Movie Review: Room


A woman and her son plan their escape from captivity.


Lenny Abrahamson, 2015

Five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) has lived in a single room his entire life with his Ma, Joy (Brie Larson). Thanks to his mother’s careful protection, he believes that Room is the whole world, and that nothing beyond it exists except Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). When Nick visits, Jack must hide in the closet. One day, Joy makes a decision that changes Jack’s life forever: she plots a daring escape from Room. Once they escape, Joy and Jack must adjust to life in the wide world. For Jack, it’s all completely new, and he has to learn everything for the first time. Joy, on the other hand, finds it difficult to reintegrate after so many years in isolation.


Adapted by Emma Donoghue from her novel of the same name, Room is a very confronting film to watch. However, unlike some of the bleaker Oscar-bait films, Room has at its heart an optimistic, ultimately uplifting perspective. This is largely due to the wise decision to have the entire story be told from young Jack’s point of view. This decision benefits the film in a number of ways, not the least of which is that it affords Joy bodily autonomy. While the torture his mother endures is still a presence that hangs over the film, by focusing on Jack we as the audience aren’t forced to watch her rape scenes. Once Jack and Joy escape, we then get to discover the world outside with Jack, in all its overwhelming, loud, spacious, magical glory. The film is shot well, using light colours and a dreamlike aesthetic to help us connect with Jack. The first third of the film (and it is a long time before Jack and Joy escape, a fact that I was surprised by when I saw the film) is shot to make Room seem expansive and inviting despite how run down it is. This is Jack’s home and his entire world, and the film does its best to show that. Eventually, though, the claustrophobia sets in and Room gets smaller and smaller.

The film is anchored by matching strong performances from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay as the leads. Both of them bring their A-game. Tremblay is astonishing, big eyes conveying complicated emotions that betray a wisdom beyond his years. Larson, meanwhile, handles the heavy emotions with grace, filling up the blanks that Jack misses out on and fleshing out her character through nuance. Joan Allen is also good as Joy’s mother. The film doesn’t sugar-coat these relationships, which aren’t always perfect – Jack, Joy, and Allen’s Nancy fight and yell at each other and have moments of cruelty. These moments only serve to strengthen the characters and make the film feel more real, though, as well as highlighting the characters’ strength when they overcome the negatives and are able to love each other through them. The film does start to feel aimless after a while – William H. Macy is in a total of two scenes as Joy’s father, whose complicated feelings towards Jack could have been explored more. Joy’s journey on the whole is one that suffers from the intense focus on Jack. Still, it’s a good, well-made movie that for once deserves the buzz.

Room on IMDb


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