Rating: Very severe
Running time: 1 hour 58 minutes
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Cast: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy
Spoiler alert in effect.
What a revelation this is. This film really makes you feel something, makes you feel something you don’t necessarily want to feel. It’s hard to watch, but at the same time, you don’t want to miss a moment. It’s based on a book by the same name, written by Emma Donoghue. While I haven’t read it yet, I can tell you that this film is one of the best I’ve seen.
The film tells the story of a young woman named Joy (otherwise known as Ma) who was held captive for 7 years in the garden shed of a man nicknamed Old Nick. During that time, Joy gives birth to a boy named Jack, and together, they endure being stuck in a 3.4m x 3.4m room up until Jack is 5 years old. Half the movie captures their lives while in the room, while the other half shows their struggle to cope with the outside world once they were freed. What I love is that it isn’t a crime drama and it doesn’t focus on her captor or how she was captured or the legal proceedings, except where necessary. Rather, it’s innately a love story between mother and son. As the tagline says “Love knows no boundaries”, both in the metaphorical and physical sense.
The story is told from the perspective of Jack, and how he sees Room and all its inhabitants. I love the beginning scene where he says good morning to all the different objects in Room. Telling the story from his perspective I think makes the movie bearable to watch, because it has that innocent and pure love that helps to counteract the trauma and terror of the situation.
Before I watched it, I thought it would be mainly focused on their time in captivity, and how they escape. In contrast, the movie hardly touches on the escape part, with little screen time devoted to how they actually found her in the room. I really appreciated that because while these kidnap victims suffer greatly while being locked up, they also suffer immensely even after they’ve been rescued and freed. It’s not pure freedom to them. There is the hounding by the media, wanting to get the exclusive interview and details of their life. There’s the legal proceedings, having to recall all their horrible memories again, not to mention the legal expenses. Then there’s the obvious issue of having to readjust to normal life, being able to let go and find happiness again. Their family and friends have gone on with their lives, and you can see how Joy reacts bitterly when she realises how everyone else gets a normal life without her. There is a scene where she is being interviewed by a TV station and you can just see the sort of blankness on her face, all caked with make-up and looking so unnatural compared to her normal self. She looks just as uncomfortable and scared as she was back in Room, with all these reporters asking her probing questions and having to justify her actions to the whole world. This is where the movie shines, in being able to look beyond the obvious and really explore the complexity of human behaviour and emotions.
I also love the ending. It’s a very cyclical feeling. The movie opens with Jack saying good morning to all the objects in Room, and finishes with Jack saying goodbye and asking Ma to do the same. I think it gives the story a real sense of closure. That Jack could go back and see how small Room is from an outside perspective, that Room isn’t really the same room because the door is open. Now he knows about the outside world, he can’t go back to that 4 year old mindset of being in Room and seeing the world through what his mother tells him or through the TV. By saying goodbye to Room, I think Jack learns to move on and let go of his attachment to the place where he grew up and helps him in adjusting to the ‘real’ world. For Ma, while obviously reluctant to go back and see Room, I think it provided a much needed sense of closure too, because she can see it from another point of view and let go of some of the negative emotions attached to that place. When she mouths “Bye Room”, she is acknowledging her previous life there while also closing that chapter and moving on with her life outside of Room.
What allows this film to go to the next level is the acting. Brie Larson, playing Ma, and Jacob Tremblay, playing Jack, are simply superb and you can really sense the strong connection they have on screen. Brie ended up snagging Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Oscars, not to mention winning awards at the SAGs, BAFTAs, Critic’s Choice and Golden Globe’s. No one stood a chance against her phenomenal performance. Reading and watching interviews of her revealed how much physical and mental training and preparation she undertook to get ready for this role. She stayed indoors to avoid contact with the sunlight, she went on a very strict diet, she removed herself from pleasurable things, all to get into the headspace of Joy. One month out from shooting, she even stopped herself from accessing the Internet and socialising with people, and instead looked inwards to better understand her train of thought. This is reflected in her performance. Not only in her physicality but also how she reacts to Jake and the situation. Her distant stares, her looks of despair, but also her love for Jake which drives her to take action. It’s a real marvel to watch her perform (pun intended). And not only did she have to prepare for her role, but she also needed to mentor and guide Jacob. Having been a child actor herself, I think she wanted to make sure Jacob was allowed to be given some creative space and have respect as an actor. You can really see the bond they have, which is vital to the dynamic of the film. It’s even more amazing when you realise Jacob was only 7 years old when they first started filming. Only 7 years old! To have that range and depth of a performance at that age is remarkable! I think the mothering and support Brie gave to Jacob really made a difference. They really needed the audience to feel their connection and make it authentic because that’s the backbone of the story.
There’s an interesting story behind the police car scene where Jake is reunited with Ma after they were found by the police. Basically, each person was told only the information they needed to act in that scene. For example, Jacob was told that he needed to look for Larson through the car window and try to attract her attention. For Larson, she wasn’t even told that there were cop cars. She was just asked to find Jacob. Apparently, in her panicked state of trying to find him, not only did she try and push through the police officers, she had slipped and refused to be helped by them, which is why she ended up with bruises. I found this to be an interesting way of directing, giving your actors only the pieces of information relevant to them. If you rewatch that scene, you can really see the true state of distress Larson was in. The funny bit is that after they filmed that scene, Jacob asked Larson “Why are you so upset? We just saw each other 5 minutes ago!” (I paraphrased that, can’t remember the exact quote.) Jacob is seriously the cutest kid ever.
Another fascinating part of the movie was Room itself and all the attention to detail the cast and crew gave to making the construction of the room seem as real as possible. For example, during rehearsal period, the crew would observe how Brie and Jacob would move around, and any particular areas where they tended to gravitate towards. Like when Jake runs around doing track, they would make the floor and walls around that area more faded, to reflect the daily running. The crew would also look at the angle of the sun, and how it hit the walls. It’s all these little details that add up and make Room a character on its own. Larson also had amazing attention to detail in terms of her character. She mentioned in interviews that she made sure the clothing that she had were stretched and worn out, to reflect her pregnancy. She also wore a watch and some rings, things that a typical 17 year old girl would wear, which was the age when Joy was kidnapped. Of course the first time I saw it, I never explicitly noticed any of these things. But I think innately, it adds to the honesty of the storytelling. You might not be aware of it, but its presence adds to the scene and only after you watch it a few times, do you start to see all the care and attention they gave. It’s one of those films that each time you watch, you learn something new, you see something you haven’t seen before. It’s just like reading a Harry Potter book. There’s a lot more detail than you initially realised.
To finish off, my favourite line(s) from the film is when Joy says “I’m not a good enough Ma” and Jack replies “But you’re Ma”. This just broke my heart and made me teary. Such a simple statement, but so powerful. That through everything, all the doubts and suffering and fear, all Jack really wants is his Ma and just being there is good enough for him. For Joy, this must have given her such hope and strength to hear, that despite all her doubts about her parenting skills and whether she made the right decision, she will always be his Ma and Jack wouldn’t have it any other way.
Overall, I’d just like to say that Larson is an incredible actor and a wonderful person, from what I can gather from her interviews and her social media. I’m so looking forward to watching some of her older films (e.g. Short Term 12) and all her upcoming ones, like Kong: Skull Island and Captain Marvel.
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
1. Was this an uplifting or depressing film for you?
2. Do you think Ma made the right choice in keeping Jake or should she have made the “ultimate sacrifice” and let him have a normal life?
3. Do you think Brie’s performance was Oscar-worthy?