Kimberly Liu ’17
Sporadic bright colors strain against grimy walls to assert themselves in a contained life. We are brought into the 11-by-11-foot world of five-year-old Jack and his Ma in the film “Room.”
Lenny Abrahamson’s film adaptation of the national bestseller novel “Room” by Emma Donoghue is a tender yet powerful rendering of motherly love and isolation. With close and low shots, we see the world through the bright, wide eyes of Jack (Jacob Tremblay) that exists only in what he fondly refers to as “Room,” where he lives with his young Ma (Brie Larson).
The film begins with Jack reflecting on how he entered the world, exactly five years ago, when he “zoomed down from heaven down from Skylight and shot out onto Rug with [his] eyes wide open.” Since then, he has lived in this small space in which every item, like the garden shed that makes up the Room, has a name and is a friend. They, and he and Ma, are all real, not fake like everything on TV, and live in Room, outside of which is outer space and then heaven. Yet unlike Jack, to whom the Room is as large as the expansive emptiness of his wardrobe where he hides at night, for Ma, the Room is her prison cell of seven years, where she has been confined since she was kidnapped by Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) who keeps her for his nightly visits.
Jack tells us of the time before he came, when Ma “cried and cried and watched TV all day until [she] was a zombie.” We see from the daily activities Ma does with Jack – physical exercise, reading, height-measuring – that Jack has given her a reason to live and to create life within confinement. But when Old Nick reports his sudden unemployment and Ma realizes the increasing limitations of Room for Jack, she reveals the truth to him about the outside: an endless world of hammocks, ice cream, dogs and grandparents. Ma devises an escape plan, and amid his processing of confusion and denial of a greater real Outside, Jack carries it out – a tense few minutes of unknown fate before mother and son are reunited again in the outside world.
As Jack tumbles out into the world, we feel its brilliance and vastness, fresh like the autumn leaves that blow around him, almost on the same level that Jack does. For the first time in the film, the angles widen; the colors have reason to be saturated. Yet with their freedom comes for Ma a barrage of problems from the past seven years: a family that has continued life without her; the overwhelming presence of others in a mental space that has been echoing for many years; a newfound sense of isolation in an occupied, time-bound world. It is Jack, with the plasticity of young children, who reminds Ma of the love that can be one’s “Strong.”
The first half of the film falls short of the novel in its monotony and long intervals of time marked by sparse dialogue and mundane descriptions of daily life. Additionally, although many scenes are shot with altered, contorted angles and wider dimensions that imitate what would be seen from a five-year old’s perspective, for the majority of the film, the audience is, understandably, still viewing the events from a third-person perspective.
But the story’s transformation from the page onto the screen is nonetheless beautiful and luminous. Larson’s performance as a young woman worn down by seven years of desperation, yet still lucent with her furious love and dedication to her son, is deservedly praised. Tremblay’s portrayal of the keen and spirited Jack brings Donoghue’s story to life. Abrahamson has created a vivid work of art, and the world that we see in it gets brighter every day.