You may have noticed that my usual, somewhat jokey, tag line above is missing. That is mainly because this is a film that I cannot think of any jokes about. My initial understanding of the movie when I first read about it was an adaptation of a book about a girl who had been kidnapped, imprisoned and had a child due to the abuse that she suffered during that time. When I then saw the trailer I started to realise that perhaps this may be the setting for the story, but it is not really what is about. That may sound as though the movie sidelines some incredibly important and disturbing themes, but I am pleased to report that this is about as far from the truth as it is possible to be. This is a story told from the perspective of a boy who grows up in a room, or as he calls it “Room”, with only his mother for company and then finds out that there is a world outside of it. It is an exploration of the relationship they have, how it has grown, what it means to finally leave Room and what happens after that. It also happens to be utterly brilliant.
Now that we have got the preamble out of the way I can jump straight to what makes this film one of the best I have ever seen. The central relationship between Jack and Ma is probably the most well realised I have had the pleasure to experience on the cinema screen. Brie Larson, who plays Ma and Jacob Tremblay, Jack, really sell the idea that they are mother and son. This is naturalism at its finest; not once did I find myself questioning if what I saw on screen was anything other than completely real. It is particularly impressive because of the fact that although Brie Larson does an amazing job of showing every aspect of Ma, her fear, desperation, pain, loss, suffering and total, complete and undying love for Jack, it is Jacob Tremblay who anchors the film. Child actors are normally given a bit of a pass by viewers, who assume that because they are young they lack the talent to be able to really inhabit a character as one would expect an adult actor to be able to. Jacob Tremblay may well be the turning point for that idea. He is seven, playing a five year old, and is completely convincing and utterly magnetic throughout the film. I have literally never seen a child act like this before, and I suspect that this is not only down to his obvious talent, but also a cast, crew and director who have set the film up to cater for him and give him the time and space to really dig for this performance so that it crosses the line from acting to reality. He is a five year old, with a five year old’s sensibilities and tantrums and joys, and sometimes it is not enjoyable to be around him, but at others he really gives the film a heart that is comparable to few others. The rest of the cast is relatively small, with only four other adults playing a noticeable part in Jack’s life. The other standout performance is Sean Bridgers as Old Nick, the man who is holding Ma and Jack prisoner. This is a role that could have easily been something of a caricature of a twisted or perverted psychopath. Instead Bridgers gives Old Nick an almost domestic air when he turns up in Room. The true monster that lurks beneath his almost bored exterior only shows up once or twice, and is all the more horrifying for it. Although I say horrifying, that is something that only really comes from an adult point of view looking in on this child’s world. The real strength of the movie, as I have said before is Ma and Jack’s relationship, which is not above frustration, anger, resentment and utter childishness, but is packed with so much palpable love that it insulates him from the adult horrors that he lives comfortably unaware of. Due to what Ma has managed to do over Jack’s childhood he sees Room as a place of cosy domesticity. Ma’s ferocious protection of her son is utterly inspiring and regularly very upsetting, but ultimately one of the most heart-warming parts of this incredible story. She has created a world for him in Room where he is completely sheltered from the abuse that takes place there and the pain it causes her. To Ma Room is a prison, to Jack it is his whole life. And due to her love a life that for the most part he thrives in.
Once the film leaves Room and we hit the outside for the first time it becomes even more apparent how sheltered Jack has been. The sheer expanse of the world around him is overwhelming and it was this part of the film that touched on what it was like to be a child experiencing things for the first time. His innocence and utter shock and awe is writ large across the film, and although the camera has done incredible work of finding the space inside Room, which looks to not be much more than sixteen feet square, it really luxuriates in exploring the relative vistas around him. Lenny Abrahamson, the director, has done an astounding job of making mundane things like rooms in hospitals and Jack’s grandmother’s house seem to stretch to infinity, and it really highlights how small children can feel in an adult world. This contrast also really shines a spotlight on Jack’s struggle to come to terms with a world that is so completely outside of his comfort zone he has no frame of reference to understand it with. Although this could also be a theme that could easily become trite, the scripting and acting of everyone involved is so tight and on point that it manages to hammer the point home without ever going anywhere near being twee. The interplay between the other three main players outside of Room; Grandma, Joan Allen, Grandpa, William H. Macy and Leo, Tom McCamus is normally subtler than what we have seen between Ma and Jack, but that again is from the child’s point of view that this movie takes. Looking in through an adult’s eyes it is painful to see the scars and trauma that the kidnapping has left, but fascinating to watch the part of the story that is normally completely ignored. Normally a victim is rescued, the triumphant trumpets sound and the credits roll. This story has the courage to show that often the rescue is only the beginning of the tale. Domesticity is suddenly thrust onto this family after the heights of emotion and horror. The struggles they go through to find their equilibrium and the love that Grandma and Leo start to offer Jack, and his growing trust of them is amazingly poignant. I especially enjoyed watching Leo’s gentle way of gaining Jack’s trust as he slowly plants the seeds of being the father-figure Jack never had. It is during this time of almost anticlimactic lull that Jack also starts to show the depth of what Ma has done for him over the previous five years. As she starts to show the true levels of the trauma she has suffered and the damage it has done to her, he grows, opens to new experiences and starts to thrive, and it is throughout this process and what he gives back to Ma that the film shows that what it is really about is growing up, learning about your place in the wider world and what everyone around you means within that world. It is about the loss of innocence and the love that makes that loss alright, and it is the reason that this movie earns its place as one of the most heartbreaking and heart-warming stories I have ever had the pleasure to watch on screen.
To sum up; this is not a film about kidnap, rape and horror. It is a film about the amazing resilience of Ma and Jack, who build a life in the shadow of some of the worst experiences possible and thrive despite everything because of their fierce love for one another. It is a film that will help you to remember what it was to be a child and what it is to sacrifice things for the ones you love. It is quite simply one of the best stories I have ever seen and I urge you to go and see it.
Five Moons out of Five. A masterpiece.