Director Lenny Abrahamson’s Room is an astonishing feat of cinema. What could be a deeply unsettling story instead manages to rise up above its sombre start to become a life-affirming, joyous film. Based on the bestselling book, it has been beautifully adapted with a delicately written screenplay by the original author Emma Donoghue. The film opens in a tiny 10-foot by 10-foot soundproof garden shed, where Joy, or Ma, and her son Jack are held captive by the man who kidnapped Joy seven years ago. The film could easily fall into this claustrophobic narrative; detailing the feeling of entrapment and the climax of the escape, but Room has carefully not marketed itself as a thriller – because it isn’t.
In the five-year-old eyes of Jack (Jacob Tremblay), the tiny room in which he lives is literally his world. Up until just after his birthday Ma (Brie Larson) has allowed him to think that only what he can see is real. Anything outside the four walls is nothing but a dream, or something that only exists inside the two-dimensional TV; and so Jack is allowed to exist in a state of blissful ignorance. Jack’s tiny universe is brought to life by the talented cinematography of Danny Cohen, whose close-up shots of the everyday items Jack greets every morning like old friends (Sink, Lamp, Toilet) make the tiny space, with its egg-shell snake and floating toy boat in the cistern, seem almost like domestic bliss. Until, that is, the camera cuts out again and you’re reminded with a jolt that whilst it’s Jack’s universe, it’s still very much Ma’s prison.
Jack’s innocence is fleeting however, as Ma starts to tell him of his grandmother’s house, places outside the room, and Jack’s universe is cracked open. Yes, they do escape (no spoilers – its in the trailer) but for mother and son, life outside is perhaps more difficult than imagined and freedom seems to come at a cost. What keeps the mood afloat is the strength of their relationship and the fierce love between them, and most of all, discovering the real world and all that comes with it through Jack’s eyes.
Brie Larson is Oscar nominated for her role as Ma/Joy, and rightly so. Sometimes her performance is heart-wrenching to watch. The need to protect Jack drives Joy to desperation and frustration, and the on-going wretched pressure to keep up normality for the sake of her son is perfectly captured in Larson’s weary face. There is equal happiness and pride in her cracked smiles as well though. An Oscar nod would not even have been amiss for the nine-year-old Jacob Tremblay, who carries the film with his unfaltering energy and innocence, making Jack’s journey of discovery utterly believable.
From stark beginnings, this film battles its way through to its happy ending, and is not without its dips along the way. Ultimately this genuine tale of a mother-son bond and childhood innocence is a gem of a movie, reminding us to be grateful for the simple things we have. ‘You’re gonna love it,’ Ma tells Jack, ‘the world.’ Simply put, it would be hard not to love this film too.
Image courtesy of A42 Films