A bed. A lamp. Two chairs. A wardrobe: these are the simple objects that make up Jack’s (Jacob Tremblay) world. Living with his Ma (Brie Larson) in ‘Room’, this is the world he has known since birth, a single skylight offering as their only window to the outside – a place Jack has never even had call to comprehend. But now he is turning 5 years old, Ma knows it is time for Jack to grow up and learn the truth. An adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel of the same name, Lenny Abrahamson’s Room (2015) is a captivating look at a difficult subject and story, and an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish.
While at first glance the film is about the resilience of these two characters as they pass their time in ‘Room’, it also contains some deeper, central themes – thankfully something that hasn’t be lost in translation from book to screen. It is this aspect that is the film’s winning formula. At its core this is a tale about the bond between a mother and son, as well as growing up – something that both Jack and his Ma have to do. With a script by Donoghue herself, both she and director Lenny Abrahamson focus on this aspect of the narrative as much as the more obvious side of the story, something that makes Room all the more memorable and incredibly affecting to watch.
Indeed, emotions ripple throughout every moment: in plot, character and especially in performance. Brie Larson is the beating heart of Room, her sensitive yet hardy Ma completely riveting to watch. The bond between her and Jacob Tremblay’s Jack is palpable onscreen, the two perfectly capturing the mother-son relationship between the two characters. If she is the heart, then Tremblay is the spirit, his Jack the epitome of wide-eyed innocence and curiosity, as well as a fearlessness in later moments. When Ma tells him the horrid truth – that there is a world beyond the four walls that they see – Tremblay’s reaction is perfectly devastating as Jack’s world suddenly comes crashing down. It’s like a child’s reaction to when they find out Father Christmas isn’t real.
By witnessing the entire story through Jack’s eyes, we are able to easily understand his predicament. Abrahamson sometimes literally puts us in his shoes with the use of handheld point-of-view shots that are unnerving and uncomfortable, everything towering over him as he tries to make sense of what’s happening. This also makes certain moments all the more horrifying, such as when Jack is made to sleep in a wardrobe when Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) comes to visit his Ma in the night. Not only are we also in the wardrobe with Jack, but the incident is made more distressing by the fact that we only hear what happens between Old Nick and his Ma, our imaginations making it all the worse.
A film set in one location seems like a logistical nightmare, yet through careful direction, stepping back to let the performances breathe, and focusing on the deeper themes of the source novel, Lenny Abrahamson and Emma Donoghue have created a fascinating, affective film that is endlessly emotional. Both Tremblay’s touching performance and Abrahamson’s direction immerses us in the story and enables us to look at the world with fresh new eyes, allowing us to perfectly comprehend why it is so difficult for Jack to conceive that things like grass, trees, and even other people exist beyond ‘Room’. This effective approach means that when you leave the cinema you’ll also be hit by how claustrophobic the outside world is, Abrahamson skilfully showing us how we all have our own ‘Room’, no matter how big or small. It just depends, like Ma and Jack, how we cope with it.