Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Cast: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen
When I was small, I only knew small things. But now I’m five, I know everything!
Are movies real? Do they live and breathe? Can they become our friends as we grow older and can they evolve into companions, as we grow older still? Every so often, one comes along, and quietly sweeps you off your feet. It takes you to places you could never imagine even in the most ambitious dreams you’ve dreamt.
To describe Room in words is quite impossible. To tell you its plot would be cruel. There is only one way to experience this film, and that is to go into it with only a childlike sense of curiosity. Not a single word needs to be read beforehand, nor a frame of the trailer watched. This is going to be a precious film. Make sure you do it the right way.
We all have our favourite movies, and for every new film we go into, we are armed with the undying hope that it may move us like one of our favourites did. It becomes a quest of sorts, a struggle with more failure than success, more disappointment than joy. But still, we carry on. Because we know in the end it will all be worth it. Because when we finally find what we are looking for, all that cacophony will blend into one and only the special ones will remain. The ones that will that will stay with us till it’s time to go. And after years of betrayal, I’ve found Room.
It is not an easy film to watch. It has the rare ability to affect you physically. In one particular scene about halfway into the picture, the tension is so straining it becomes almost impossible to bear. It is perhaps a cruel coincidence that the music that plays over this scene is by the great instrumental band This Will Destroy You.
Listen to the This Will Destroy You song:
Convention dictates that a brief description of the film is always advisable. So I’m going to make it as brief as possible. Room is about the 24-year-old Ma, played by Brie Larson, and her 5-year-old son Jack, played by Jacob Tremblay. When Ma was 17, she was kidnapped and brought to The Room by a man known only as Old Nick. He brings weekly sustenance and rapes her almost daily. Those are the only two situations where he appears to them, or us. After two years of confinement she gives birth to Jack, her saviour. And that is all you need to know. Not a word more.
You’ve possibly heard of similar stories on the news. The film is based on a celebrated novel by Emma Donoghue, who has adapted her own book into a screenplay of lyrical perfection. She was inspired by the infamous Fritzl case from a few years ago where a man kept his daughter prisoner for 24 years and had 7 children by her. But God knows there have been more such crimes.
You may initially wonder why Ma and Jack don’t just make a break for it; the skylight on the roof seems well within reach. They could easily place some objects beneath it and escape. But slowly, the realisation hits: Ma has been living in the room for 7 years. It is inconceivable that she hasn’t already exhausted every possible means of escape.
Director Lenny Abrahamson, a man whose no two films are alike, has created one of the greatest fairy tales ever put on the screen. To try and make whatever sense she can of their harrowing situation and provide for Jack a ‘normal’ childhood, Ma creates a world of imagination. The TV Old Nick has stationed in a corner is their only window into another world. The skylight on the roof has become more like a painting. Every inanimate object is like a dear friend to Jack. He wishes a bright good morning to Lamp, Wardrobe, Sink, Rug and Plant. For him, they are all real. Together, they survive incomprehensibly difficult lives.
Maybe Abrahamson translates the horror of the situation too well because there are large chunks of the film that are nearly impossible to watch, particularly in the first hour. The violence and swearing are negligible by most standards, and yet, the film leaves you psychologically drained. It’ll probably cling to you for days.
Like Jack, Room is wise. It is a movie of extremes. In it’s own magical way, the film makes staggering observations about life. What is real, what is not? What is our place in this endless universe? For Jack, Room is his entire world. Everything he knows and loves is right there. He looks up and sees the sky out of the skylight. Sometimes a dead leaf tumbles down. He questions it. Just like we do when we stare at the night sky glittering with shining stars. What lies beyond our microscopic corner of the universe? Will we ever be able to comprehend it? Can we ever be as brave as Jack?
It is a bleak film, yet so full of hope. We live meaningless lives on a little blue dot. But that’s not how we look at it. To us, we are the centre of the universe. We are Jack. The world is our room.
Brie Larson announced her arrival with a great performance in 2013’s Short Term 12. She can no longer be called a revelation. She has become, with this film, a real movie star. But 9-year-old Jacob Tremblay is a true force of nature. In one of the best child performances I can think of, young Jacob Tremblay essentially carries the movie on his tiny shoulders, especially in the second half. He gives it his strong. Together, they are heartbreaking, unforgettable, resilient and joyous.
Room is timeless. It will live forever, and in its immortality, it will continue to inspire generations after we are all gone. It is one of the best films of the new millennium and after its two transcendent hours, you emerge a changed person, one who has a new appreciation for the tiny miracles of life that are usually ignored. Room is an ephemeral moment in time and I will always remember it with fondness because there’s no way in hell I’m watching it again.
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The author tweets @NaaharRohan