If you’ve never left your house, let alone the confines of one room all your life, what will your reality look like? What would you consider real or fantasy? Based off of the book by the same name, Room explores the complexity of forced captivity but from two unique viewpoints. The mother, Joy, who lived a life of outside of her torment and the young son, Jack, whose reality has never included the idea of life outside his 4 walls.
By Kenneth Shipp
For only having 4 walls, (a tub, sink, bed, stove along with a few other items) the room containing Joy and Jack is surprising full of depth. Jack’s drawings are scattered across the walls giving us the impression they have been there a while. It’s not until later dialogue that we confirm Joy has been imprisoned for 7 years giving birth to Jack 2 years in. The large steel door stands out early on and is later confirmed to be the kidnapper, Old Nick’s main method of control. The singular skylight which provides their only source of natural light, is constantly gazed upon by Jack or Joy for a variety of reasons. There is a layer of dirt and grime to the space that highlights the despair felt by Joy.
As we spend more time with them in the room, Joy does as much as she can to normalize life for Jack. She has him run back and forth inside the room to keep him healthy. When Old Nick makes his regular once a week visit in the middle of the night, she shields Jack by forcing him into the wardrobe to sleep the night. The news of Old Nick’s job loss causes a panic inside Joy that spurs her into action. Her moves toward escape are hampered by the disbelief that her son has about anything outside the room. For Jack, he can’t fathom anything outside of the room and Joy has to spend a considerable amount of time picking through the thoughts and ideas that Jack distinguishes as real or fake.
Even once she’s done that, Jack is resisting her plan, partially out of fear and also out of the inability or limited grasp on the concept of another place. It creates a very palpable fear because the audience can’t be sure what Jack will do once the plan is in place. Will he be able to follow through with his mother’s plan? Will his first exposure to the outside world completely ruin their one shot? It very nearly does as Jack struggles to complete his task after absorbing the rush of sights and sounds from his new world and almost being re-caught by Old Nick.
Jacob Tremblay portrays Jack well, my only real negative isn’t with him, just the moments where he has to play Jack as whiny or complaining in regard to his mother’s decisions. I suppose that was meant to reflect the strain of his new revelations, but it just came off as annoying. A standout scene is where Jack recounts his memories from the back of a truck and that helps point the police in the right direction to save his mother. I really enjoyed the tension in that moment as it puts the uncertainty of Jack’s understanding of reality front and center, leaving Joy’s life in the balance.
Brie Larson does a great job as Joy, because as much as the film hinges on Jack’s story, it would also fall apart without us believing in the mother. Larson is then able to seamlessly transition from being child centric to engaging adults again very well. Joy’s interaction with her parents and the painful adjustment that comes from not only grieving her, but trying to live on without her is another powerful reminder of their family wounds. Joy begins to lash out at her parents, as she struggles to keep herself together and figure out how to move forward. Their transition back into real life is just as important as the first half of the film. Getting home doesn’t make everything sunshine and rainbows for either of them. I’m exceptionally glad that time was spent to deal with these issues and were not just glossed over. How they overcome or fail in these areas helps us identify even more with Joy and Jack.
If Room was a film aiming to initiate conversations on the psyche of victims, I believe they hit that mark well. Without a large cast and a narrative focused squarely on a tight mother/son dynamic, Lenny Abrahamson showcases wonderful talent in Larson and Tremblay while giving us a powerful reminder on the horrendous effects one human being can inflict on one another, and the extraordinary efforts by others to restore and build up.
Room: 9 out of 10
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