If you’ve seen the trailer for Room, you’ll likely know a lot more about the film than you should when walking in to watch Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel. It tells the story of a young woman and her five year old son, forced to live within a ten-by-ten foot garden shed by a man who kidnapped her seven years ago. Not a particularly light narrative, but it’s a film with a lot of genuine emotion packed into two hours; something particularly refreshing in a season sure to be full of manipulative dramas.
To be noted: from here on, my Room review will dive into things I consider spoilers (as I went in completely blind), but that the trailer showcases. If you’ve seen it, read on. If you haven’t, close the tab and go buy your ticket.
As Room rolls on, we discover that the entirety of the film doesn’t take place inside this shed, though it certainly feels as though it might as nearly an entire half of the film takes place within it. Abrahamson makes Room feel like a world entirely its own, regardless of the fact that it’s really a shed packed with furniture: a small table, a bed for Ma (Brie Larson), a wardrobe for Jack (Jacob Tremblay), a sink, a tub, a mini-fridge, and a couple of other things, most notably a skylight window, which offers Jack his only view of the real world for five years.
Until, of course, he escapes, thanks to Ma’s quick-thinking and forceful planning. It’s here that Room shifts gears: focusing on the plight of the survivors rather than the struggle of the kidnapped and unaware. Once we’re out of Room, it’s revealed that Abrahamson has no visual style of his own; impersonal camerawork that cuts almost as frantically as Danny Boyle typically does and a weird lack of POV-maintenance through the lens doesn’t make the film any worse, but doesn’t always match the very intimate nature of the narrative.
And an intimate tale it is, with Emma Donoghue’s script adapted from her own novel really getting right to the heart of things without ever coming across as manufactured to make audiences sob. Where the first half is dedicated to depicting the struggle of those who have been kidnapped, the latter segment is where the film flourishes. It’s essentially a showcase of what survivors of incidents like this have to go through on a daily basis, and how it isn’t an experience limited to individuals who have been kidnapped, mentally devalued, sexually assaulted, and forced to live in captivity for seven years.
One scene, among many others that I won’t reveal, is a particularly stellar example of how victims are blamed for things they had little to no control over. A television interview segment occurs in which Ma is asked why she didn’t force her rapist to take Jack to a hospital and let him have a normal life when he was born. Some might find the scene to be “over the top”, critiquing the film for proposing that a reporter would never ask such a question, but it’s not at all unrealistic for an interviewer to blame the victim for, essentially, not doing enough. Women are blamed constantly for not fighting back, not talking soon enough, not helping another person in the same situation even though they are powerless to do so, and a scene like this makes a powerful statement about victim blaming and how hard it is to cope in an unsafe environment after trauma.
It’s actually interesting to see a work like this come out in the same year as the Tina Fey & Robert Carlock comedy series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Kimmy Schmidt’s unbridled optimism in the face of a new world is a drastically different look at how individuals deal with the reality of life after trauma, specifically in how humans react to the same event in varying ways. Where Kimmy, Gretchen, Cyndee, and Donna Maria all adapt in different ways — most of them trying to live normal-ish lives with only one of them showing signs of Stockholm syndrome — Room contrasts the impossibility of forgetting in Ma with the pliability of Jack’s mind in adjusting to reality after experiencing the first five years of his life in an unnatural manner.
And it’s here that Abrahamson and his actors shine, with Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay’s performances coming across as pitch-perfect. Everything is an adjustment in attempting to return to a normal life and it shows best in the body language. The delivery of emotional dialogue would be nothing if not accompanied by the physicality that comes with the role; each wince, flinch, and cringe placing emphasis on the way we interact with these characters, these survivors, making Room an incredibly affecting experience overall.
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson; written by Emma Donoghue; adapted from Emma Donoghue’s Room; starring Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Tom McCamus, Willian H. Macy and Sean Bridgers; 118 minutes.
Room is currently playing in limited theaters.