“Room” is a beautiful film about making the best out of viciously dark circumstances. Of all the films that I’ve seen this year “Room” has affected me the most, not because of the situation that Joy (Brie Larson) and Jack (Jacob Tremblay) find themselves in, but because of the message of hope that is put across in spite of that situation. It is truly heart-breaking to watch Joy’s constant struggle to live a normal life, but at the same time Jack’s perspective on the world is so wonderfully sincere and innocent.
It should be clear if you’ve seen the trailer that this film is about a child who is raised inside one room – that room is his world, and in his mind it is in fact the world. For Jack, at the start of the film nothing exists outside of Room, at least nothing that he will ever know – he has always been there and he always will be. The people on the television live on other planets, his mother has always been in Room, and the person who brings them treats on a Sunday gets them by magic. So, for Jack everything inside his tiny universe has a purpose, a personality, and is central to his existence.
However, things for Joy (Jack’s mother) are not so awe-inspiring. Joy has created this world for Jack to shield him from the harsh reality of what Room actually is; a garden shed in which she has been imprisoned, beaten, and raped for seven years. That’s the set up – Room is something completely opposite for the two protagonists, and over the course of the film the audience experiences the difficulties that each person faces whilst coping with and ultimately letting go of the world they shared together.
It should also be evident from the trailer that Jack and Joy don’t spend the entirety of this film in Room because, after all, there are scenes in said trailer which don’t take place at that location. Jack explicitly states on the voiceover that he knows ‘everything’ whereas he used to only know some things, implying that he is no longer confined to a universe made up of four walls and a locked door. “Room” is essentially about a mother and her son attempting to live normally in the outside world after escaping captivity, so you shouldn’t go into this film expecting it to take place entirely in one setting.
“Room” revolves around Jack as he attempts to understand the world around him. He appears in almost every scene, and every meaningful interaction that takes place in the film is either about him or involves him. Through Jack we meet Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) for the first time, watching with Jack through the shutters of his wardrobe as Joy placates him and takes him to bed. Although we know exactly what’s going on, this scene is filmed so that the audience attempts to latch onto what Jack might be thinking; I don’t know about everyone else, but I found that incredibly difficult. It’s hard enough to try to imagine what a normal child understands about sex, but to attempt to get inside the mind-set of a child who knows nothing about the outside world or the way that children are conceived is almost impossible.
Having said that, it’s moments like this which really highlight why Jacob Tremblay’s performance in this film is so amazing, and why Lenny Abrahamson’s direction is excellent, because Tremblay conveys confusion and distress subtly, projecting the emotions of the audience whilst also demonstrating that Jack is unaware of why he feels the way he does. As Jack lies silently in his wardrobe, he hears his mother having sex with a man who is seemingly from a whole different world – he doesn’t know what’s physically going on and he isn’t completely sure how it is even possible that Old Nick can exist given that he doesn’t live in Room, but he knows that he isn’t allowed outside of the wardrobe until it’s over. In other words he’s confused, but the more disturbing aspect of this scene is that it still appears as though Jack knows that whatever is going on isn’t right.
He is clearly uncomfortable; he looks sad and helpless as he lays his head down, and you get the feeling that he wants to stop whatever’s happening. Maybe it’s just the connection he has with his mother – she clearly doesn’t like Old Nick that much despite the fact that he brings them food and gifts each week, and she doesn’t sound like she’s happy when he’s around – but I felt as though the intention was to show that a part of Jack knew that something was wrong in spite of his ignorance. Jacob Tremblay is able to convey this to the audience, even though he shouldn’t fully understand how his character is feeling or what is actually happening in the scene, which in my opinion is exceptional; how he hasn’t been nominated for an Academy Award is something that I will never understand.
Brie Larson is equally as good as Joy, as she displays motherly affection with ease and confidence. Her performance is incredibly genuine and sweet, but it’s also soul-destroying because you can see the potential that Joy’s life had before she was kidnapped, and you can also see how much effort she’s putting in just to keep it together. Larson’s eyes are exceptionally expressive, particularly at her most desperate moments, which is only made more apparent by the lack of makeup used whilst the characters are in Room. Larson is just utterly believable throughout; she presents the internal conflict that Joy faces with subtlety, and her relationship with Jacob Tremblay feels completely and utterly authentic.
There’s a lot of depth to “Room” on top of the performances, and I feel as though it really makes the most of its premise. There’s a duality in the story, as it initially appears that Jack is reliant on Joy for his survival, but once the pair are set free it’s clear that that might not be the case. Everyone is scared that Jack won’t be able to adapt to the real world because of his isolation from the rest of humanity, and also because he’s the product of rape and has seen horrific things, but as “Room” progresses Jack really starts to come out of his shell.
Joy, on the other hand, struggles intensely to come to terms with the fact that she is able to simply live. She’s been trying to pretend that everything is fine for so long that she can’t reintegrate into society once she’s free. At this point it’s clear that Joy hasn’t dealt with the situation that she faced in Room as well as she thought she had, at least not psychologically, and that without Jack she may not have been able to last as long as she did. Jack very literally saves her life when the pair manage to escape Old Nick, but in reality he has been doing so his entire life because he gave her a reason to carry on.
Joy needed Jack to survive; she needed a reason to get out of bed in the morning. This co-dependency might seem to be the ultimate demonstration of love, and of course there is a beauty to it, but it is the realisation of this fact that ultimately pushes Joy over the edge. She sees that although she’s always tried to protect Jack, she could’ve given him a better life if she had simply asked Old Nick to take him to an orphanage or a hospital when he was still a baby, and that in fact she kept him by her side because without him Room wouldn’t have been a world worth living in – it would’ve just been a shed in the back yard of a monster.
The screenplay was written by Emma Donoghue who also wrote the novel that this film is based on, aptly also called “Room”. I think that in this case that definitely helped the film, because you can tell that the person who penned the script was actively invested in the characters and the story. The way that the pair depend on each other for companionship, and the way that Jack uses language in an unconventional ad hoc way, are brilliantly conveyed and realised on screen, which I feel is down in no small part to Emma Donoghue’s considered take on her own material.
It would be unfair to end this review without first noting that “Room” does have a few plot holes. Why would Old Nick not check to see if Jack was dead? Why would Old Nick allow Joy to keep her child? Why didn’t Joy try to break the skylight? These issues do arise when you think about the story after leaving the cinema, but importantly they don’t matter whilst you’re watching the film – at least they didn’t for me. There’s no such thing as a perfect film and issues are inevitable, but I think that whether or not you can acknowledge them and still find a movie both enjoyable and interesting is what ultimately makes that movie great. I can say with confidence that when I think about “Room” I think about the numerous scenes that captivated and moved me, not the minor issues, which for me is what really matters.
“Room” is one of the best films that I’ve seen in years. It definitely suits my tastes, so I don’t want everyone who reads this review to think that they too will fall in love with it, but I genuinely believe that it is a fantastic movie. From a tick-box standpoint it has everything – brilliant performances, intelligent direction, a great script, first-rate cinematography, and an interesting story – but more importantly it has heart. It’s an isolated story that’s worth telling, and it’s one that resonated with me in a meaningful way.