it, a manifestation of the pain for some and of strength for others, all the while having to cope with his own sudden shift in perspective of size and existence. Yet this is mostly met with that wholesome optimism of the young, a psychological salvation by simply not being able to comprehend just how twisted his life was up until this point.
Director Lenny Abrahamson attempted to marry varying tones in his previous film, Frank, albeit tones not quite so starkly contrasting in essence, but not to such sharp success as found in Room. It cuts deeply through its razor of wicked and morose themes seen through childlike eyes. I keep using the word “childlike” because I can’t think of a better way to describe it. This film made me feel things I hadn’t felt since I was a boy. It was like being a child, except I still had an awareness of how evil the world can really be, constantly nagging from behind my thoughts. I found myself in tears off and on throughout the film’s 118 minutes.
Credit for success can be spread around to all aspects of the production, from the marvelous script to the editing, pacing, and cinematography. Certainly the framing here is perfect; moving from the confinement of Room to the spacious expanses of the World was as much of a revelation to me as it was for Jack. But all of this would be for naught without the impeccable cornerstone performance from Jacob Tremblay, a young actor only nine years of age, as Jack. Tremblay conveys both commanding confidence and skeptical nervousness, the unassured probing of a little boy in a foreign world, in a compelling and convincing turn. One of the greatest performances from a child actor I’ve ever seen, and certainly deserving of attention come awards season. Brie Larson is also stunning as “Ma,” a mother steadfastly protecting and nurturing her child while fighting through her own personal hell.
Room gutted me, and somehow it left me with the strength to stand. It’s a blend of pain and hope so exquisitely combined that it feels like it must be true. I’ve been dragged now through unfathomable circumstances, acknowledge it, and can still grasp the chance for healing. I guess to me, in a way, it is perhaps a confirmation that the best way to navigate the treacherous waters of life might be to become like little children.