There is no definitive way to prevent me from sobbing uncontrollably every time I watch Lenny Abrahamson’s Room. It is as though something inside me unlocks and suddenly soul-crushing emotion flows out of me for 117 minutes. Room is a potent, unsettling, heart-breaking, tremendous film.
Having been kidnapped at 17 years old by a sexual psychopath referred to as Old Nick, Ma has been kept a prisoner in the tiny shed known as Room for seven years. She finds life in her child, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who has only ever known life within these four decrepit walls. His entire world is made up of Ma and his bright imagination. The actual trauma inflicted and rapes committed by Old Nick are kept confined behind hazy cracks in the wardrobe, but the result of the violence that Ma faces on a constant basis blooms black and purple across her flesh. The pure evil depicted is hard to think about. It is difficult to even begin to process the unconditional pain that Ma has faced over the past seven years of her life. Ma’s strength is her baby boy. There is nothing that has ever been more precious to her than his sweet life and warmth, no matter how many times the enclosure between four small walls becomes too much. She teaches him warmth and kindness, all the while encouraging him to dream and imagine vibrantly. Her singular purpose has become Jack, has become protecting him from this demented world.
There’s Room, then Outer Space, with all the TV planets, then Heaven.
Jack doesn’t live in a prison, he lives in an expansive world filled with Eggsnake, Skylight, and Plant. He is fascinated by the slightest shimmers of light and watches a mouse scurry across the floor with swelling affection. His world is limitless. He is a buoyant, pure child who shrieks and dances his way through the room (or Room as he calls it) and projects warmth onto a hellish environment. Tremblay gives an entirely incredible performance, one that only gets better as the film moves forward. His later scenes profoundly display the dislocation and confusion that he feels being thrust into the big wide world, one he thought was just on TV. Brie Larson is astounding as Ma, by her final line (two whispered words) I always feel as though she has fully cracked open my chest. In the second act, she falls into perfectly off-set rhythms with everyone who has suddenly reappeared into her life. She is emotionally and physically broken, and she is finally allowed to grieve for the life she could have had and the trauma she experienced.
Abrahamson and his crew do an excellent job building Room spacially and manipulating the audience into seeing things from Jack’s perspective; it makes the first act strangely comfortable. We see Jack’s room, not Ma’s. We see expanse and imagination and childhood wonder, we watch light bounce off of little specks of dust and skylight circle above us; it truly feels endless. One of the most jarring moments is the film’s finale when Jack and Ma go back to Room after months of freedom, we finally see Room for what it is: a stripped down, fading and horrifyingly small prison.
Room is an agonizing story of sexual violence, but it is also a story of how liberating the imagination of a child can be. It is an astonishing survival story and an examination of the brutal effects of rape and abuse, particularly mental illness. With a powerful story and equally as powerful of performances, Room does exactly what it is intended to, and it does it exceedingly well. It makes you care, so gently and so deeply and so earth-shatteringly. It is ugly, broken, beautiful, and so very striking.
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Jenna Kalishman is a freelance writer and cinephile based in Colorado who often focuses on female and queer perspectives as well as female-led projects. She spends much of her free time listening to Stevie Nicks and re-watching Carol. You can find her on twitter @jenkalish.