Winner of the Audience Award at last year’s Toronto Film Festival and based on Emma Donoghue’s bestselling novel of the same name, Room centres its attention on a complex, realistic mother and child relationship; its various ups and downs playing out against the most extreme of circumstances. Ma (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), have been locked inside a tiny room for the entirety of Jack’s life. For him, this strange existence in ‘Room’ is normal, but for Ma it’s a hellish prison.
Believing him to be old enough to understand, Ma opens up to Jack about the reality of their incarceration and the nature of the outside world – a revelation that he objects and denies as a make-believe product of the TV they occasionally watch. But when Ma hatches an escape plan, Jack is soon thrust out into the big wide terrifying world. There’s nothing in Room that’s not bleak and harrowing. A lump forms in the throat not long after the film starts and stays there right through to the conclusion, intensifying at various particularly strained moments along the way. For the first half, the audience are limited to the room exactly as Ma and Jack are, every inch of their claustrophobia felt through Lenny Abrahamson’s constrained direction and the authentic set design – a magical, if uncomfortable home from home that alternates between a makeshift fort and a deplorable prison.
When the pair make a break for it around the halfway mark, the action races into the outside world, but thankfully a tight focus remains on the two lead characters. Larson and Tremblay are both the anchors that keep Room from getting away from itself. Often, the film revels in its gloominess, but the two actors emanate a lightness that lifts the tone and mood. Their relationship is one for the books – a realistic mother and child bond that has a lived in quality, as if Larson and Tremblay really are related. Separately, they’re wonderful, too. Larson’s penchant for acting through her expressions often speaks louder than anything within the script ever could. Tremblay, a relative newcomer to cinema, is a revelation, his wide-eyed innocence a poignant and moving contrast to his grim surroundings.
It’s fantastic to watch the two actors together, and the way they’re both equally as scared and tested after their escape as they were inside shows how damaged they are as individuals. The pressures that come with living in such confinement have dissipated, only to be replaced by new fears and struggles; for Jack in particular who’s never known any different. Room is dark, often suffocatingly dark, but hope and warmth emerge from unlikely places thanks to sensitive direction, beautiful performances and a rich understanding of human emotions and what a relationship between mother and child can be and do. Its impact is extraordinary and its complexities rich and rewarding.