The last year or two have been rather blah years for movies, at least in terms of what interests me. That is, until this awards season brought a whole slew of intriguing movies. As soon as I watched the trailer for Room, it became one of the films I most wanted to see. Although I like to read the book first when it comes to adaptations, it’s hard to make that a rule with so many films coming from source material. The buzz about the lead performances made Room too good to pass up.
Room is about a young woman who has been held captive in one room for seven years. Her five-year-old son Jack has never known the outside world, and for his protection she lets him believe that there’s nothing beyond Room. Emma Donoghue’s novel is written from Jack’s perspective. The film also takes on his point of view through voiceovers and kid’s-eye-view shots. This infuses childish wonderment into a nightmare scenario, and it gives the viewer some breathing room. The focus isn’t on the depravity of their captor, which any adult viewer can deduce without being told, but on the relationship between Jack and Ma.
This relationship was my entire motivation for seeing the film. Brie Larson gives up all vanity to play Ma, and she’s got the haunted eyes down. Jacob Tremblay is sweet and rough, incredibly natural for a child actor. Although there’s a fierce love between them, the film never portrays their relationship as perfect. Ma gets frustrated and breaks down at times; Jack is stubborn and throws the occasional tantrum. In hindsight, I’m so relieved that Ma wasn’t made into a martyr or Jack into a paragon of cuteness. The story is made all the more devastating by how real their characters seem. Brie Larson earned that Oscar.
The film begins with a series of obscure closeups, giving the viewer a sense of disorientation and claustrophobia that is indicative of life in Room. In a wider frame, it’s a world of grubby pastels, an aesthetic that honors both Ma’s efforts to give Jack a happy childhood and the reality of their situation. When Ma and Jack attempt to escape, the wider world is startling after the confines of Room. Perhaps the greatest feat of this film is making the viewer fully understand Jack’s confusion about the outside world and apprehension about leaving his home.
As you might imagine, Room isn’t a lighthearted viewing experience. Apparently showing a child in distress is a surefire way to make me weep. (Turns out it was a very good idea to rent it online instead of going to the theater.) Yet Room is also the best movie I’ve seen so far in 2016, and I won’t be forgetting it.