DIR: Lenny Abrahamson • WRI: Emma Donoghue • PRO: David Gross, Ed Guiney • DOP: Danny Cohen • ED: Nathan Nugent • DES: Ethan Tobman • MUS: Stephen Rennicks • CAST: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers
Four walls, of what can be no bigger than a small garden shed, have never felt so vast. But this is the limitless scope of Jack’s 5 year old imagination. For Jack, ‘Room’ is the world. Looking up through a skylight, outside is sky, and space, and aliens. Jack and Ma try shouting at the aliens, but they don’t hear them today. Room’s borders are everything. Room… Room… Room. This is all Jack knows, having no concept that a world outside exists. There are cats and dogs and people on TV, but they’re not real. At least that’s what Ma says. But now Ma says she lied.
Ma’s protected Jack from the truth. She’s kept him strong psychologically, built him emotionally from the ground up, carefully preparing him for his eventual escape. Inside Room, Ma has created a rich and spacious world for her child’s imagination, free from the literal reality. The literal reality is that Jack and Ma are caged up like wild animals, in a meagerly furnished Zoo pen. Ma was captured by mean old Nick, and hasn’t left Room in 7 years. But in the inhumanity of this situation, director Lenny Abrahamson finds a breeding ground for warmth, love and affection. There’s no artifice to the story’s structure, which is propelled along by an intoxicating earnestness. At the narrative’s core is this maternal bond between a mother and child.
Emma Donoghue adapted the script from her Man Booker-nominated novel of the same name. Donoghue is anything but a one trick pony, and shows masterful dexterity as a writer, as she jumps ship from novel to screenplay. She’s dived head first into the material, and fearlessly pares her novel down to its core. The most profound difference is that the movie works on its own terms. It makes no attempt to imitate the novel, or try to suggest Jack’s magical thinking with ham-handed visual trickery. According to Abrahamson, the movie’s all about Jack’s face, and the film is grounded with a rich cinematic naturalism. His face is our key to a rich inner world. This more naturalistic quality towards the visual approach of the film was something Abrahamson knew from the get-go; and a point he even used to woo author Emma Donoghue in his initial pitch.
Over and over, Irish director Lenny Abrahamson has proved himself a talent to watch. He’s made a successful career with intimate, character-driven dramas (Adam & Paul, What Richard Did). So in one sense Room is similar territory; in another sense Room elevates the intimate character drama to a more epic scale, while never losing sight of its simple humanity. It’s a fine line, and Abrahamson walks it expertly. This is a director in his absolute element, and at the peak of his powers.
Since winning the audience award at the Toronto film festival, Room has unsurprisingly generated healthy awards buzz. And this is hardly surprising, since Room offers the highest calibre of craftsmanship in virtually every department; though the performances take centre stage. Brie Larson deserves every accolade on the table and it still wouldn’t be enough; she endlessly radiates compassion and affection, making everyone in the audience with anything of a soul, wish she was their Ma. And Jacob Tremblay’s performance glows with the simple honesty that surely paves the way for a powerful acting talent. The story is further reinforced by Danny Cohen’s masterfully unimposing cinematography and Stephen Rennicks’ earthy score, which is at times both ethereal and euphoric.
In Room, Abrahamson has created a masterful oddity; a world that’s spatially confined, but emotionally limitless and arresting. Abrahamson works within the scope of narrative and cinematic limits, and yet somehow in the end, exceeds those limits tenfold. Room is one of those unique films, that by way of what must be magic or osmosis, excels beyond the sum of its parts. It’s the kind of estranged logic that lets two plus two equal five, when it should only equal four.
117 minutes (See IFCO for details)
Room is released 15th January 2016