Film & Television

Movie Review: ‘Room’ — Four Walls and Boundless Love and Philosophy

room-film-nBrie Larson and Jacob Trembley in a scene from Room (A24, 2015)

Imagine a rock. Imagine a hard place. Now, imagine me, trapped in between them.

On the one hand, I have the opportunity to rave about a truly wondrous new movie. On the other, I don’t want to spoil an absolutely extraordinary experience.

If you are fortunate enough not to have heard about or — even worse — seen the spoiler-filled trailer for the new film Room, I urge you to please go see it as soon as you can. (And don’t finish the rest of my review until you return.) But, if you’ve read Emma Donoghue’s global best-selling novel or any of the movie’s glowing reviews, then by all means, read on.

Room, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, begins on Jack’s fifth birthday. He and his mother go about their routine as many other families would. Breakfast and calisthenics, a bath, some reading, an art project, a little TV. They even bake a cake together. Their relationship is affectionate and rich with private jokes and everyday rituals. Jack is clearly healthy, bright and curious; he should be going to school. But, he doesn’t go anywhere. You see, Jack and “Ma” are locked in a 10 foot by 10 foot, sound-proofed, windowless shed. The only world Jack has ever known is “Room.”

Seven years earlier Ma, then 17 year-old “Joy,” was abducted by a stranger. He imprisoned her, serially raping her and breaking her wrist when she tried to escape. Jack is his child, although Ma is quick to point out that “Old Nick,” as she and Jack call the man who appears “by magic” to lie with her every night, is no father.

Room is a film in three parts. For the first hour or so, we are trapped in that shed along with Jack and Ma. These scenes are tense and bleak. As much as Ma tries to create a nurturing place for Jack, the constant threat of Old Nick’s violent temper is palpable. As Jack grows older, Ma realizes that their situation can’t continue for much longer and she devises a dangerous plan for their escape.

The escape itself is one of the most harrowing, heart-stopping movie sequences I can remember. Even knowing that there would be later scenes outside “Room” (I, alas, had seen the trailer), I was terrified. When the plan succeeds — thanks to Jack’s bravery and the intuition of a compassionate policewoman — and Jack and Ma are reunited, there were tears running down my face. As I cried with relief, it occurred to me that there was still an hour of Room to get through.

The final act is the aftermath of all that has happened to Ma, Jack and the family Ma left behind. As Ma deals with PTSD and the unwanted attention of the media (including an unforgivably cruel primetime interviewer), Jack is like an alien being visiting a new world. Fortunately, he’s only five and “still plastic,” according to a kind psychologist. “I’m not plastic,” Jack insists in a whisper to Ma, “I’m real.” His entry is vastly easier than his mother’s re-entry. Looking through her carefully preserved high school yearbooks, Jack asks what happened to her friends. “Nothing,” she says with bitterness. Nothing happened to them.

The excellent script was written by Donoghue and, as in her book, narration throughout is provided by Jack. This is tricky territory. He’s five and, because of their circumstances, has an understandably off-key view of things. But somehow, his words are just right, balancing naïveté and wisdom, and never veering off into the dreaded land of cute. Actor Jacob Trembley, who was just seven when the movie was filmed, does a tremendous job. He is mesmerizing to watch. And so is his mother.

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