Room (2015) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Room (2015)

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Jack wakes up to a happy birthday from his mother and walks around Room.  All he knows is Room, the few square feet he and his mother have to exercise, eat, and clean themselves every day.  As desperation mounts, Ma thinks of a plan for her and Jack to finally escape.  But is Jack willing to live without Room, and will the world accept him?  Lenny Abrahamson directs Room from a screenplay written by Emma Donoghue and stars Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Tom McManus, Joan Allen, and William H. Macy.

Just remember to breatheWatching Room, I thought how the many childhood fictions we’re told are a direct result of privilege or lack thereof.  If you have a family with decent resources you’ll have a Santa Claus, maybe an Easter Bunny, or a Tooth Fairy to leave trinkets.  With kids who have little they may have to revert to the consolations of faith or stories where the greedy get their due.  What Room does is imagine a scenario where the only thing the child doesn’t even have the option of going outside, whose world is a desolate cube of mold and barely functioning appliances, and how society will not allow a mother even in those conditions to do anything but her absolute best.

Room has been advertised as an uplifting story but if it soars at all it’s from a plateau of desperation to public torture.  Surrounding the terror is a story of how the best parents can adapt to their circumstances and still raise wonderful children.  But the core of Room is desperate and terrified, anchored by a perspective limited by a constrained existence and horrified at the limitless expanse of the outside world.

That this comes from director Lenny Abrahamson, who with 2014’s Frank wrought surprising depth about depression from an inherently comedic scenario.  Room, adapted from the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue (who also writes the screenplay), can’t fall back on comedy as easily.  The realities of Ma (Brie Larson) and Jack’s (Jacob Tremblay) experience are as clear as the claustrophobic camerawork which gradually defines the first half of the film.  Everyone involved in the production of Room had a tighter wire to walk than Frank and that it succeeds at all is a minor miracle.


Jacob Tremblay embodies his performance with such confidence in gender fluidity and navigating extreme tonal shifts peers three times his age should take notes.

Cinematographer Danny Cohen works with Abrahamson to create a sense of space which is feels at home even as it confines.  As we watch Ma and Jack go about their daily routine in Room (capitalized as it's a character all its own) the camera pans back and forth as Ma improvises a workout routine for Jack.  As the reality of his mother’s, and by extension his own, captivity becomes real to Jack the camera is crammed into tinier spaces.  They invert the formula for horror and instead of showing their life as captives as terrifying and limited from the first frame on it’s the idea of freedom that becomes horrible for Jack.

Abrahamson shows this impressively by making Room homey even if cramped.  Yes, it’s disgusting, but there’s the comfort of a daily routine, basic utilities, and Jack’s drawings on the wall.  When Jack is able to escape the outside world looks too clean with even the street Jack runs on in his first look at life outside Room seems too clean.  Then there’s the sparse hospital, the grandmother’s (Joan Allen) home where Jack only feels comfortable looking at the world through bars, and the toys which are a far cry from the eggshell friends Jack had to make for himself.

This is where Room and everyone contributing to it struck the balance perfectly.  Ma did her job so well in spite of her surroundings that it’s the “real world” Jack has to tentatively adapt himself to.  Tremblay’s performance is crucial to Room working.  I admit being a bit put off at first because of his narration and the storybook positivity of his expressions.  But as Room continued Tremblay adapted to terrors and delights which confound even experienced actors.  He brings gravity and weight to a role which could have been cloying yet in his hands is confident but lonely.


Brie Larson is in a class of acting all her own in Room.

The world already seems to be spreading the word but Larson’s work as Ma can’t be praised enough.  It’s such a logical yet extreme extension from the same cluster of raw nerves and optimism she showed in Short Term 12.  Her work is sometimes terrifying here, looking like she’s a step away from hurting herself or those around her before snapping back to optimism and storytelling.  In Short Term 12 she showed how victims of trauma return to the site of their wound in surprising ways.  Here she barely finds the strength to push beyond an unspeakable torture where the temporary joy of freedom means reliving the experience for the rest of her life.

It’s not the physical captivity of Room which is so terrifying, but the reality that Ma will never be free from her experience.  Larson’s performance, Donoghue’s dialogue, and Abrahamson’s direction combine for an indictment of the way women generally and mothers in particular are required to be beyond perfect.  The prison will never leave Ma because the media and justice system is set up in such a way to forever trap her.  My tears came not from Ma and Jack’s imprisonment, but how the world will never accept her for being a mother in an impossible situation.

But without her we wouldn’t have Jack. Jack who finds a cop willing to listen and try to translate his world in our terms, who keeps hugging Ma even when she doesn’t want to exist, and tentatively reaches out to the world in his own way.  Room is his story and without Ma he would never have had the strength to finish it.  In its weird, painful, wonderful way Room will provide some catharsis in audiences prepared for their spirits soar.  What Abrahamson remembers is that no one knows the feeling of liberation without imprisonment and some prisons last a lifetime.

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Tail - RoomRoom (2015)

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson.
Screenplay written by Emma Donoghue.
Starring Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Tom McManus, Joan Allen, and William H. Macy.

Posted by Andrew

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