Sam’s review published on Letterboxd:
Lenny Abrahamson’s Room is utterly incredible.
I saw this film for the first time a few days ago, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. The film gripped me both emotionally and intellectually and hasn’t let go. And that, in my eyes, is the sign of a truly unprecedented piece of filmmaking.
Before I go in-depth into the plot of the film, I have to mention the outstanding performances of the film’s entire cast. Joan Allen’s Nancy is emotionally captivating - her performance is so real and genuine; Sean Bridgers’ Old Nick is a haunting villain, and despite his minimal screen-time he evokes the feeling of a sincerely malevolent presence; Tom McCamus’ Leo is beautifully heartwarming. However, without a doubt the performances of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are truly remarkable.
Brie Larson’s portrayal of Ma is perhaps one of my favourite performances by any actor in any film that I have ever seen. She poured her heart and soul into this film to give the most genuine and human performance possible, and it shows. As we watch Larson on-screen, it never feels as if she is acting. Ma has been crafted so meticulously and beautifully into such a breathtakingly three-dimensional character, who can consistently withdraw an emotional response from the viewer. The complexity of Ma always shines through; she has crafted what would be a horrific nightmare of a childhood into a functional atmosphere for her child to grow up in. The intricacies of Larson’s performance are highly commendable; Ma feels incredibly human, as her feelings are conflicted and she is completely distraught but also in adoration of her child. An aspect of Ma’s character and Brie’s performance which made it so strikingly sincere would be the fact that she is flawed. I was nervous prior to seeing the film that the character would be this ‘supermom’ figure; an encapsulation of love and affection who despite her terrible predicament, is perfect in every way. Thankfully, this was not the case at all. Ma is flawed, as any human would be in such a horrific situation. She shouts at Jack, and becomes overwhelmingly upset and depressed, which she tries her best to hide from him. Following her release from captivity we see seven years of rage, fear and depression pouring out at once. She says to Nancy that the isn’t ‘nice anymore’, but as an audience we know that isn’t completely true, despite being hardened by her dreadful experiences she is still bound to earth by her endless love for her child.
Despite being only 9 years old, Jacob Tremblay’s competence as an actor far surpasses his years. His performance as Jack is by far one of the best by a child actor in recent years. Jack is such an unremorsefully endearing character to watch on screen. The film is crafted so expertly that the majority of it is essentially through this young character’s eyes; we quickly understand his perceptions of the world, and are both moved and to a certain extent saddened as he lets go of his past self and enters the world. His innocent view of the world as this awe-inspiring place is extremely charming to watch, and the character perfectly embodies a child - how they would act, speak, and so on. Jack is also not the type of character I feared he might be prior to seeing the film. Obviously he is completely immersed in the idea of Room as his universe, and overwhelmed by the outside world, but I presumed that he would be this perfect child who is caring, helpful and never a difficulty for his mother. Whilst there are elements of this at times, once again the film completely ripped this idea to shreds; Jack gets angry and frustrated, he can be both happy and sad, but most of all he acts like any child would in this situation; thus increasing our empathy for both Jack and Ma.
A reason as to why these performances and characters are so indelible would be that they never seem like caricatures. Both Larson and Tremblay’s performances feel so indisputably natural and realistic throughout the film. Larson inhabits her role so naturally, and perfectly reflects the complication of Ma as she attempts to nurture her child and cope with the traumatic nature of her experiences of sexual abuse during and following her captivity in Room. The relationship between our two protagonists never feels false or superimposed; they act and feel in such a way that clearly expresses the closeness, and the five years of enclosure within the confinements of Room practically emanates from the screen.
A concept which plays a prominent role throughout all aspects of the film would be that of contrasts - and not only that of the split runtime of the film. Of course, the first half or so takes place within the confinements of Room, whereas the second is bound by no limitations and shows the expansive nature of our world. However, the film was constructed in such a way in several of its technical factors to express its brilliance. The cinematography, for example, is grim, dark and gloomy within Room, whereas in the outside world, it is beautiful, majestic, colourful and vibrant. Similarly, the lighting of the film is dark and grim within Room, but is bright and warm outside. The score also integrates this theme, being far more emotionally charged initially, before gradually transforming into a magnificently uplifting crescendo.
The film’s screenplay was penned by Emma Donoghue, the author of the novel upon which Room is based; and for that she must be commended. She translated her story fantastically well to this medium, capturing the essence of the book perfectly whilst also introducing more elements to the story to ground it in reality. Ma, for example was an ethereal, God-like figure in the novel due to it taking place from the perspective of Jack, however in the film the depth of her character is expanded upon dramatically, and to astounding effect. The plot certainly concerns themes which are very dark, grim and depressing, and the film is not afraid to explore these areas. However, it is not always direct in doing so, thus not only making the experience more bearable for the viewer but also reaffirming the child-like nature of Jack. Ma has protected her son so astonishingly that he remains oblivious to the true nature of her experience in Room. This builds upon the wonderful essence of her character, she is so intrinsically desperate to protect her son that she will do anything to achieve it. However, despite these grim elements of the plot, surprisingly enough it is perhaps one of the most optimistic films I have recently seen. The film is extraordinarily positive and uplifting, but never does this sensibility feel superficial in its attempts to be sentimental and evoke emotional responses from its viewer. These feelings are subtly presented for the viewer to expand upon them on their own, and is consequently tremendous. It’s quite a shame that so many people will actively dismiss Room for having the impression that it must be depressing and as such not worth their time, because the film is far from it. The film may seem initially that it is completely lacking in any sense of hope, but eventually it unleashes an extremely powerful and hopeful sensibility. The film is not about the horrific nature of the dire situation its two main characters are initially placed in, but rather their beautiful relationship, and is both poignant and truthful in doing so. Room is a cathartic expression of the positive aspects of human nature, in that despite horrible circumstances we can persevere in being kind-hearted, gentle and loving.
Room has been criticised in the past for losing its impact during its second half. I, however, would argue that this only builds upon the beautiful nature of the story. As previously mentioned, in the book Ma is portrayed as a somewhat ethereal, God-like figure as it presents Jack’s perspective. However, the film cleverly builds upon her character to a great extent, and it is utterly fantastic. Despite being free of Old Nick and the emotional torture he had inflicted upon her for seven years, Ma is perhaps more broken when she escapes Room than she was whilst inside it. Once in the outside world again, she takes on almost an adolescent sensibility, and is destroyed by her recollection of the last seven years of her life whilst others she once knew simply lived theirs. As a result these scenes are perhaps even more fascinating; we see Ma fully coming to terms with what has happened to her.
Of course, I couldn’t go much further without talking about the incredible work of director Lenny Abrahamson. The way in which the film was shot is a true cinematic achievement; especially considering the claustrophobic nature of Room. The first half of the film relies primarily on close-ups, and shots which aren’t particularly long. Through this technique Abrahamson immaculately encapsulates Jack’s perception of Room as this magical, incredible place which ‘went every direction all the way to the end’. It is not until we see Room from the outside that we can truly understand the horrific nature of Ma’s years of imprisonment within it. By contrast, shots of the outside world are smooth, moving and often wide to represent the beautiful concept of experiencing it for the first time.
Room is not a tragedy. It is not about captivity. It is a love story; and a true representation of a mother and son’s loving relationship. The film is profound, at times poignant, and both heart-warming and heart-breaking simultaneously. It will engage the viewer’s emotions and grip them tightly throughout its runtime. Room will make you, laugh, cry and is absolutely extraordinary.