Abrahamson crafts an exquisitely told tale of pain, tragedy, hope and love
"Room” is a story about perspective. It is about moving from a small world into a large universe and the jarring effect this expansion has on our sense of self. The film is an allegory for change, albeit an especially painful and disturbing one.
Everyone experiences something similar to what is found in “Room”—no matter what innocent lies are told to us out of love and protection, eventually, those foundational ideas are challenged by a different truth and we are forced to react, adapt, or retreat.
Most of us, however, are treated to a gradual increase in understanding as we move from the safety of our bedrooms to the larger world. We are accompanied by guardians who we trust to keep us safe as we explore.
And so when Jack, the hero of the film, makes his move into the outside world, pushed beyond his capacity for understanding to save himself and his mother Joy from something he cannot fathom, there is an inexplicable heartache that forces itself into our collective memories, something beyond mere empathy for his plight. We remember how frightening and exhilarating it is to face the new and unknown.
“Room” is both brutal in its beauty and uplifting in its tenacity.
The film is truly, at its heart, about perspective. There have been countless films about kidnapping victims and the emotional damage caused by the loss of freedom. But often, it is seen from outside, from the perspective of the rescuers. Occasionally do we see through the eyes of the rescued, examining their fears and recovery as they seek to put their lives back together.
“Room” is unique in that it shows neither the rescuer nor the rescued—instead, it tells the story through the innocence of another causality, a child born from rape in the worst conditions imaginable.
Sometime previous, Joy was taken as a teenager by Old Nick and locked away in a garden shed. Within this tiny space, a child was conceived in abuse to be raised in a miniature world. To protect Jack, Joy raises him to believe that there is nothing beyond the room, that television is magic, and that there are only three people in the universe. It isn’t until Joy learns of Old Nick’s financial problems that she realizes she must act, or her child may starve.
All of these things are seen in the background of Jack. The filmmakers make a concerted effort to reveal important details through side conversations while focused on the minor actions of a child, lost in thoughts that are mostly known only to him. There are snippets of voiceover, where Jack describes his understanding of the world, but mostly the audience is asked to fill in the blank with their own experiences.
What is so telling about Jack and his small world, especially during the first half of the film is his capacity for imagination. While the physical world is limited, his consciousness and insight is limitless. He has invented his own theology, his own explanations for the world he cannot see. When these are challenged, he reacts with anger and disbelief. But his trust in his mother, his love for her as the only anchor in his life, leads him to bravely face the unknown.
This is exquisite storytelling, layered and deep and satisfying to a fault.
The performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are dynamic and convincing. It is a strong testament to the talent of director Lenny Abrahamson that he was able to pull such a convincing performance from such a young actor—Spielberg never seemed to manage it, despite multiple films starring nothing but children. Perhaps it was the strength of the source material, a novel by the same name written by Emma Donoghue, which lent itself to such strong performances. The film is by all accounts a very faithful adaptation. Whatever the reason, the performances by the main actors in the film are unmatched.
There are two films in “Room”: a story of captivity and escape and one of adaptation and redemption. Both would be exceptional on their own. Together, these stories are masterful. There is much to be learned from the film.
On a broader scale, we should not be so quick to reject challenges to our understanding as our understanding is limited by the lies we’ve been told. Closer in, though, we should remember the love that gave us those lies in the first place.