Imagine growing up in a place where you knew nothing about the world outside of the four-wall dwelling you have spent your entire life in. Your only notion of life outside comes from what your mother tells you, the wavy “magical” images that are projected from the television, and the mysterious man who occasionally drops off “Sunday treats.” This is the life that Jack (Jacob Tremblay) finds himself in upon his fifth birthday in Lenny Abrahamson’s Room.
Living in a cramped shed with his mother, Ma (Brie Larson), Jack is just like any other young boy who enjoys playing and watching television. He is too young to truly understand the dire situation he has been born into. All Jack knows is that he is supposed to stay away from Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), including sleeping in the closet whenever he comes to visit Ma at night, even if the man comes bearing gifts and much needed supplies. Unaware that Old Nick is Ma’s kidnapper, and his father, Jack struggles to comprehend why his mother obsession with devising plans for their escape.
Unexpectedly forced into a position he never wanted to be in, Jack must figure out how to endure the wondrous and terrifying sensory experience that this new world brings when Ma puts one of her plans into action. While Jack attempts to navigate a possible future in an environment that is foreign to him, Ma finds it hard to let go of the nightmares of the past.
Adapted from the novel by Emma Donoghue, Room is a powerful and moving film that tells its tale from Jack’s point of view. The childlike innocence within a chilling situation is what makes the film so impactful. I am not ashamed to admit that Room nearly broke me. I was not expecting it to hit me on the emotional level that it did. While a small part of my deep connection to the film stems from having a four-year-old son, the majority of it comes from Abrahamson’s effective filmmaking.
Through Jack’s eye the chilling claustrophobic space they are confined in is given an almost comforting feel. It is only when he is on the outside that the magnitude of his situation really sinks in. This is a child who has never seen a tree let alone his own reflection. In many ways it is as if Abrahamson has captured the experience of birth all over again. Jack is awaking to the sights and sounds of the world and so is the audience.
The film does a wonderful job of juxtaposing this with Ma’s subsequent struggles to acclimatize back to a normal life. The emotional scars and guilt run deep within Ma and her family – including her divorced parents (Joan Allen and William H. Macy) and her mother’s new partner (Tom McCamus). Abrahamson’s layered film not only highlights the lengths parents will go to in order to keep their children safe, but also the vulnerability and pain they feel when incidents beyond their control greatly impact their children’s lives. Abrahamson uses Room to subtly ponder how families begin the healing process after enduring such a painful event?
While Room carries a rich and emotionally moving narrative, the film would not have been as successful if not for the phenomenal performances from Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson. Tremblay is a revelation in the role of Jack. Few child actors can skillfully reach the range of emotions that Tremblay is asked to do. His interactions with Larson feel authentic, which makes their predicament all the more harrowing. Larson is equally good bringing a complex mixture of fear, rage, and borderline insanity to a woman who is constantly hanging on by a thread.
Expertly constructed and powerfully moving, Room is an exceptional film that should not be missed.
Wednesday, September 16, 3:00 PM, Prince of Wales
Ticket information can be found at the TIFF website.