Love Knows No Boundaries
Room opens in a single location and introduces us to the two individuals who inhabit it. The first is five year old Jack [Tremblay] and the second is Joy [Larson], his mother. Told from the Jack’s perspective, he narrates about his experience of the world, specifically this cell. As the story progresses it quickly becomes apparent that seven years ago Joy was kidnapped by a man (nicknamed Old Nick) who repeatedly visits and rapes her; Jack is a product of these regular visits. Whenever Old Nick [Bridgers] enters the room, Jack is secured in the wardrobe where he waits until he is allowed out again. During one of these visits, Joy learns that Old Nick is being laid off from work and it quickly dawns on her that her captor would likely kill them both than release them; as such, she tries her best to educate Jack to the truth of their predicament and enlist him in an escape attempt. It is truly unfortunate that this subject has so much inspirational material to draw upon. This isn’t some fantastical hypothetical, it’s something that happens on a disturbingly regular basis. Subsequently, Room is not the easiest of films to watch and yet to brand it as a straight-forward crime thriller would be a great disservice.
Lenny Abrahamson continues his fine, bold and confident direction demonstrated in Frank and manages to achieve what so many thrillers set out to do but often fall short of: be both a harrowing yet somehow uplifting experience. What’s more the actual developments of the narrative contain several tropes that we’ve seen rehashed many times in the past but Room manages to earns those saccharine moments, you find yourself desperately wanting to protect this child from harm. Choosing to keep the narrative contained to Jack’s experiences and seldom deviating from his point of view was a very good choice and expertly carried over from the book. Another fine choice was to ensure that the rape and violence, while both exceedingly tense, are never sensationalised. They are presented as mundane facts of life for these two captives yet all of it seems almost tolerable because they are living for each other – admittedly, this is under the grace of Joy choosing what to reveal to Jack and the manner in which she has raised him. All of which, of course, comes back to the brilliant source material and Emma Donoghue’s screenplay. With references to Alice In Wonderland and The Count Of Monte Cristo, Donoghue creates a credible world for this child to be ‘raised’ in and immediately you applaud both the effort and patience put forth by Joy, wondering how she has managed to survive this long. Furthermore, Jack has the interesting characteristic of a unique dialect, a mixture of grammatical accuracy and televisual understanding; sort of reminiscent of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.
Thanks to the engrossing and utterly believable lead performances, every development (and there are a few textbook ones) is horribly realistic. So much so that we end up with a film that feels so real to the degree you don’t want it to be real because the world can’t be this awful. Larson is phenomenal. The evolution of Joy and even the unspoken/suggested things that she would have had to undergo to get to that point in the story is a testament to the human spirit and psychological endurance. Then there’s the young Tremblay who manages to come across convincingly without ever grating on audiences. The worst thing a child actor can do is imitate adults so closely that they become these fictional beings that solely exist on-screen. Instead, Jack is a very character brought to life through both an amazing performance and collaboration with Larson. I don’t know what lengths these two took to bond in this way but it feels so natural and convincing that there are times when you forget the fictional/forced connection between these two effective real-life strangers.
To my mind, cinema is not about entertainment, it’s about experience. A lot of people will slight films or avoid them all together because they won’t be entertained. But thrillers and horror films operate on the blanket of safety, presenting a story for you to voyeuristically immerse yourself in while assured you are in a safe place; it’s not real. So with precision editing, wonderful scoring, gorgeous cinematography, masterful directing and powerful acting, it’s hard to slight this film at all; except for the fact that the subject matter is very unpleasant. As stated above, Room is one of those releases that takes something awful that has been/is happening all over the world and forces you to watch but thankfully guides to a place of hope and for that it’s an absolutely wondrous movie.
15th January 2016
The Scene To Look Out For:
I’ve seen films that set out exploitative moments aplenty hoping to evoke some sort of emotional response from the audience. While some of them access certain people, you never really feel you have generated the connection with the characters necessary to care about them. Jack’s escape attempt flies in the face of that. Having worked solidly for the better part of an hour to show you this innocent boy, you desperately clench your fists, muttering to yourself, yearning him to just get away. It’s heart pounding, gripping and frankly exhausting but my God, it’s fantastic cinema.
**Major spoilers within, avoid until you’ve seen the film**
Very little is seen of the world outside of ‘room’ – except that which is broadcast on television. After Joy explains how the world actually is (“unlying” as she calls it) and the escape attempt is in full swing, it would have been very easy to make this a short release ending on the emotional high of liberation. Instead this only takes us to the halfway point and we then learn how Jack copes in this brave new world and equally how Joy has trouble being around Jack and trying to adjust to her new surroundings. Two of the most supportive characters take the form of Joy’s mother Nancy [Joan Allen] and her new partner Leo [Tom McCamus]. I really liked these two and loved even more that the film stayed with the family through squabbles showing how hard it is for everyone to communicate after this horrific ordeal. Brilliantly performed and ensures that the film doesn’t slum halfway through.
“Tell her she can have my strong, she needs it”
In A Few Words:
“Draining, powerful, crushing and unspeakably tender, Room is an amazing example of using independent cinema to illustrate some of the worst elements of mankind and some of the best”