Ever watched a movie that someone warned you, so good, but, wow, tough to watch? Room might be it.
You go in knowing danger lies ahead – especially if that person recommending knows your sensitive spots. So because my friends that saw Room when it was released last year gave this type of recommendation, but because I am a movie nerd and will not consider duty done until I see all of the movies in contention for the major awards – how can you enjoy the Oscars if you missed Cinema Paradiso? – I overcame some dread and finally (thanks Christmas flu!) in 2016 got around to seeing why the film not only won Brie Larson multiple Best Actress awards, but was nominated by AMPAS as Best Picture.
Room – Small Scale, Intense Drama
All I knew going in was the basic plot outline, which, if you cracked open Emma Donoghue’s novel, was not immediately presented. In the book, 5 year old Jack narrates his life, that exists in the small world he has known exclusively. No spoilers immediately to illuminate the book here: Jack is a prisoner, he just doesn’t know it. “Ma,” as he calls her, knows she is a being held captive. It’s been going on for nearly seven years. Room is their life, and Ma makes it as normal and, dare we say, cheerful as she can for him, because that’s what mothers do. The movie makes their dire situation clear immediately.
This portrait of daily familiar routine and maternal love, in the extreme, is shocking in its simplicity. Jack is a joy. Ma clearly loves him, and he, her. Normalcy exists. Despite the looming nature of the title – Room, what is “Room” – life is, kinda, life. Wouldn’t you, too, indulge in playtime but regulate tv viewing? Too much tv “rots your brain”, says Ma. The kid can be a handful, as all five year olds can. Surely bedtime stories are something we all do? But what if those stories later require minutes, hours, spent explaining what is real and what is not. Try that with a kindergartener. Call Nietzche for advice. Kids are fun to play with, and your own? A delight to have around. But in circumstances none of us could ever imagine, in a 12 x 12 space, for years, with no outside contact, knowing in your soul you are using this small beloved, but only, companion as a solace, a peer, a reason to go on…
A lot of reviews, in my opinion, go too far in talking about what happens. Because of my initial indications of “this will bother you”, I went in with a lot of assumptions, predictions. Suffice it to say that when I wasn’t marveling at the performance of 7 year old Jacob Tremblay (director Lenny Abrahamson told Vulture.com that he would “wake up with night sweats” before finding Tremblay for the role, and should by now have bought unlimited champagne for his casting people. As great as Larson is, one false step from the pivotal Tremblay and the small, intimate movie collapses) I was on edge, constantly processing the horrific math. How long has she been held? Will she escape? Can she escape? What will happen and this is so, so, so bad….
Unlike the grim recommendations given to me, which weren’t… false, per se… let me wholeheartedly recommend this film. Despite the not-so-upbeat subject matter, you will be drawn in immediately by Abrahamson’s gentle, loving touch, and along that, Larson and Tremblay deliver. Don’t be nervous. Go in. I’ll say no more.
A former ABC National, Dallas and Atlanta radio personality, Martina O'Boyle is now making movies and covering culture in London, Dublin, and as far in Europe as the cheapie flights will take her, for Pop Culture Beast.