There aren’t many ways a story about a woman held captive in a small room for seven years can be told. You have the obvious: a suspenseful thriller that depicts her losing track of time as she spends every waking moment trying to escape; or a drama/mystery from the point of view of a family who never gives up searching, even when everyone else does; or the less obvious Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt angle, focusing on all the good in the world post-escape with hilarious results.
And then you have Room. A heart-wrenching drama adapted from the book of the same name by Emma Donoghue, who also wrote the screenplay directed by Lenny Abrahamson. The story is from the perspective of five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who knows only of life in Room, with a bed, stove, chairs, skylight, – everything else exists only on television.
The only person Jack sees and speaks to is Ma (Brie Larson). Everything we see is everything Jack sees. Everything we hear is everything Jack hears. We know the situation is terrible, Ma (Joy) knows the situation is terrible, Jack doesn’t. This is his normal.
It’s normal that Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) delivers food and supplies every Sunday and that Jack must hide in wardrobe before he arrives and stay in there until he leaves, even if that means staying in there for a few hours. Certain aspects are made subtle through Jack’s perspective, but they’re not absent. We see what Jack sees, hear what he hears, but we understand more than he’s capable of.
And it’s that aspect that made me so anxious for much of the film – almost sick to my stomach. While Old Nick plays a significant role for the crux of the story, he has only minutes of screen time, but enough to answer any lingering questions about how and why Joy remains trapped in Room after all this time – just in case there was any doubt.
Brie Larson captures her role so well. Hopeless, struggling, but still maintains the spark required to stay alive and not give up, even if only for her son. Jacob Tremblay is a wonder. At just 9 years old, he performs a role so challenging yet so naturally with his reactions to Ma’s truths, fear of escaping and the world.
Room satisfies the psychology of the situation, providing a second half that isn’t the outcome most would expect. Some of it felt toned down for the sake of condensing the story into a reasonable timeframe, but the main points are present, simply to say struggle doesn’t end as soon as the door opens.