Emma Donoghue (also novel)
Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers, Joan Allen, William H. Macy
R for language
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
Locked in a one-room shed, a mother and son are forced to exist entirely as if the outside world doesn’t exist. Room gives Brie Larson her second greatest role to date as the conflicted mother whose only emotional anchor is her five-year-old son.
The disturbing events at the heart of Room make for a compelling story, one that has been tackled numerous times on the small screen, usually in derivative police procedurals. Larson plays Joy Newsome, a 24-year-old woman who had been kidnapped seven years earlier and held captive in a tiny shed at the back of her abductor’s property, almost in broad daylight. Her five-year-old son, played convincingly by Jacob Tremblay, was born in captivity and has yet to experience life outside their cramped living space where Joy pleasures her captor in order to stay alive and healthy.
Once the events move outside of the confinement, Joy must come to terms with freedom in a vast and open space where her family lavishes her with attention, but whom she feels enormously distant from, not having seen them in so long. Her maternal instinct to protect her son makes her a sometimes aggressive foe even for those who love her.
While the surface of the narrative is about regaining lost freedom, the film is also a rich, contextual drama about being locked away in your own mind as well as in the life you’ve built for yourself. Having known captivity for more than a quarter of her life, it takes time for an abused woman to not only trust those around her, but also to feel like she hasn’t just moved from her small cage into a larger one with the illusion of freedom.
The ramifications of being abducted as a teenager, held captive for years, and having to cherish what little freedoms her abductor provides, are delicately explored in this compelling drama from director Lenny Abrahamson with a deep and passionate screenplay by Emma Donoghue, adapting from her own novel of the same name.
Larson is stellar in this role, having worked her way up in the film industry from her feature debut in 2004. Although she had roles in several prominent films prior to this one, such as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and 21 Jump Street, her breakout role was that of a teen counselor in Short Term 12 in 2013. That performance showed off her immeasurable skills and her quick ascension in Hollywood is at least partly a direct result of her award-winning role in that film. At her side, as the only other major character in the film, Tremblay delivers a strong performance that was far more mature than his nine-year-old experiences could have informed.
Room is the kind of film that opens a conversation about the struggles that abuse victims have to overcome in order to adapt and change after years of pain, humiliation, and suffering. Larson bares her soul to the audience so that they too can experience and understand the necessity of survival when at the hands of someone who has complete control over you. Although the heart of the story is about an abduction, the film’s universality also speaks to the issues facing survivors of domestic abuse. It’s that universality that makes the film stand out so strongly in the psyches of all those who view it.
October 12, 2020