Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit viff.org and follow VIFF on Twitter at @viffest.
A thrilling and highly captivating film, Room tells the unique, highly intriguing story of a boy born and raised in a single room finally seeing the world. It shares much of the depth of Plato’s allegory of the cave, wherein a caveman sees the sun for the first time and it opens up his mind to the limitlessness of existence. In this case, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) is said caveman, and the sun is the world outside of ‘room’. Told from his perspective, the film genuinely captures the frightening yet euphoric experience of discovery.
Adapted from a book by Emma Donoghue, Room lends image and life to the characters, which, according to the author, exist as a “stream of consciousness”. For her, it a huge supplement, which only serves to add depth and image to her words. In both the book and the film, what figures centrally is the everyday heroism of a mother and father. Brie Larson, who plays Jack’s Ma, fulfills an excellent role as a mother who will literally do anything she can for her son, even make him pretend to be sick and pretend to be dead.
The first few shots of Room are not all that interesting until information is uncovered to bring retroactive content to those scenes. They are shot in extreme close up with a hand-camera; the mobility and blur is claustrophobic beyond measure. We see a woman with her child; we see this woman put her child in a wardrobe; we see a man enter her home to have sex with her while the child lays in the wardrobe. It is extremely unnerving and distressing that a woman would do this, until we discover that Ma and Jack are victims of kidnapping; the man is their kidnapper, and they have been trapped in this room for half a decade. When Ma explains this to Jack on his fifth birthday, he is confused; he has never seen any other person than Ma and Old Nick, and he believes that ‘room’ is the entirety of the real world. It is an exceptional scene which begins the intriguing story. With it, the cinematography shifts to open up to wider angles and longer shots, more and more as mother and son become free from ‘room’ and enter the real world.
The bone-chilling first half of the film has great momentum and pace, leading to a brilliantly choreographed escape scene. During this scene, Jack opens his eyes in the back of a truck, seeing for the first time clouds, the sky, and the sun. The soundtrack at this point helps add onto an otherwise already emotionally resonant moment, creating one of the best shots of 2015. His palpable sense of wonder, fright, amazement, and joy is wonderful, as are these emotions which he expresses throughout the second half of the film wherein he learns to adapt to the real world, seeing everything for the first time.
To ensure that we remain in the boys’ unique perspective, Abrahamson utilizes voice-overs in which Jack explains what he has learned about the world. When the film comes to its final scenes, we understand the complexities of Jack’s struggle. ‘Room’ was simple; he was there, ma was there, and everything else was there. There was nothing that was not there. It was ‘room’ and it was everything. The world, with its limitless possibilities and its great space, is what frightens Jack. What should be his jail cell is actually his sanctuary. It is where all his friends live—‘toilet’, ‘wardrobe’, ‘second chair’ etc. When Jack finally returns to ‘room’ to say goodbye, he poignantly sighs an air of nostalgia for the pleasant memories he had in room, pleasant memories afforded through the stressed, traumatic, frightening undertakings of his ma.
A thrilling and highly captivating film, Room tells the unique, highly intriguing story of a boy born and raised in a single room finally seeing the world.