★★★★ / ★★★★
The power of “Room,” based on the novel and screenplay by Emma Donoghue, lies in its many specific moments where we recognize an exact thought, feeling, or motivation within a material that is supported by many rich layers of complexity. For example, we are able to recognize the precise moment when a mother (Brie Larson) has decided that it is time to concoct a plan for her and her son (Jacob Tremblay) to escape from their several years of captivity, locked in a shed with no view of the outside world except for a skylight.
Larson and Tremblay are very convincing in playing mother and son forced into an impossible situation. There is a sweet tenderness to Ma but at the same time there is a constant fierceness and fearlessness that ignite when elements change just a bit. At the same time, Jack’s innocence is balanced with a sense of wonderment, especially his heartbreaking narration during their continuous struggle, inside and outside of the room.
Like many great dramatic pictures, the filmmakers understand how to employ silence as a tool to highlight a spectrum of emotions. We are able to relate easily because sometimes we get so angry or so frustrated toward a situation or circumstance that there is nothing left to say. There are instances when we choose to let the emotion build—which can either force us later on to take action toward a positive direction or destroy us slowly but surely. The material is interested in exploring these two extremes.
Under the guidance of director Lenny Abrahamson, the picture commands an assured pacing, a distinct look, and a tone that demands attention. His work is exciting because he knows exactly when to focus on a face and for how long, when to pan the camera around a room to highlight its contents or lack thereof, and when to get us to pay attention on the characters’ body language when a face appears blank. There is always something going on and the audience is compelled to want to understand or dig deeper.
There are plenty of opportunities when the material could have turned into a cheap suspense-thriller. It could have been all about two characters trying to escape from an enclosed space. Instead, it is more than that. We get a chance to see the two protagonists in vastly different worlds. We watch them struggle and root for them to make it through for one another.
“Room” makes the case that experiences do not necessarily leave a person and some of them end up carving psychic scars so deeply that there are constant reminders of what one has gone through. And yet the film is life affirming, too. Ma made a choice so that her son could have a chance to live a better and more fulfilling life. The story, in its purest form, is about making a choice—to choose the uncertainty of life over the certainty of four walls and chains.