Several movies suffer from not getting at the essence of the author’s vision in the original story. This is not the case with Emma Donoghue’s award-winning novel ‘Room.’ The reason it works so faithfully well is that the author Donoghue actually adapted her own source material for the film. Director Lenny Abrahamson’s previous work ‘Frank’ which starred Michael Fassbender as an eccentric singer-songwriter who always donned a giant papier-mache head knows how to find empathy in the quirky stories he tackles. The same goes for ‘Room.’ At first glance, the film could easily be dismissed as a creepy thriller but the strong bond between mother and son make it so special. Rising star Brie Larson is a revelation in the lead role as well as newcomer Jacob Tremblay’s enchanting performance. ‘Room’ is one of the best indie films of the year.
It is an astonishing film. It’s told through the eyes of the 5-year-old narrator Jack (Tremblay). The story begins on the boy’s fifth birthday and the world that he inhabits is simply known to him called “Room.” He lives in the tight 11-by-15 space with his Ma (Larson). When Jack wakes up, he greets every object in the room as a friend. Hello Wardrobe, hello Bed, hello Lamp and hello Egg Snake (which they make out of eggshells). Tremblay is fascinating to watch as the curious and playful Jack. With his long hair, it’s easy to mistake him for a girl but soon we realize his hair has never been cut and as he says it is his “Strong.” Ma only allows Jack to watch TV for an hour a day so it doesn’t “rot our brains.” Although the room is dreary, the love between Jack and Ma is genuine. It is when the audience suddenly discovers the circumstances behind mother and son living in this room that the story takes on an emotional intensity.
This is not meant to be a spoiler if you’ve seen the movie trailers and it is why Donoghue’s book is so powerful. Ma and Jack are held captive in the room by a sexual predator known as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). Jack is not aware that they are being held against their will. Seven years earlier, Larson’s character was kidnapped when she was a college student. She is repeatedly raped while Jack sleeps in the closet known as “Wardrobe.” These rapes are committed offscreen. The only concession that Old Nick abides by is never touching her son. Once a week, he brings them scarce amounts of food to live off that Jack calls “Sunday treats.” The food is getting meager and the abuse is getting worse when he turns off the electricity and heat for two days to teach her a lesson. Ma knows that she and Jack cannot go on like this forever.
Ma begins to have serious conversations with Jack. At first, he refuses to listen since it jolts the only world he knows about with the two of them. It’s a brilliant performance by Larson. One moment she hugs Jack and the next moment she tells him that there is a big beautiful world out there beyond the door of Room. Sometimes change is scary but Ma knows it is the only way that they have a chance for safety. The second half of ‘Room’ is the real gift behind this indie gem. Throughout the entire story, we see Jack continue to develop. He is an extremely bright kid and his mother knows that the only way for him to have a chance at a normal life is to devise an escape plan from their prison. To explain anymore would ruin the second half of the film but what it so magnificently accomplishes is the joy and pain of growing up.
Larson was amazing in 2013’s overlooked indie film ‘Short Term 12.’ Her latest turn in ‘Room’ shows off her incredible acting range. It’s the conflicting emotions she projects that make it an Oscar-caliber performance. It is a beautiful portrayal of a mother’s love for her son. In a sense, ‘Room’ is a survival tale and the lengths a mother will go to protect her child. Larson also captures the pain of letting go as Tremblay is allowed to discover the outside world and his unlimited future. ‘Room’ is a must-see for cinephiles. Check out the official trailer https://youtu.be/E_Ci-pAL4eE.