There is enough weight in the surface premise of Room to carry a film on its own. A young woman is held captive in a tight 10′ x 10′ room for years. In that time, she is impregnated with her captor’s child and gives birth. That child becomes her reason for being – her best friend, her partner, her only lifeline in an otherwise hopeless situation. Having no choice but to foster the child’s imagination and well-being, she crafts a narrative in which “Room” is the only real world that exists. There is “Room,” and there is TV, which consists of fake two-dimensional people, and there is “space,” which is a vast, indiscriminant blankness. The quiet beauty of preserving her child’s fragile, still-forming psyche with this elaborate lie is matched only by its simultaneously shattering sadness. A story of their unwavering strength in one another as they live this sheltered life under increasingly futile circumstances packs enough emotional punch and carries enough thematic implications to carry a feature film.
But Room is ultimately so much more than that. Envisioned by Emma Donoghue in a screenplay based on her 2010 novel and brought to life by director Lenny Abrahamson, the film is among the year’s most beautifully ambitious. “Enormous” is the word that most swiftly comes to mind when attempting to describe it, which may seem contradictory when you think about how intimate it is, not to mention that its primary setting is the aforementioned 10×10 room. In execution, however, the movie is about nothing more expansively bold than our entire perception of the world around us – how we become accustomed to our routines even when those routines are regressive and abusive, how a limited environment can lead to a limited worldview, and how sometimes even the freedom we so keenly desire can require its own difficult acclimation process.
It’s nearly impossible for most of us to fathom the culture shock of being slapped in the face with the whole wide world when you’ve experienced nothing but the confines of a singular room. No amount of empathy can enable us to make that psychic jump. Room somehow portrays it, in the eyes of Jack (Jacob Tremblay), raised from birth with no view or even concept of the outside world. His world consists of “Room” only, with Ma (Brie Larson) as his only guide, and her elaborate guise allows Jack to live a relatively normal childhood life – especially since he isn’t even remotely aware of anything different. He loves presents… it’s just rare that he ever receives one. He wants cake for his birthday… it’s just that the cake is small, with no elaborate decorations. He watches cartoons, he bursts into tantrums, and he wants a bedtime story before he goes to bed. With the deck stacked – highly – against her, “Ma” has been able to maintain a grounded sense of normalcy for Jack that very likely also helps contribute to her own sanity. In a world that is limited for them both and consciously tragic for Ma, their bond is the equilibrium.
Thematic implications abound, from the limitless nature of love and sacrifice, to the churning resentment at a world that continues to revolve just outside the door, to the unavoidable complacency of the human comfort zone. Sure, Ma is aware of the larger universe that exists outside her prison… but after years of isolated life with her boy, does she really view it as a prison anymore? Maybe the real world, with its expansive landscape and massive population and endless array of joys, fears, dangers, and concerns, is the more daunting proposition. It is, truly, the great unknown, which is both its wonder and its burden.
Such a substantial exploration of humanity might seem out of reach for a film that ostensibly focuses on only two people, yet Donaghue’s screenplay is a study in the specific playing as universal and Abrahamson’s direction deftly balances gentle observation with deeply emotional flourishes. And Larson and Tremblay – both deserving Oscar contenders with Larson a likely winner – carry the weight of the material, of their characters, of this unimaginable plight, and transform the burden into a stunning portrait of humanity. Whether they are sheltered in a dank, windowless room or surrounded by the incomprehensible vastness of the outside, their life, their world, is one another.
The Blu-ray features a commentary track from Abrahamson and crew, plus three making-of featurettes.