Release: November 25, 2015
Director: Lenny Abrahamsson
Screenplay: Emma Donaghue
DP: Danny Cohen
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay
Rooms. In any childhood, rooms are typically places of refuge. They provide safe havens for children as they grow up and learn about the outside world. Rooms are places of safety.
In ROOM, we meet little Jack and his mother, Joy. In their world, Room is all Jack has ever known. The child sees but a few things during his days: his mother, the TV, kitchen items, bath tub, and other mundane items around Room. He seems rather cheerful about it all, a mood that begins to feel just a little… off.
Eventually, the audience is led slowly, gradually to the horrifying realization that Joy and Jack are actually locked into this Room. A mysterious man named Old Nick keeps mother and son locked up, keeping the heat running and food on the table for them. But this is far from a benevolent relationship. We learn that Joy actually was abducted by this man as a teenager, and has spent the last seven years locked in a shed in his backyard. Thusly trapped, Joy’s nightly routine consists of putting Jack to bed, satisfying her captor’s sexual demands, and finally getting some sleep of her own. It’s painful to watch, and punches you in the gut as you begin to realize what is actually happening on the screen in front of you.
Naturally, we are led to wonder whether they will ever escape, whether Jack will ever know the real world outside of this dingy old shed. After a few unsuccessful attempts at escape, the pair finally succeed, in what can only be described as a tension-filled, heart-wrenching sequence. The film appears to reach a certain level of conclusion at this point, but we learn that it is just the beginning. What follows their escape is a story of recovery, pain, and the resiliency of human nature.
Joy’s journey of recovery from nearly a decade of captivity doesn’t follow the same lines that her son Jack’s journey does. She experiences relief – relief at being out and being back in her childhood home with her mother. But normalcy doesn’t come easily for her; how can one who has gone through seven years of being cooped up in a small, 11 x 11 room, easily return to how things used to be? This small relief quickly turns into a fallow depression, a nearly postpartum-like separation anxiety. Because Jack is out in the world now and not a mere few feet away, Joy’s motherhood appears to be threatened. With seemingly little left to live for, Joy tragically attempts to take her life to escape the pain, an emotionally affecting moment that brings viewers to a crossroads: will this movie bring us to a really harrowing end or will there be redemption? Will there be a bounce back?
While we wait out Joy’s fate, we follow the recovery stages of Jack, who essentially serves as the emotional center of the film. Lenny Abrahamsson’s direction is so well-executed here. The film is shot from a child’s perspective, with sounds and people obscured in a way to convey the type of confusion any of us once felt as a five-year-old child. It’s really all so, so brilliant. And as we begin to explore the wide, wide world outside of Room with young Jack, we experience the roller coaster ride through his eyes. We watch as he slowly blossoms from long-haired, scared-out-of-his mind captive to a precocious, thoughtful young man. He learns to interact with people, but most importantly, as we see, he remains fully capable of loving, even after such horrific life circumstances. Jack is a little fighter, and we can’t help but root for him and fight alongside him. His mother, Joy, also fights back and is able to return as well, an emotional catharsis that the filmmakers earn fully over the course of the film. Their execution is careful, thoughtful, and emotionally charged, and is beautifully done.
I often have a hard time thinking about the kind of movies I recommend; movies like ROOM are part of the reason why. This film is a commentary on the human condition. The highs and lows, marked not in ink but in watercolors. We encounter the depths of despair but arrive at the heights of redemption. It is a triumph of technical skill, both in filmmaking and character-writing. Based on Emma Donaghue’s novel, this story is remarkable and riveting. It’s a hard movie to watch, but it’s a really great movie to watch.
I highly recommend it.