Adapted from Emma Donoghue’s literary bestseller and Man Booker Prize finalist, Room is set in an exceptional environment. You wouldn’t immediately recognise this, as a young voice opens the movie with cheerful greetings to “sink”, “bed”, “plant” and “toilet”. But it soon becomes obvious that five-year-old Jack (Tremblay) and his mother Joy (Larson) have been held captive in a small garden shed ever since she was kidnapped seven years ago. To protect her son from this crippling reality and probably to allow herself to live, Joy made him believe there’s nothing on the other side of the locked door, that “Room” is the world.
The brilliance of the conceit and the sheer descriptive power of Donoghue’s words perhaps never could have been fully translated onto the big screen, seeing that film as a visual medium inevitably spoils something so reliant on a child’s perspective and thus kept purposefully vague.
That said, Abrahamson does a great job with the second half of the story, weaving together raw, emotionally weighted performances from a formidable cast without pushing the dramatics too far. The result is an incisive but merciful reflection on being physically free but psychologically imprisoned. It’s also worth noting that they didn’t mess up the climactic bit between the two tonally different halves. The overwhelming sense of shock and wonder at getting an unobstructed view of the sky for the first time burns bright in a harrowing, skillfully visualised sequence pounding with the urgency of a realisation, a chance, a primal thirst for life.
Room | Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Ireland, Canada 2015) with Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay. Starts March 17.
Originally published in issue #147, March 2016.