For movie-goers who have not read Emma Donohue’s critically acclaimed novel, Room may appear hard to swallow. Director Lenny Abrahamson takes on an almost unrivalled premise with five-year-old protagonist Jack, the product of his Ma’s kidnap, repeated rape and seven-year imprisonment. Jack is chipper and healthy, in spite of the fact that he has never experienced existence beyond the eleven-foot walls of their garden shed confines. But don’t be fooled by its seemingly grim design: life-affirming themes and stellar performances from both leads make for a profoundly affecting film.
Oscar-nominated Brie Larson is stunning as the tortured Ma – she masters a mother’s joy but thinly cloaks that haunted, dead-behind-the-eyes presence of a long-term captive. Larson deserves her universal praise and prospective Oscar, donning a hagged appearance and having undergone extreme isolation in preparation for Ma’s headspace. But the star of the show is undoubtedly young Jacob Tremblay, who delivers a convincing yet chilling performance of the youngster. Jack’s innocence begs your adoration from the opening scene and he is a character you will never forget. His flawless performance has even encouraged critics to call for his Oscar nomination.
While – I hope – most viewers cannot relate as victims of physical abuse and confinement, Room will speak to those who have been metaphorical captives of many of life’s burdens: be it illness, addiction or despair. Some will have experienced a Room of their own – a small, dark and seemingly inescapable prison, of both desperation and maddening boredom. However, what both writer and director capture so beautifully is the simultaneous safety and warmth of Jack’s Room, and of childhood itself. Jack’s courageous and traumatic expulsion into the brilliant terror of the world is perhaps Donohue’s striking representation of growing up. The viewer along with Jack grieves for Room and its security and simplicity, as well as a mother that had once been only his own.
At its core, Room is the story of uncompromised love under incomprehensible circumstances. Larson does not play a perfect mother. Rather she delivers a human portrayal of a damaged woman who adores her son nonetheless. This honest relationship peaks the film’s emotional arc, in particular their heart-wrenching reunion following their escape from Room.
Like the novel before it, the film adaptation has the power to follow you around for days. Take your tissues and a supportive friend.