It’s a risk putting a child actor at the centre of a film, but one that paid off here, says Lucy Reynolds.
“Go back to sleep” are the first words you hear whispered. Amid brown walls covered with childish scrawls and the soft sound of breathing, the viewer is slowly introduced into a small boy’s entire world and one woman’s living hell.
Welcome to Room: a film that will stay with you much longer than you expect. You will think about it when you leave the cinema. You will think about it when you go to bed. And when you wake up. I still can’t shake it off. It is brutal. It is traumatising. And it is brilliantly life-affirming.
Based on the novel by Emma Donoghue (who also adapted it into a screenplay), Room cannot fail to bring to mind much-publicised cases of kidnapping, one of the most recent being Amanda Barry, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus who were kept imprisoned by Ariel Castro in Cleveland, Ohio, for more than 10 years until their escape in 2013.
You watch with these cases in mind, as Lenny Abrahamson’s film introduces the daily routine of five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) as he plays and runs and learns about his world of ‘Room’, while his ‘Ma’ (Brie Larson) keeps a lid on her desperation and horror in order to care for her son.
We learn she has been a prisoner for seven years, kidnapped by a man she calls ‘Old Nick’, who is father to Jack only in a biological sense. She is kept in an outhouse which has been soundproofed and locked down with her son who, due to his mother’s courage and love, is oblivious of their real situation. They play games, practise reading and watch an old TV, which Jack uses to distinguish between real life, which is ‘Room’, and fiction. The cinematography is very clever, allowing the viewer to simultaneously grasp how this space feels cosy and comforting for Jack, who knows no better, and claustrophobic and terrifying for Ma.
“I can’t think of many things more horrifying than what Ma has to endure. But as ostensibly dark as the premise of this film is, it is truly a film about hope and unbreakable human spirit.”
Added into this situation is the growing threat of Old Nick, who becomes more interested in communicating with Jack and more violent when Ma thwarts his attempts. With Jack turning five and starting to question the world around him, Ma realises that if she is ever to give her son a chance to live, she needs to get him out of their prison. And the way she tries it will have you holding your breath, crossing your fingers and crying at the same time.
Abrahamson has gone on record to say that this film is not meant to be a thriller or a horror, though in terms of real-life situations, I can’t think of many things more horrifying than what Ma has to endure. But as ostensibly dark as the premise of this film is, it is truly a film about hope and unbreakable human spirit. Scenes with Ma’s family are as fascinating and heartbreaking as anything that happens in the confines of ‘Room’. This is an interesting perspective which makes the viewer wonder about the wider effect such events have on families of the victims.
The real joy of the film comes from the interplay between Larson and Tremblay. As a mother and son they are totally convincing and, while Larson has quite rightly been nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress (she won the Golden Globe), I feel that Tremblay should also have been nominated too, as he is the heart of the film.
Where a lot of films using the child voiceover as a narrative technique often fall into the trap of it sounding too cutesy, saccharine and scripted, Room manages to balance out touching moments of childlike wonder with the dark, despairing moments of Ma and her family. It is subtle yet powerful and displays the raw emotion and connection between mother and child.
A film that will move you deeply and give you that rare and wonderful life-affirming feeling after watching it. I couldn’t recommend it enough and I truly hope the Oscar goes to the nuanced performance from Larson.2022 Views
Lucy is a teacher whose dream as a child was to be WWE Wrestling Champion. That dream is still alive.