To call Room simply depressing would be to do it a huge injustice – Room is not depressing. It’s intense, yes, emotionally fraught and desolate in places, but it tells the story of enduring motherhood and of tentative hope in the face of unendurable suffering.
The film follows Jack, a boy who, as he excitedly tells us, has just turned five. Jack is beautifully naïve, enthralled by the world around him – a world that extends only ten feet in any direction. Jack’s world is ‘Room’, the squalid shed that he and his mother, Ma, are held in by the man only known to Jack as Old Nick. For Jack, Old Nick is a provider of food, not the captor that his mother knows. This heartrending sense of innocence is the film’s most beautiful aspect.
‘Room’, though grey and dingy, is captured through the eyes of Jack with wonder and a foal-like wide-eyedness. ‘Good morning, lamp. Good morning, wardrobe,’ he whispers every morning. Extreme close-ups give the room its sense of overbearing claustrophobia, but also this feeling of newness, of discovery – which, for Jack, it is. The skylight on their roof leads him to outer space; when he stares at the outside world in amazement, Ma stares at it with desperate longing. Director Lenny Abrahamson (known most recently for Frank, starring Michael Fassbender) has beautiful captured two different versions of the tiny space, and we see them almost layered on top of each other, Jack’s childish imagination superimposed on Ma’s weariness.
Room’s strongest point is how well it sticks to Jack’s perspective, even after the film’s tonal shift. Staring at a hospital’s clinical, almost melodramatically white ceiling reminds us that, for him, everything is vivid, a sensory overload. This juxtaposes beautifully with the greys that permeate Ma’s world – even her face is as deprived of colour. This a film that knows exactly how to use visual tone, and it’s a masterpiece because of it. A close-up on Jack’s face as, lying in the back of the truck, he sees the vastness of the sky for the first time, is some of the finest simplistic storytelling I’ve seen in recent years. Abrahamson knows exactly how to position a camera, and the film is crafted around these telling moments.
At its heart, Room is a story of mother and son. The central relationship between Ma and Jack is everything to the story, and even in the lifeless room they inject their own little bit of happiness. There are drawings on the wall, pet snakes made of eggshells, and every morning they practice yoga together – the two of them, in short, are the film’s hopeful core.
Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, as the pair, are astonishing. Larson is perfection as long-suffering Ma, infusing the lostness of a woman held hostage with the fulfilment of motherhood – her son is her world, and she’s a resourceful, emotionally-charged, self-sacrificing force of nature. Tremblay is an absolute find, playing Jack so well that every word feels as though it’s come straight from him. The beauty of a talented child actor is that they possess the ability to make it seem as though they’re never acting for a second, and Tremblay absolutely does this, not only through his nuanced performance, but through the childish, innocent voice-overs with which he describes his world. Together, the two of them have an almost tangible bond that holds together the entire film.
Room is a beautiful, exhausting, uplifting tale about love and growing up that, thanks to Lenny Abrahamson’s prowess, also becomes a masterclass in the pure simplicity of filmmaking.
Dir: Lenny Abrahamson
Scr: Emma Donoghue
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy
Prd: Jeff Arkuss, Rose Garnett
DOP: Danny Cohen
Music: Stephen Rennicks
Runtime: 118 mins