Room movie full length review - Spellbinding Masterpiece
Toilet. Wardrobe. Bed. Bath. Chair One. Chair Two.
I have deliberately left out pronouns because that is the way 5 year old Jack refers to the items in his tiny world, all he has ever known, a single room he occupies with his young mother who was snatched on her way home from school as a teenager 7 years ago and has been imprisoned in 'Room' ever since. 'Ma' has managed to bring Jack up in this bizarre environment in as healthy a way as she can, she has obviously taught him to read and write with the limited resources in 'Room', she makes a game of exercise, with Jack giggling and running from one end of 'Room' to the other. Her captor put a small TV in 'Room' at some point, and Jack sees all the things on it as a great fantasy. There is nothing outside of 'Room' to Jack. Jack and Ma make a birthday cake for Jack's 5th birthday, but he wonders why there are no candles on it. Every evening 'Old Nick', which is the name Ma and Jack have given her captor, visits 'Room' and rapes her. We see this through Jack's eyes from the slats of the wardrobe he sleeps in. This film is not afraid to ask a lot of its audience. Jack has temper tantrums and Ma has 'gone days' when she doesn't manage to get out of bed. On 'gone days' Jack entertains himself, just like on the outside world. There are short bursts of narration from Jack telling us what he understands of his existence. For reasons I would rather allow you to discover for yourself, Ma decides that it is time for quite risky attempts for her and Jack to escape from 'Room', so she starts to plant ideas in Jack's head about the outside world, she points out a leaf that falls on the skylight and Jack says 'but it's not green like on TV'. Ma hatches a plan for them to escape but crucial to her idea is Jack pretending to be ill. She coaches him on what he must do to convince Old Nick that he must go to a hospital. This first attempt at freedom fails, so she comes up with another plan. She coaches Jack again, and in a sequence of agonising suspense, Jack does get away. I'm giving nothing away telling you all this, because this is the point at which the film really spreads its wings (this much has been suggested in the trailers). The early scenes, although beautifully played, are merely set up for what follows. Ma's relationship with her own parents and a devoted family friend, Jack's discovery of everything outside of 'Room' and his growing fondness for his grandmother (the sublime and criminally underrated Joan Allen). Ma's father (William H Macy) cannot bring himself to look at Jack and we are not told why, which feels right. We don't need to be bashed over the head with what he is thinking. The questions raised are emotionally complex, staggering. What of the power of unconditional love a child has for it's mother? Ma questions her ability as a parent and Jack's response is simply 'But you're Ma'. How do we come to accept the point at which a child no longer completely depends on us as parents? Why do we find it so difficult to reconcile feelings of being trapped and tormented in our minds when we are physically free? It is so refreshing to see a film that doesn't make announcements about what it wants to say or signpost it's big moments. They just happen. I am loathe to point out any particular scene in a film which unfolds so fluidly but there are two, you will know them when they come, where I dare you, DARE YOU, not to be an emotional wreck. I am normally pretty good at keeping myself together when I go to the cinema, but when the credits rolled here I had to rush to a toilet to compose myself before I left the building. The great film critic Roger Ebert once said 'It's not what a movie is about, it's how it is about it'. This film's director, Lenny Abrahamson, understands this completely. I could describe every single scene and divulge every plot detail and I truly believe doing so would not make seeing it any less meaningful. The film is that good. The balance of subtlety and poignancy is perfect. The music is incidental and subtle, the camera angles, particularly in the early cramped scenes, are largely from Jack's point of view, to great effect. This film even goes to the trouble of managing the viewer's suspension of disbelief by paying heed to the fact that Jack would not have been exposed to normal bacteria having been holed up in a small room for so long.
Ma is played by Brie Larson in a performance of such astonishing power and naturalism that I am reminded of Charlize Theron in 'Monster' and Meryl Streep in 'Sophie's Choice'. The Academy has nominated four other actresses for the Oscar out of nothing more than politeness this year.
Jack is played by a child actor called Jacob Tremblay. A child actor depends greatly on their director and co-actors. I can only assume that during the filming of 'Room', he was nurtured and guided with great love and care, and I am amazed that he has not become the second youngest person to be nominated for an Oscar.
Joan Allen and William H Macy, who played parents together before in 'Pleasantville', are both excellent here.
Out of IMDBs top 250 films, I have seen 135 and rated four of them 10 stars. If 'Room' ever makes it into IMDBs top 250, it will be my fifth 10 star film.