With heartbreaking performances from an exceptional cast, Lenny Abrahamson’s Room is a triumph of delicate relationships and emotional fallout.
Lost Horizonby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Adapted from Emma Donaghue’s bestselling novel of the same name, you might wonder how exactly Room is going to tell – from his perspective – the story of five-year old Jack and his Ma, whose whole universe is nothing but a shed in someone else’s garden. But fear not, in Lenny Abrahamson, Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay’s hands – and with a screenplay penned by the novelist herself – Room is an exquisite piece of filmmaking. And undoubtedly Abrahamson’s best. After What Richard Did and Frank, Abrahamson has moved from indie and quirky to touching tour-de-force, as he navigates the intricacies of a mother’s stories, fabricated to protect her son from the truth, and life after abduction as both Ma and Jack come to terms with their new reality. And with brilliant performances from Larson, Tremblay and Joan Allen, Room makes for one hell of an emotional ride.
Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and Ma (Brie Larson) live in Room, a shed just big enough for a bed, bath, television, cupboard, table and kitchen – objects that have become like family to Jack, as he says good morning to them every day. He even says hello to Lucky, his imaginary pet dog. Through the skylight, Ma and Jack catch glimpses of a leaf and snow, but for Jack, the world stops with those four walls and a double-locking door. It’s nearly his fifth birthday though, and Jack, who’s been watching TV, knows he’s supposed to have a cake. So when Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) pays Ma a visit, bringing groceries and staying for a little something extra, Ma does all she can to make their life bearable. With a rotting tooth though, and the increasing determination that life can’t just continue as it is, Ma steels herself to tell Jack the truth, as she hatches a plan to escape.
From the opening sequence of Room, with its title hemmed in by a box, Lenny Abrahamson makes the most of his claustrophobic space with extreme close-ups. And thanks to an honest production design from Ethan Tobman, it’s not prettified the screen either – the room a shambles of old furniture, melamine and dirt. Abrahamson even plays with the conceit, as the contents of a box spills out of the frame. Room is the frame, and is there really anything beyond it? Even the skylight – that promises a world of clouds, sunshine, darkness and rain – is a frame, its illusions no more real than the frame of the television. And so, Room becomes, during its first half, a neat – if somewhat dark – illustration of Plato’s cave, as Jack struggles to distinguish TV from reality. To the point where, after Ma tries to explain their abduction to her five-year-old son, Jack exclaims “I want a different story!”
Stories play a large part in this pell-mell of fantasy, with Ma relating (somewhat presciently) The Count Of Monte Cristo, and (somewhat suggestively) Alice In Wonderland. Only this time, Alice has to break out of Wonderland. The escape – with a pretend corpse, much like Edmond Dantés’ escape from prison – is gripping, with a real sense of danger that Jack’s disorientation in the outside world might thwart their plucky escape. But so is the aftermath – as Ma’s father (William H Macy) is unable to come to terms with his grandson – the progeny of rape. Or as the once yearned for chimera of a garden swing chair turns into sordid reality beneath the rain. From the white hospital ward they’re restricted to for fear of infection to Ma’s irreconcilable sadness and the inevitable cutting of Jack’s hair, Room creates an entirely credible cosmos of the delicate human relations at play during life after abduction.
What makes Room so special though, apart from its clever script and taut direction, are its performances – particularly from worthy Oscar nominee Brie Larson, which – as she starts to fall apart in the safety of her mother’s home – take hold and just won’t let go. Fascinating and utterly devastating, Room offers a visionary window into a unique world of pain.
Room is released on 15th January 2016 in the UK