Imagine if your worldview only extended ten feet in all directions, with a skylight as your only view into the world beyond your walls. That’s the situation Jack (Jacob Tremblay), the five-year-old son of Ma (Brie Larson) finds himself in. He wakes up every morning to greet the only things he knows to be real. “Hello table,” he says. “Hello sink, hello bathtub.” A backyard is something he’s only ever seen on television and when he asks, “Where do we go when we dream?” Ma says, “Nowhere, we’re always here.”
Based on Emma Donoghue’s Man Booker Prize-shortlisted novel of he same name, “Room” dramatizes the inner-dialogue of the book, walking us through the claustrophobic story of a woman abducted by an abuser she calls Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). He locks her away in a small soundproof shed for seven years, making regular conjugal visits, the result of which is Jack, a sweet natured boy born into captivity.
Days after celebrating Jack’s fifth birthday, Ma tells him he’s old enough now to help her fool Old Nick and possibly escape their prison. “I want to be four again,” he says, but agrees to go along with the audacious plan. If the plan works they will be free again, but what will life beyond their ten-foot-by-ten-foot box be like?
“Room’s” first hour is claustrophobic, but when Ma and Jack are onscreen together, filled with warmth. They have a bond that goes beyond the usual mother-son connection—she’s the only person Jack has ever communicated with—and the film does a good job at fleshing out their relationship. The connection between them turns the film into a story of a mother’s love rather than a ripped-from-the-headlines tale of abduction and abuse.
The film’s second half reveals the effects of Old Nick’s long term abuse, the post traumatic stress of seven years of subverting yourself to the whims of a captor. The two halves of the story are bound by remarkable performances from Larson and Tremblay. Larson is vulnerable and fierce, simultaneously, doing what she must to protect and raise her child. Similarly Tremblay’s performance is modulated between temper tantrums, wonder and bewilderment as he learns about finding his place in a world that didn’t know he existed.
“Room” is a tearjerker that occasionally makes too much room for melodrama and on-the-money dialogue, but is captivatingly told nonetheless.