Overview: After spending years locked in a shed in captivity, a young woman and her son strive to adapt to the world that exists outside four walls. A24 Films; 2015; Rated R; 117 Minutes.
Out of the Mouth of a Babe: Room was adapted from the book of the same name by Emma Donoghue, who also wrote the screenplay for the film. The novel is narrated by Jack, who has spent his entire life knowing only the world within the shed his mother was locked away in when she was seventeen years old, so we see the world through the eyes of a young boy throughout the entire story. One of the many reasons this adaptation succeeds so triumphantly is that it maintains the integrity of that narration on every level. The film is broken up by a series of voice-overs by Jack, who provides viewers with an insight into how he views the world around him both before and after he escapes Room, which preserves the sense of innocence and matter-of-fact observations that jump off the pages of the novel.
Through the Eyes of a Child: By shielding the viewers from the same experiences a mother would protect her child from during times of trauma, Room further solidifies its intent to tell this tale through Jack’s eyes. This film doesn’t go for shock value where it easily could have. Instead, it keeps the audience with Jack, creating a constant sense of discomfort and unease without creating an exposition out of the horrors his mother faces. Although a different kind of impact could be made with a broadened focus on Ma’s journey, such as her sexual abuse and the demons she faces once reunited with her family, the story that’s being told is Jack’s, and it is both stunningly devastating and surprisingly delicate and uplifting.
These Four Walls: The first half of Room takes place within the confines of the shed Ma and Jack have been forced to make their home. Director Lenny Abrahamson accomplishes something remarkable in portraying Room‘s transformation from a child’s entire universe as he knows it, to just one small piece of a vast world he has yet to explore. In the beginning, flawless camera work and set design create a sense of space that makes the film’s confined space feel bigger than it really is. Jack says good morning to the sink, the lamp, the wardrobe, and we see all of these pieces separately so that they appear to make up something larger than a tiny shed. When we return to the same space after Jack has begun to adjust to life on the outside, he, along with the audience, sees the same place for exactly what it is: A small shed; a tiny grain of sand compared to the world he now has the opportunity to discover.
Ma and Me: Room is Jack’s catalog of moments, and Jacob Tremblay is a sight to behold, encompassing the delicate mix of wide-eyed innocence and jaded wisdom the character requires, as a young boy who has experienced both everything and nothing in his five short years. As his mother, Brie Larson gives a gut-wrenching performance, exuding more strength and suffering in one wince or shudder than most of us are capable of comprehending in an entire lifetime. Larson never once overacts, choosing subtlety over exaggeration every time the choice is presented. Every nomination she receives for this performance during awards season will be well-deserved.
Overall: A restrained, unique prospective, coupled with honest storytelling and emotionally raw performances make Room not only a stellar literary adaptation, but one of the best films of the year.