Note: This review deals with minor spoilers revealed during the trailer (regarding the structure of the film). If you’ve watched the trailer or know the story, feel free to read. If you want to go in completely cold, don’t read ahead.
Their world is Room. Ma and Jack live their lives in this windowless prison, pushing through the difficult nights with their captor and passing time with each other during the days. Light shines through a skylight above, a constant reminder that the world doesn’t end with this claustrophobic space, that there’s so much to be learned and explored outside the confines of Room, of innocence, of childhood. This is a movie about the emotional trauma of imprisonment, but it’s also a fascinating look at what it means to grow up and to be a parent.
Brie Larson is that parent, several emotions flickering across her face at any moment as Ma watches her son grow. Exhaustion and pride, annoyance and determination, frustration and pure love. It’s all part of Larson’s extremely wide range, and it’s all part of a performance that moves and devastates as it brings the two halves of the movie together (they’re bridged by a brilliantly done escape sequence). Jacob Tremblay is key here as well, a nine year old actor who beautifully acts as the audience’s eyes and ears. Through frequent close-ups and a voiceover that’s a bit too much, we’re shown the fear and uncertainty and natural curiosity of a child who has yet to know any other environment.
On that note, the film does a nice job of contrasting its two main environments: the dark and tiny Room with Joy’s (Ma’s) spacious family home. As we realize, however, they both can be prisons in their own ways, the latter constantly surrounded by the media and by the escalating tension about where to go next. The film’s most intriguing question comes during a television interview there: Joy’s asked whether she ever thought about getting Old Nick–her captor–to take Jack away so he could be free, so he could have a normal life. Joy responds by insisting that Jack having her was enough and essential, but she’s clearly shattered by the follow-up: “Was that the best thing for him?” This gets at parenthood as a whole, tying Room to a blissful ignorance that can be both necessary and harmful (it’s not an easy thing to explore– especially in this context–but it’s done quite well). In the end, though, the film is not just about the environment you create for your kid, but rather the environment you create with him or her.The world can be a restrictive place, but it’s also as big as you make it. It’s all about moving through life together, about being torn apart and reunited, about holding each other tight as you share the pain, the small pleasures, the joy. Then, maybe you can let go.
-I was able to catch a screening that was followed up by a Q&A with Lenny Abrahamson and Brie Larson, and it was fantastic. Brie Larson opened by making a joke about being in another room, then asked the audience whether the movie was “a barrel of laughs”. That just endeared her to me even more. Some other interesting tidbits:
1) They talked a lot about how the escape sequence maintained both a thriller aspect and a metaphorical “birth” aspect, which was really interesting.
2) Larson got so into the role that she blew up at someone giving her a parking ticket. In addition, she filmed one scene in -11 degree weather, which I’m sure must have been fun.
3) Larson described her post-filming experience with Ma–and with her characters in general–as analogous to being with a roommate you’re kind of sick of, but don’t want to tell that to.
4) Abrahamson said his best creative decision was casting Brie Larson and that his worst creative decision was not casting her soon enough. Smooth, that one.
5) Larson tried to distance herself from Sean Bridgers, the guy who played Old Nick. She said it was kind of difficult to make eye contact with him, even at the TIFF. She also said there was comedy in filming with Tremblay, as he oftentimes didn’t really understand exactly what was going on. For example, she was filming a reunion scene with him, and there were understandably lots of tears. He asked her: “Why are you crying? You just saw me 10 minutes ago.”
6) Larson and Tremblay first met over pizza, then had a few weeks to hang out and explore Room. Abrahamson didn’t want to tell Tremblay right away that Larson was going to be playing his mother, as he thought it might make him uncomfortable at first.
-Joan Allen and William H. Macy show up as Joy’s parents, and although the latter definitely fades as the story goes on, the former has some really poignant scenes with Jacob Tremblay. It’s not just daughter and son; it’s grandma and grandson, mother and daughter.
-When you see the final scene, imagine it without the score. In my opinion, it would be much more powerful that way.
Photo credit: Room, Element Pictures, A24 Films