While I was at the Toronto International Film Festival, I was fortunate enough to see the free preview of the film voted People’s Choice. As you may guess, the film is Room. Based on the novel by Emma Donoghue (who also wrote the screenplay), Room centers around Jack (Jacob Tremblay), a little boy imprisoned in a shack with his mother (Brie Larson). I have been to a few film premieres and never has an audience cheered halfway through a film. And it ended with a standing ovation. That’s how powerful this film is.
Years ago, Joy was abducted and confined in a little shack by Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). Five year old Jack was born in the shack and spent his whole life in there. Jack regards “Room” and “TV” as the only reality. At night, Jack’s forced to hide in a closet while Old Nick forces himself on Joy. It’s after one scary incident that Joy finally reveals there’s a world outside of Room, and she has an escape plan.
The wisest choice the movie and the book made was presenting the story from Jacks point of view. As story like these sounds like a hard to watch film and in a few scenes it is. Bridgers is especially terrifying in the way he portrays Nick’s twisted sense of entitlement towards human life. That’s where Jack comes in. Being five, Jack regards the world with a wide eyed innocence, regarding Room as the whole world. He wakes up every morning greeting every inanimate object in Room, regarding the sink as Sink and the clock as Clock. When he’s told there’s a world outside of Room, he throws a tantrum of denial as if he was told Santa isn’t real. Tremblay does an excellent job capturing a believable innocence for Jack. Never once does he make a single false move throughout the film. He acts like a real kid through and through and it helps make the subject matter more bearable.
I usually wouldn’t give away what happens further. But since the trailer has already given it away, I have the go ahead to talk about it. Jack escapes in one of the most gripping scenes of last year. When Joy reunites with Jack, the audience stood up and cheered. Plus, Joy reunites with her parents (Joan Allen & William H. Macy). Usually this is how the film ends. But this is only the first hour of the film. Out of the shack, Joy and Jack face the challenge of adjusting to normal life. Jack regards the world with pure wonder and yet is so shy he’s only able to whisper to his mother. Meanwhile, Joy is internally imprisoned with post-traumatic stress disorder, unable to explain her true feelings to her mother. Brie Larson does an excellent job of conveying the internal struggles of a trauma survivor and how impossible it feels to return to an ordinary life. Credits to Allen as well for conveying the struggles the parent of a victim goes through and the helplessness they feel trying to help their child.
Despite the disturbing subject matter, Room offers a lot of hope and beauty. Through Jacks’ eyes, we find a sense of wonder from the mundane. Through Jack and Joy’s bond, we find familial love powerful enough to endure the unendurable. Through their road to recovery, we see the long yet rewarding struggle to get back up after being beat down for so long. Within the darkness, we can better appreciate the light.