When the lights go down in a movie theater, we move into another world without leaving our own. The best films make us realize that we do this in real life as well. We go through experiences that push us beyond limits, to depths we didn’t know existed, to emotional places that seem like fictional worlds.
“Are we on another planet?” a boy asks his mother after escaping one of these nightmarish situations in Room. Through the eyes of this child, the film perfectly captures how the familiar can feel otherworldly.
For most of the film, the only home that this boy Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and his mom Joy (Brie Larson) know is a garden shed. On the inside, it looks like a small apartment. And as far as five-year-old Jack is concerned, it has all he needs. Little does he know, this room is where his mother has been held captive since before he was born.
Their captor “Old Nick” (Sean Bridgers) is a disturbingly ordinary average Joe — the monster next door. He embodies a major theme of the film — mayhem within the mundane. Unfortunately, mayhem keeps interrupting Jack and Joy’s life even when they return to so-called normalcy.
When they escape from the shed, they’re far from liberated. Joy shudders at the sight of her old room, haunted by the collage of high school pictures on the wall — images of innocence long lost. She wanders aimlessly like a ghost of the past, struggling to make Jack appreciate the present. As he adjusts to what seems like a big, scary world, Room emerges as one of the most powerful coming-of-age dramas in recent memory.
Tremblay carries the film, emitting a warm light to lead viewers through the dark story. It’s a remarkable performance — as powerful as any adult actor’s work this year. The eight-year-old anchors the film just like Jack holds his mother steady. Larson delivers an equally Oscar-worthy performance as Joy. It’s a strong yet subdued portrayal, reflecting the restraint Joy shows to keep Jack hopeful in the midst of harrowing situations.
Room is delicately directed by Lenny Abrahamson and beautifully written by Emma Donaghue, the author of the book upon which it is based. They immerse viewers in Jack’s mindset, making us feel the same startling sense of discovery that he does every minute outside of his confined birthplace.
Cinematographer Danny Cohen hovers closely over the boy after he escapes, giving us a sense of claustrophobia and suggesting that even a so-called free environment can be suffocating. The lens is often blurry, making us feel as though we are looking through Jack’s eyes as they adjust to the light. The strain on his eyes mirrors the theme of the film — the idea that getting out of the darkness isn’t the end of a nightmarish journey. You have to adjust to the light at the end of the tunnel.
This film will linger in your heart long after the lights go up in the theater. It’s the best movie of the year.
Rated R, in wide release