Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson
Premise: A woman and her son have been held captive for years in a backyard shed. When the boy turns five they plot an escape.
What Works: Room is an extraordinary movie and like the predicament of its main characters this film has a lot going on within a tight space. The primary thing that Room boasts is its central performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay as Ma her son Jack. Larson’s character is a young woman who was abducted when she was seventeen years old and has been imprisoned in a one room cell for seven years. In that time she has been impregnated by her captor and Larson’s character now takes care of her five year old son. Referred to in the movie as “Ma,” Larson’s character is fascinating. She is a woman who has adapted to life in a prison and become a parent under the worst of circumstances. And yet, a lot of the first half of Room isn’t about the degradation of living as a slave but about the love between a parent and her child, the will to survive, and the mother’s efforts to make this situation bearable for herself and her son. Jack is played by Jacob Tremblay and he provides one of the most extraordinary performances by a child actor in many years. Tremblay has a tremendous range and a degree of nuance that is impressive even among adult performers. But his character is still a child and filmmakers never make Jack unnecessarily precocious. The heart of the movie is in the mother-son relationship. Room opens on Jack’s fifth birthday and up until now Ma has told her son a myth about the world; their room is floating in space and their captor, referred to as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), conjures their supplies with magic. With the boy turning five, Ma tells her son the truth and Jack reacts with denial followed by gradual acceptance. Despite their extraordinary circumstances, what is so interesting about these early sequences is how authentic they feel and the way that the mother’s confession reflects the realities of both parenting and childhood, and especially the noble lies that adults tell children and the disillusionment that children experience when they find out that the world isn’t the way our parents said it was. That gets at what is so impactful about Room; the conceit of this story penetrates primal parent-child experiences and it exposes how fragile reality can be. That exploration continues even after the issues seems like they’re resolved. The first half of Room plays like a prison break story and its second half is about recovery. Room is partly about the link between environment and personality and the way we become accustomed to horrible things and how the repercussions of trauma continue to haunt us.
What Doesn’t: The one weak spot of Room is the subplot involving the parents played by Joan Allen, William H. Macy, and Tom McCamus. Following their daughter’s abduction, the biological parents (Allen and Macy) divorced and Joan Allen’s character has since remarried. This comes as a shock to Brie Larson’s character but the filmmakers don’t get much out of that twist. There is also a very interesting development with Macy’s character; he cannot reconcile that his grandson is also the child of his daughter’s captor which causes tension within the family. This subplot is dropped and never resolved. That leads to another of the story’s omissions: the fate of Old Nick. The abductor is presumably put on trial but he’s never seen again and the fact that he is Jack’s father and is therefore a part of the family creates another interesting tension that isn’t resolved or developed. However, these omissions are generally good choices, as the filmmakers opt to keep their focus on the plight of Ma and Jack.
Bottom Line: Room is one of those rare movies that we come out of seeing the world differently. This picture does everything right and its ability to expand our sense of self and our perception of the world makes this one of the best movies of 2015.
Episode: #579 (January 24, 2016)