Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, based on Emma Donoghue's best-selling novel, is a beautiful and humane response to inhumanity
Joy (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), live in Room. To the mother, it's a prison cell barely two meters square; for the son, it's the whole universe.
Joy was kidnaped and placed here seven years ago. Jack was born here and hasn't stepped a foot outside. Their captor is known to them only as Old Nick, who Jack sees as some sort of malevolent but generous god who can magic food into existence and delivers Sunday treats. The boy's parentage isn't dwelled upon, but we can do the maths.
Lenny Abrahamson’s film is a beautiful and humane response to inhumanity. The versatile Irish filmmaker (his most recent work was moving oddball dramedy Frank) cannily presents the world from Jack's point of view, placing the camera at his eye level and keeping the framing tight to introduce us to his tiny world, which includes an anthropomorphised community of inanimate objects – including chair one, table, sink, wardrobe, chair two – and not a lot else.
As far as Jack is concerned, beyond his door is outer space: a colorful two dimensional fantasy that’s beamed on to their flickering cathode rays TV showing unreal things like trees, oceans, animals and other humans.
There’s a twist: Jack is happy in his ignorance. He’s the master of his limited domaine and through his eyes we see Room’s wonder; we understand his delight at a brittle snake made out of egg shells or the thrill of a melted plastic spoon. But every close up of the haunted Larson brings us back to reality. Like any parent, she’s shielding her child from the horrors of the world. But even when she lets slip her frustrations at their pitiful lot, Jack doesn’t want to hear it. “Room’s not stinky,” he tells his exasperated mother. “Only when you fart.”
Room is a diptych, and spins off in a completely different direction in its second half. For those who haven’t read Emma Donoghue's best-selling book from which the film is adapted (all three of you), we won’t spoil what happens here. But we will say that it blossoms into an equally compelling celebration of the resilience of the human condition.
Abrahamson works wonders with the actors, getting one of the all-time great child performances from Tremblay, whose vivid voiceover and air of sheltered kookiness can’t have come easy. Equally brilliant is Larson, whose constantly communicating several conflicting emotions at once. If there’s one flaw, it’s an over-reliance on Stephen Rennicks’ score. We don’t need to hear cloying piano chords to perceive Jack’s wonder at the world or feel Joy’s pain, we just need to glimpse the faces of the actors playing them.