Brie Larson has been on my radar for a while, ever since The Spectacular Now and Short Term 12. But she’s also a personal favorite who deserves to be in the company of other such shooting stars as Jennifer Lawrence, Shailene Woodley, Miles Teller, and Michael B. Jordan just to name a few.
Some of us already knew Larson had great performances on tap, but Room was just the ticket to get more people to finally prick up their ears and take notice.
From the annals of contemporary literature comes a story that asks us to buy into a premise that constantly unravels and unfolds until we are opened up to entirely new worlds. Ironically enough, it comes from shedding all falseness, getting outside of the box, and getting back to the old world — the real world.
Jack (Jacob Trombley) has spent his entire existence in Room with Ma (Brie Larson). Television has become his main educator and he believes in magic realms beyond Room that exist within the world of T.V. In truth, he has an utterly false sense of reality, but how could he not? All he knows are the dimensions of Room with a little skylight to peer out of and a tiny closet where he keeps his bed. His hair is overgrown like a little Samson and Ma tries to keep him fit and healthy the best way she knows how.
But Jack cannot quite comprehend what is happening around him, after all, he’s only 4. After his birthday, Ma decides it’s time to try and explain it to him. They are being held in Room against their will. A man name Old Nick kidnapped Ma, continually abuses her, and keeps her locked up. She doesn’t give Jack all this, but all he needs to know is that Nick is bad and they must try to escape. That is enough.
In essence, Ma fabricated this reality to keep him out of harm’s way. This bubble, known as Room, is all Jack has ever considered to be real. The rigidity and the regiment is what his life runs on. Now it’s time to leave the rabbit hole behind and relearn how the world ticks.
The initial conceit brings to mind Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel whereby the main characters are simply unable to leave a room — but the reason is arbitrary. Here Ma and Jack are able to get help and reacquire their freedom. But being outside of the confines of that space does not make life any easier.
Jack is an inquisitive, skeptical little boy, who even has moments of belligerence. However, when getting to the outside he clings to Ma like never before, because she is the only human form he has ever known besides Dora the Explorer and his imaginary dog.
Although the camera work feels rather shoddy at times and unextraordinary at best, the film nevertheless evolves into a human drama and its true substance dwells therein.
There’s a matter-of-factness to Trombley’s voice-overs that deliver his honest observations of all that exists around him. The aftermath of abuse is volatile. Director Lenny Abrahamson’s film removes any notions that life can simply be normal again in a normal world with normal relationships, because that’s just not true. It cannot be. The mundane is never as simple as all that. There’s complications and confusions. Room‘s latter moments are quieter, more tender, and even more heart-wrenching. But there’s also searing pain and red hot altercations. They’re about survival in the wake of something so horrible like abuse, but it’s also about surviving all the repercussions that follow.
For Jack that means making discoveries with a fresh, innocent pair of eyes. There is absolute sensory overload with new and novel stimuli flooding his senses constantly. He’s subjected to new sights, sounds, words, and the entire world that he hardly ever knew. He even needs to learn how to play like a little boy.
For Joy it involves dealing with what’s going on in her head and coping with pain that has been festering for years, causing her to lash out against her family. Even interviews cause her to question her own choices that are now fully solidified with the passing years. Could she have reacted differently? Did she have Jack’s best interests in mind?
The relationships of father, mother, and daughter, mother and son, dredge up pain and hurt. However, a suicide attempt and a stay in the hospital for Ma, reveal Jack’s child-like faith in what it means to live. They are two wounded individuals. One who has entered into a world that he has never known, and the other trying to settle into a life that now feels so distant and foreign.
Room is about two people making their way in the world. It succeeds not simply because of its anchoring performances, but due to the fact that it is willing to dwell in the difficult, heart-wrenching, and even mundane places. In those areas it speaks of love and strength that allows even the smallest most damaged goods among us to shed any shackles that inhibit our joy in life. Love knows no boundaries. That doesn’t make it easier. It’s just the truth. Ma and Jack are able to give up their baggage — reconciling the old with a new way of life.