Clenching the Nomination - Room - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Clenching the Nomination – Room

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Andrew discusses the scene in Lenny Abrahamson's Room that he thinks secured the film's Best Picture nomination. You can check out all of our overall guesses on the major Oscar categories for 2016 here.

Clenching RoomWith all due credit to the technical mastery of Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant, neither of those films is my favorite of the Best Picture nominees.  That honor goes to Room, which is not only my favorite, but the only one which I love from top to bottom.  Room convinced me director Lenny Abrahamson is some kind of whimsical genius.  He goes into a realm of fantasy Tim Burton used to specialize in, but Abrahamson's films defy easy labels like Burton's suburban gothic aesthetic.  In both Room and Frank, catharsis doesn't come easy, and there are no spirits who can be stirred to help the protagonists.

The only way out is in.  With Frank, that means letting the titular musician reclaim his spot as the leader of his crew of misfits.  For Room, that means telling the truth as another fable.  Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) has been telling stories to her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) ever since he was born.  The television, faucet, stove, window - all aspects of the room they live in have a history.  Joy creates an origin fable which explains how she and Jack came to be in Room, how the angel came through the window and put Jack in mommy's tummy, and we see that these tales she spun for Jack are how she kept her sanity in this prison.

When their captor, Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), beats Joy yet again she decides it's time to flee.  But that means persuading Jack that the rules of the universe she's told him about for so many years are a lie.  Abrahamson, before this point, has made the room feel much larger than it is.  He used frequent over-the-shoulder shots of Jack and medium shots of Joy as they went about their daily lives.  But when the time comes for Joy to tell Jack the truth, Abrahamson isolates them in different corners of the frame.

Joy, who is at the end of her rope, is filmed sitting against the part of the room that has no decoration.  Jack, across the table, is framed surrounded by the television and his drawings.  His mom is at the end of her rope, and can't rely on the fantasy she built around the room to help her anymore.  In contrast, Jack is being asked to let go of everything he's known to be true.  This space, where mother and son have been closer than most families in history, is now something they both see differently.  As Joy grows more frantic trying to convince Jack of the truth, he clings to the fantasy as its the only reality he's known.

Abrahamson's ability to make Room seem much larger than it is was impressive the first half hour or so.  Now it's equally impressive, and emotionally exhausting, that this tight space can house two different views of reality.  The moment is also an acting clinic for Larson, who brings Joy right to the edge of psychotic desperation then brings her back from getting angry at her child through depression.  It's a coping mechanism, one that keeps Joy from punishing her child for someone else's sins, and a rare sight to see a performer go from one negative emotional extreme to another for the sake of their character.    Tremblay is every bit as impressive.  There's no hint of a "child actor" in his responses.  They are grounded entirely in the logic of his surroundings, holding on to the idea that Room came into existence just for him, and the desperate tears he cries as he calls his mother a liar come from a person who knows his loved one can't keep him safe anymore.  That's not a feeling unique to children, it's something we feel in the sting of a breakup, or the emptiness at hearing of a family member's death.

It's not the fantasy of Room which won its Best Picture nomination, but the painful uncertainty of becoming a new person and hoping those who love you will still love you after you've changed.  This moment between Jack and Joy is the first of many changes they'll go through before the credits roll.  Abrahamson navigates the constraints of the room, then the uncertainty of life outside it, with such painful wonder that I'll be watching the Oscars Sunday quietly hoping the Academy recognizes Room for the continued excellence of the most intoxicating director working today.

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Posted by Andrew

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