There is no greater proof of ignorance is bliss than the premise upon which Room is hinged. The story of Room starts before the film does. It begins when 17-year-old Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) is out walking and she agrees to help a man find his dog. He abducts her and keeps her locked away in his garden shed. The film begins seven years later with her son, Jack’s (Jacob Tremblay) fifth birthday. Joy (known as Ma to Jack), is still in her captor’s shed, now with a child whose a product of these daily traumas. But rather than pass on these horrors, Ma does her best to shield Jack from their reality. She goes as far as telling him that the room is the whole world, lest he discover the awful truth of their situation. In creating a fantasy for her child, Ma is able to escape slightly herself. Enough to survive anyway.
With the aid of evocative, sensitive direction from Lenny Abrahamson, Larson and Tremblay are a force with which to be reckoned. It’s the kind of film that with a different team, could get bogged down in heavy-handedness and sensationalism, particularly since Jack’s perspective guides the narration. However, Room opts to focus on the individual harshness of the duo’s reality. Watching Jack and Ma experience “Room” (Jack’s term of endearment for their cramped quarters) in their divergent ways, including Ma’s attempt to make those ways look the same, is excruciating. Ditto for the second half of the movie, where they’re reintroduced to the world. The easier story would mean this half is the happy ending, the light at the end of the tunnel that has become a door. But it isn’t. Directed with equal intensity, in the second half, Ma has completed her task: keep Jack safe. But in the outside world, she is forced to live with herself and her trauma, no longer tied to his success.
Adeptly adapted by Emma Donoghue, the author of the original novel, Room manages the feat of being emotionally intensive without feeling exhausting. Jack is a vehicle that provides a necessary vibrancy and familiarity, a pulse with which the audience beats in tandem. In so doing, Room pushes all the right buttons. The claustrophobia of the room and the expanse of the world prove equally overwhelming and exciting. It all seems to say that life is a struggle and a joy, made only livable by the people holding your hand.
Room opens today at Philly area theaters.
Author: Madeline Meyer
Madeline recently graduated from Oberlin College where she studied Cinema Studies. She writes screenplays and ill-received dad jokes. She likes board games and olives.