With the Oscar race now truly in session, now comes the time of year where essentially every weekend leading up to the big night sees a release of a new hopeful (in the UK anyway). This week sees the release of three recognised films in the forms of Creed, The Revenant, and Lenny Abrahamson’s Room. The latter, self-adapted by Emma Donoghue from her own Man Booker short-listed novel, is one film that I was lucky to catch back in October as part of the London Film Festival, lingering in my mind ever since. It is an often traumatising and nerve-wrecking watch, but one that is incredibly rewarding and, at the end of the day, inspiring in the face of the impossible.
The events of Room unfold from the perspective of 5 year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who has lived his whole life in one room with his Ma (Brie Larson). Shortly after his fifth birthday, Ma reveals to him that she has been trapped in Room for 7 years, kept prisoner by ‘Old Nick.’ And, now that she feels Jack is old enough to grasp the concept of the outside world, Ma is keen to hatch an escape plan.
What marks Room as unique an as a truly original expression of youthful naivety and innocence is in its vicarious nature of placing us in Jack’s perspective. Abrahamson finds many angles to shoot from within one space to allow Room to feel like a small world to us, as it clearly is to Jack. There is an intimacy in this prison, yet we never feel scared by the environment; this is Jack’s home, where he plays and sleeps and enjoys his existence, therefore we do no not fear it. We fear ‘Old Nick’ as he is both a tormentor to Ma and a figure of mystery to Jack.
Much of why this perspective works is down to the impeccable casting of the young Tremblay and Larson. Tremblay in particularly is a revelation, crafting one of the finest child performances that we have ever witnessed on screen. He maintains innocence throughout with ease, despite the hardships the character goes through (and asking a kid to act these scenes is in itself an ask). He has a sense of intelligence far beyond his years and aptly emphasises the somewhat stressful nature of the situations and tasks Ma asks of him.
Room confirms Larson as one of the finest emerging young female talents of the moment, delivering a performance that delivers most of the devastation of the film. It is the fear we have for her safety in particular that truly makes Room an often gruelling experience and profoundly intense. Even in the fallout from the escape plans, Room persists in displaying the ways one may react to a depressingly all too real situation (the concept was inspired by the Fritzel case). Larson is the one who is asked to carry this burden of demonstrating what the effect of being ripped out of society can have on a young woman. She is incredibly brave in a role which asks her to be both courageous yet vulnerable, with many moments of devastation coming from moments when it all just seems to much for Larson and Ma to handle.
Abrahamson has crafted himself as a very daring director, taking on properties that may very well scare off more seasoned cinematic veterans. If What Richard Did emphasised his boldness, Frank his quirkiness, Room highlights his skill for intimacy. This is a highly charged tale and one which benefits from showing the world from Jack’s perspective, and it is Abrahamson’s confidence in this world view which allows us to easily align ourselves and see the world as something both new for Jack and as a place of re-entry for Ma.
I have seen Room twice now, and it must be said that the suspense fails to be as palpable on a second viewing (as is often the case), but that does not rob the film of its emotionally rich narrative. It is a narrative which asks a great deal of its audience, pushing them to the limit in moment of simple yet very sheer intensity. It all amounts in a rewarding experience which is rousing and profoundly stirring in its final moments. It is a showcase for Larson, Tremblay an particularly Abrahamson, who should fine himself with plenty of offers after delivering a work of this level of intimacy and intensity. The darkest horse of the Oscar race which deserves to be leading the charge more so than it currently stands.