Canada/Ireland. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, 2015. Starring Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers, William H. Macy. 118 minutes. 

Jack (Jacob Tremblay) lives in a garden shed with his mother (Brie Larson), and in his five years of life, neither he or his Ma has ever left it. He doesn’t know that there’s a world outside the shed door, that the things he sees on television are, in some part, real, or that kindly “Old Nick” (Sean Bridgers) who brings them food and supplies abducted Ma before he was even born. He doesn’t know that Old Nick is his father by rape. He doesn’t know that Ma told him a lot of lies because he was too young to understand the truth. All he knows is the tiny world inside the shed, which he calls Room.

When Old Nick loses his job and can’t keep up with his bills, Ma sees a chance for escape. Unfortunately, Old Nick isn’t her only obstacle: she must convince her son to disregard everything she taught him about the world. And their problems don’t end once they leave Room. How will Ma adjust to a world she spent seven years away from? How will Jack cope with so many things he has never known?

Trauma is a popular source of conflict in drama, particularly in genre exercises: it’s natural to want to see characters in unusual, dangerous situations, defying all odds to succeed. Many such narratives limit the aftermath of that trauma to the final segment of the plot arc, the denoument, but that doesn’t mean it can’t serve as a rich source of drama itself. Ma’s captivity is a traumatic event, but so is her escape, at least to Jack, and Room spends as much time examining the lives of Jack and his Ma inside Room as it does on their lives on the outside.

Director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank) and screenwriter Emma Donaghue (adapting her novel) tell the story from Jack’s point of view, giving him a metaphorical second birth into a wider world. This perspective is ironically inverted from the viewers’: we see the outside world as ordinary and banal, and Room as the scary place where bizarre, messed-up stuff happens, but to Jack it’s the other way round. Room is comfort, Room is predictability, Room is safety. When Jack and Ma go to live with her parents, a throng of well-wishers greets them–not to mention the media–and those qualities are no longer present.

Room has been described as a “thriller” and while there are moments of danger and tension, at its core it’s a family drama, more about heartbreak and relationships than excitement. It needs a strong cast, particularly when it comes to Jack, a role that requires a certain natural-ness from Tremblay–too much of a “performance” will kill the film with preciousness. He succeeds admirably here. Larson is also terrific as Ma, who embodies an unusual mixture of maturity and immaturity: emotionally stunted by her captivity, she nonetheless possesses keen instincts when it comes to her son.

I’ll call it now: at this point in the game, I expect to name Room my favorite film of 2015. It’s a sad and challenging but ultimately hopeful story about broken people struggling to help each other fix themselves, buoyed by a great script and fine performances.

ROOM poster.

5 thoughts on “Room

  1. Wonderful review! You really encapsulate what makes this movie so special. You captured it with how it focuses on the aftermath when most movies would tack that on as an afterthought. I hadn’t quite thought of it in those terms, but it’s the perfect way to describe it. Going in I had not seen the trailers, and had no clue that they’d be escaping halfway through the movie. I was still expecting more of a drama than a thriller, but it was still quite thrilling during those sequences. I can’t help but think the trailers somewhat took away from that, but that might just be my hindsight talking. I was totally surprised by how much time we spent with them after their escape. I even thought – wow, I want to spend more time with these people and see how this turns out right after the escape, only to find that that was the main point of the film. It really is very well-made and emotionally effective. It’s one of my favorites of the year as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I had the same exact feeling for these characters as I did when I read the book. Jacob Tremblay is a relevation. I can’t wait to see what roles this kid does next. It does a good job in describing what happens after they escape. I just wish the trailers didn’t spoil that. Great review

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This movie is one of my favourites from 2015 as well. It is amazing how good both leads are. I expected an escape story and that’s not what I got – what I got was way better. Like you said it’s about relationships, growth and change, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

    Liked by 1 person

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