By Christian DiMartino
There may not be another film-going experience like Lenny Abrahamson’s Room this year, next year, or for years to come. It is such a strong, fascinating, disturbing, raw, and utterly brilliant film, that I haven’t even used every enthusiastic adjective to describe it.
It is simply the work of a true craftsman. Abrahamson made an odd but interesting little comedy last year called Frank, in which Michael Fassbender wore a paper mache head for the majority of the runtime. That work didn’t prepare me for what Room had to offer. I liked that film. I was engrossed by every riveting second of Room. It is simply one you cannot shake off easily.
The early scenes of Room are completely unsettling. This story is told through the eyes of a five year old boy named Jack (newcommer Jacob Tremblay), who lives in a room with his mother (Brie Larson). Truth is, Jack has lived in this room, which the two of them simply just call “room,” his entire life. Room is all he knows. He is unaware of the outside world, and he even goes as far as to give every single item in Room a name.
Ma, as we come to find out, is actually a woman named Joy, who was abducted some years earlier after she tried helping a man with his dog, hence how they ended up in Room. This man, who is referred to throughout as “Old Nick” (Sean Bridgers) abducted her, and every so often, enters Room, and rapes her, while Jack sits in the closet, and listens (Jack, if you couldn’t tell, is their child).
I know, this is some weird, disturbing stuff, but stay with me. I won’t reveal how, but not long after Jack’s 5th birthday, the two escape Room and are left to face the real world (we see Joy’s parents, played by Joan Allen and William H. Macy). Joy of course knew the real world, but since it has been some time, must truly collect herself. Things are even more difficult for Jack, who, even after escaping Room, constantly refers back to it.
Room is kind of like two films: One is a kidnapping drama, the other is about the aftermath. Both equally magnificent. While the early scenes are unsettling, they are also extremely intense. The aftermath scenes are also quite fascinating, particularly because of the way the story is handled.
What is so unique about Room, and the Room itself, is the way that Abrahamson pulls us into this world. Having the story told through Jack’s eyes is a risky move, but it is one that pays off. We feel the claustrophobia that these two feel. We also just become so engrossed in what we are seeing that we, like Jack, forget that the outside world exists.
As dark and gloomy as the film is, it also, every so often, finds sweetness. Especially in the scenes between Jack and Ma. They are an extremely convincing duo, to say the very least. Larson is easily going to receive an Oscar nomination, and probably a win. We feel her pain in every single scene. It’s a marvelous performance.
Oh, let’s not forget Tremblay, in easily one of the greatest performances from a child actor ever. He has a bit trickier of a role, something that might even be difficult for an adult to capture. But through him, we see his innocence, and in his innocence, we see a poor young lad who just cannot come to terms because he literally doesn’t know any different. His performance is the kind that demands Oscar attention. He was snubbed at the Golden Globes, but don’t rule him out yet.
Macy and Allen, reuniting from Pleasantville, are also great. Though I do wish Macy had more to do. Nevertheless, it is always a pleasure to see Allen, who has not aged a day.
By the end of this film, I wondered just who I could recommend it to. It may be just too real, too powerful, and too bleak for traditional audiences. No matter how you look at it though, this is a film that demands to be seen. The pain needs to be felt, and the uplifting payoff needs to take your breath away. Larson, Abrahamson, and co., Mr. Oscar is calling. I expect to see you there.