My Rating: 9 out of 10
Out of the movies nominated for best picture this year, I’d have to say that Room is by far the best in terms of taking the audience on a visceral emotional ride (though I must note that I have yet to see The Revenant, which I hear is quite an experience as well). When I was in the theatre, I didn’t feel like I was watching a movie. I felt like I was trapped in that tiny room with Joy and Jack. I could feel Joy’s desperation to escape and to protect her son when she had so little control over her circumstances, and I could feel the tension and fear that both of them experience as the movie continues. However, this very thing is what prevents Room from being my favorite out of the best-picture nominees this year. The film is too intense and emotionally draining for me to want to jump back in and see it again for a long, long time. Its the kind of movie that does exactly what it is supposed to by delivering an experience so heart-rending and realistic that you don’t want to put yourself through it again.
Room is a film that I went into knowing only the following: Joy (played by Brie Larson) is kidnapped by a man when she is a teenager, gets pregnant, and has a child who she raises in the small room which she is captive in. I believe that my lack of knowledge about the plot made the experience more intense, so I recommend that if you haven’t seen Room yet, you hold off on reading the rest of this review until after you have gone to see it. The only way to really talk in detail about what makes Room such a strong film is to reveal some spoilers regarding the plot. For example, one of my favorite things about the film is that it doesn’t end where many kidnapping stories would, but instead keeps going and takes a look at how Joy and Jack (played wonderfully by Jacob Tremblay) readjust to normal life once they are free from Old Nick’s (their kidnapper) shed. When Jack escaped and got help from the authorities, I was positive that Joy was going to be found dead in a murder suicide after Old Nick realized that he was screwed. However, after a heartwarming reunion, Joy and Jack go to move in with Joy’s mother and her new husband.
This acknowledgment of what comes next was brilliant on the part of the filmmakers because it was so real. When we see a kidnapping story on the news in which everyone is rescued, we look at it as a happy ending, but in reality that happiness is fleeting for the people that lived through the experience since they are now in a place that is emotionally and socially removed from everyone else they know. The ways in which Room explored this difficulty adjusting the normality was so realistic and thought provoking. It made the scenes trapped in the room seem tame in comparison to the point that (like Jack), I almost wished we could go back to the room. Unlike inside the room, where Joy did have an odd type of control over things (to the point that she was able to orchestrate an escape), the outside world is unforgiving and full of judgment. Joy goes from being a powerful protective woman inside the room, where she endured horrors in order to protect her son to a helpless and seemingly petulant teenage girl on the outside.
The realistic storyline is definitely one of the keys to Room’s emotional power, the other is definitely the acting. Every single actor managed to bring their characters to life in a way that literally made it feel like I was watching a video from a hidden camera instead of a crafted and planned piece of art. Brie Larson fully embodied the character of joy in a way that I haven’t seen done in a long time. While I doubt Room will win the top spot in the best picture category, I have no doubt that Brie Larson will win for Best Actress hands down. She wasn’t pretending to be Joy, for those two hours, she was Joy. Jacob Tremblay also did a phenomenal job at such a young age. I really felt for him the entire time and could see the world from his perspective. My heart was pounding alongside his when he was trying to escape from Old Nick’s pickup bed and I understood his slight desire to go back to the simplicity of the room where they had been held hostage for so long.
A few scenes that stood out for me in terms of top-notch acting were: Joy’s desperate attempt to explain to Jack the reality of their situation when he turns five and the look of pure desperation and fear on her face when he rebuffs her, the subtle look of pain and discomfort on Joy’s mother’s face (played by Joan Allen) when Jack tells her about Old Nick sleeping with Joy each night, the inability of Joy’s father to look at Jack which was the very beginning of the happiness unraveling since Joy’s father was unable to look at the bright side when it came to Jack, and the scene in which Old Nick agrees to take Jack’s “dead body” and bury it somewhere for Joy. The last scene I thought was particularly well done, since it humanized Old Nick in a way and showed that even though he was a monster, he still had some shreds of empathy and wanted to make Joy happy while keeping her a captive in his shed.
Room presents the characters with a choice of worldview: they can either accept the difficulties of life and try their best to cope or they can live in a fantasy world. Old Nick lived his sick fantasy for years until Joy was able to break out of the fantasy world she had created to protect Jack from the truth. But once outside of that bubble, Joy was adrift and nearly took her own life in the face of the brutal judgment of the outside world. However, Jack showed her in the end that she had the strength inside of her to make things work out for the two of them even if she wasn’t perfect, she was “mom”. When Jack and Joy return to the room they were trapped in and say goodbye to it, there is an odd moment of nostalgia, but Jack decides that he wants to move on after seeing how tiny his old world was in comparison to the great big outside world that he is now a part of.
My only issue with the film was the way that it felt split into three separate parts and moved a bit quickly between them. The first part took place in the room and acquainted us with Jack and Joy’s world. This world is built on lies in order to protect Jack and is very different from the actual bleak reality of their situation. The second part starts in the room and ends when the two captives have escaped and are back together with Joy’s family. Joy’s father’s inability to look at Jack and acknowledge him as a part of the family kicks off the third part which is the struggle to have a normal life after living through such traumatic experiences. Joy worries so much about Jack being able to readjust, but it is her that needs to readjust the most. Now, to be fair, I think the filmmakers did the best they could have done to move between these sections without making the film overly long. I heard that the screenplay was based on a book, which makes sense as a book would have more time to dwell on what happens in between the sections of the story.
I recommend going to see Room if you haven’t, but keep in mind that it is a very mature and very daunting film. It was one of the most emotional experiences I have had in the movie theatre in a long time and I felt the effect of it for days afterwards. For this reason, I think it is a strong contender for winning some kind of awards during the Oscars this year, but isn’t a film I will be going to get on DVD or watching again any time soon.