Dir: Lenny Abrahamson
You could easily sum up some of the themes of this film in a way that make it sound bleak and oppressive, yet in reality it’s far more uplifting and hopeful than you might ever expect.
As Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who has only ever lived in one room turns five, his Ma (Brie Larson) comes up with a plan for him to get out into the world that he’s known nothing of.
When I saw the trailer, my eyes welled up with tears, a strange reaction for me just from a trailer, there was something about it that just worked. I knew I had to see this film and as the overwhelmingly positive reviews started rolling in I became more and more determined. However I live in a small town with two cinemas, not multiplexes, just a single screen each, neither of which had this showing or even had it scheduled to come. In the end I had to travel some considerable distance, the details of which you can read in my earlier post here. Thankfully I’m so glad I made the effort to go see this, it was entirely worth it. I think it’s one of the most emotionally effective films I’ve seen in many years and as I expected from the trailer making me well up, the film made me cry.
The plot could make it sound like a film about abduction or captivity, there are also elements of rape and depression that make it sound even worse but really it goes far beyond these and turns them into starting points from which to build a story that is ultimately uplifting and full of hope and touchingly tender moments. I don’t want to undermine the effectiveness of the film, though much of the storyline is shown in the trailer, so it’s no real spoiler to say that they do get out, changing the film halfway through. Director Lenny Abrahamson has said that was a very deliberate choice to show that in the trailers so potential viewers would have a better sense of the film. Even knowing that, there was still a key scene in which I was on the edge of my seat, urging the character’s plans to succeed.
There have been a few cases of things like this in the past few years, a few in the U.S. in which women who had been abducted have gotten free after many years. The film really effectively conveys so many of the thoughts they may have had to reason on and issues they may have faced. From what I’ve read about it, the book makes certain thought processes and details clearer, however I got those points from the film perfectly clearly, which is a testament to how well it has been adapted, that without being laden with exposition the themes seem to have come through in tact.
The novel is written from Jack’s perspective, and the film is shot in such a way that though it’s not exactly all from his point of view, it clearly stays close to his perspective. Close being the operative word here as there are lots of close ups, often on faces, objects, especially those that are either new or of particular interest to Jack so we get a sense of his taking in all these new things, some start out of focus when first introduced to him as he’s unsure of them.
Lenny Abrahamson has spoken very well in interviews about his work and the process of making this film. He impresses me greatly as a director who has clear reasons for the artistic choices he makes and can articulately express them whic is one of the things that made me want to see the film. He’s spoken about working with young Jacob Tremblay and the ways he had to adapt his direction to get the best performance from him, including difficulties in getting him to act angry at Brie Larson as he liked her and thought it was rude to shout at her.
Then there’s the skill in shooting a film that partly takes place in a confined space. The world of ‘Room’ was filmed in a remarkably detailed set, built with removable wall pieces to allow for filming. The set was later taken to L.A. to be exhibited, there’s a video online of this and it’s amazing to see, probably best after seeing the film though, the attention to detail is fantastic. I think every part of the space adds a little more to the story, even things that aren’t there such as part of the toilet are missing for a reason.
Brie Larson is getting a lot of praise for her performance and so she should, playing one of three Oscar nominated characters called Joy this year though she’s referred to more as ‘Ma’. She perfectly conveys maternal love as well as a whole raft of emotional changes. Her performance includes one of the most subtle (at times) depictions of depression, post traumatic stress, and other complex emotional reactions to her difficult situation. Having already won the BAFTA she looks very likely to go on to win the Oscar and I really hope she gets more roles of this quality as she has more than proven herself capable.
What I’m struggling to understand is how Brie Larson can be nominated when Jacob Tremblay isn’t, partly as it’s their pairing that’s so wonderful. His performance is absolutely captivating and of the very highest standard, leagues above many child performances. There are pieces in which we hear him in voice-over, which I believe are taken from the book, giving an even clearer insight into how he sees things and feels about it all.
The whole cast is superb, though the main two are the most important by far. Her parents, Joan Allen as Ma’s mum and William H. Macy as her dad (though in a smaller role than expected), as well as a really warm supporting performance by Tom McCamus. Every performance seemed to me to be very well cast and adapting well to changes as the story progressed. Even the smallest roles, a key example being a policewoman who I was urging to do her job well, conveyed exactly what was needed. Even the outright ‘villain’ of the piece, ‘Old Nick’ is shown in a really well thought out way. The film doesn’t allow him or anyone else to even come close to making excuses for his crimes, he’s sidelined in a way though he’s not kept entirely hidden from view either, which are great choices. There’s one scene in which we get an insight on his life but nobody stops to comment on it, the production design tells us all we need to know.
Particular credit needs to go to author Emma Donoghue not just for the source material but also as she adapted it for the screen herself and shows a clear skill in knowing how to develop the story on film, every single moment of it works. I haven’t read the novel yet though this really made me want to and while I expect things had to be adjusted for the film it feels like all the salient points are conveyed without ever resorting to lengthy exposition. There’s more I’d like to know about aspects of the story that I may only get from reading the novel, details in the film suggest extra depths that aren’t fully explained in the film though I got enough of a sense of them to resolve any questions. I’ve heard some critics discussing it and not being sure on points that I got from the film easily enough, so I feel like there must be even more there that I’d be able to appreciate after reading the source novel.
I enjoyed this film so much that when it finished, I went back into the foyer and bought a ticket for the next showing which was 24 hours later. On second viewing the next day, though not as much on the edge of my seat, it still held me captive throughout and I found even more to praise than the day before. With the effort I put in to see the film it would be easy to ignore faults and overstate the positives, however there are minor issues with it without doubt, just these are the tiniest of niggles after having seen it a couple of times, they aren’t anything that spoils the film in any way, the major elements hold up impeccably.
It’s not going to be a film for everyone, I’ve heard of at least one person who couldn’t handle the tone and themes it starts with and I’m sure that will be true for many. However, if you feel that you can get past that I’d recommend it as being one of the most rewarding cinema experiences I have had, possibly ever.
‘Room’ is nominated for ‘Best Picture’, ‘Best Director’, ‘Best Actress’ and ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’ Oscars at the Academy Awards. I truly believe it is deserving of all these, though it won’t win all four I hope it’ll get a few.