It’s challenging to discuss the film’s story without spoiling it at its midpoint, so consider this your warning for any reveals ahead. You can skip to the bottom for some tidbits from the Q&A with director Lenny Abrahamson at TIFF. I also advise that when you go to see this movie that you bring tissues; perhaps a box, since your neighbour may not be as savvy as you.
Room, an adaptation of Canadian author Emma Donoghue’s international bestseller of the same name, is a remarkable and heart shattering film whose two volumes of storytelling rest on leading stars Brie Larson (Short Term 12, 21 Jump Street) and Jacob Tremblay (The Smurfs 2). Their stunningly emotive howings both individually and together as protagonists Ma/Joy and Jack drive this story of trauma and survival.
Jack is like many kids; he likes to play, he likes to pretend, he likes to watch television and on most days, he likes to hang out with his mom. But does all of those things in Room – a shed that he was born and brought up in for his entire life, which is his whole world. His mother, Joy, knows otherwise; at the age of seventeen, she was abducted by a man named Old Nick and kept under lock and key for seven years in Room, clothed, fed, sexually and emotionally abused and impregnated by her captor. When Jack turns five, Joy decides it is time to plot an escape, but to do so, she must reveal the world Jack knows nothing of and prepare him for what could be their only chance to survive.
The first half of the film falls on this thriller-escape story, and result shouldn’t be surprising: Joy and Jack do make it out of Room alive. The second half deeply explores what it means to survive. Survival isn’t just about physically leaving a situation behind; it is also about navigating the emotional and mental trauma tied so firmly to such experiences. Some may be surprised by that tonal shift, but it is necessary in order to see the emotional arc progress.
In Room, the journey is propelled by the love between a mother and child, which is why the organic chemistry between Larson and Tremblay is so poignant. The unconditional love is the lifeline to a very disturbing and horrific experience, breathing motive and reason into both of their characters. Together, Larson and Tremblay prove to be a strong core of the movie; apart, they are strikingly strong, vulnerable and capturing.
Larson is a talent that’s been bubbling on the precipice of success for several years now, but this truly is her best performance to date. As Joy, Larson navigates her depression, PTSD and loss of adolescence in the face of assimilating back into the world with such complexity and honesty that it will be bewildering if she falls short in this upcoming awards season. Eight year-old Tremblay shows incredible depth in a role that demands innocence as much as it does maturity. I think people will be surprised by how much of an impact he has in this film, especially as we see him slowly explore his new world.
The fact that the movie nails down these two characters, their respective experiences and the relationship so well may be a testament to director Lenny Abrahamson’s faithfulness to Donoghue’s book; he did frequently collaborate with the author throughout the adaptation process. I say that as someone who hasn’t read the book, but I cannot imagine how readers may feel differently upon seeing the film because it is as emotionally evocative as fans of the source material made it out to be. The intimacy extends to the production as well; the first half was filmed in a 10×15 foot room in a Toronto studio.
Having won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award, Room is already a hit with audiences on the festival circuit and for plenty of reason, too: it is truthful, layered, emotionally-driven story with some of the best performances I’ve seen this whole year. That won’t be easy to contain.
TIFF15 Q&A with Lenny Abrahamson Bits
- When filming in the 10×15 foot room, they were always within the space and Lenny regular shot from the bath tub in the room
- There was a huge search and open call to find an actor who could play Jake. They needed to find someone old enough to believe he can do the amazing things that he could do and also not see through the mythology of the story and be able to enter the scenes completely. Brie assisted with the search.
- Jacob Tremblay wanted to be an actor as young as two years old, and believes that this was an easy film to make. He found that the music makes you feel scared.
- Abrahamson was drawn to the story because it felt like a poem to his own children. He was interested in how to make a film with two distinct parts and how to preserve that journey.
- Brie and Jacob spent a lot of time together in the room connecting with one another and spoke a lot about Star Wars.
- The cinematography was approached with an inflected style by Danny Cohen (note: you’ll also see his work in the upcoming The Danish Girl which is absolutely beautiful)
- Some of the challenges in the adaptation process included balancing the double image between Jack’s perception and the reality of the situation; adapting the novel in the second half because it is shaped differently; and creating a forward motion and tension.
Room will be released in Canada this Friday, October 23rd by A24 Films.