It's odd to hear about a movie that places its lens on a 5-year old boy who lives with his mother in a shed out of which he has never set foot. Yet such is the plot of Room, a collaboration between up-and-coming indie director Lenny Abrahamson and Emma Donoghue, who authored the bestselling novel and adapted it to screen.
Room begins as a fairytale. It's long-haired Jack’s 5th birthday. Almost as if by ritual, he begins by saying hello to every inanimate object in the room—the only objects he has ever seen. They do, however, have a TV, and what Ma (Brie Larson) has convinced him of is that everything he sees on TV does not actually exist—it’s all made up. “Room," as Ma and Jack affectionately dub it, is the singular place where everything is safe in the world.
Then, abruptly, the fairytale ends.
Enter reality. Jack is told he has to leave “Room." As Ma comes to terms with both her entrapment by the man named “Old Nick” and the Stockholm Syndrome to which she has succumbed, she tells Jack the truth, and he becomes the key to their escape. As a five-year-old who has spent his entire life in Room, he isn’t ready to process this life-shattering realization.
For the first half of the movie, we are confined to one space. It becomes our reality. We, like Jack, have seen nothing of the outside world. We see "Room" through Jack’s eyes; the world is no bigger than Jack at any point. When we see Ma, she is looking down at the viewer as she would look down at Jack. When Jack is thrown out into the great unknown, so are we. When Jack stares at the sky, our eyes have trouble adjusting, as if we have all just realized it is blue for the first time.
The young and buzzed-about Brie Larson (21 Jump Street, Short Term 12) gives a career-transforming performance as Jack’s mother. Her character is interesting, genuine, human. While her role in Jack’s life is “mother," she hasn’t quite accepted that role yet; she is still the teenager who was captured seven years prior. She is less of a mom and more of a high school student struggling to raise an egg without dropping it and receiving an F in home economics class. Yet we realize the only thing keeping her sane is Jack: the living, breathing product of not escaping "Room" in the first place.
Jacob Tremblay gives an even more astonishing performance in the lead role. The young and innocuous Tremblay shows his audience the story of losing one's innocence, while illustrating the transitional period of discovery of a world beyond the one we thought we knew.
Room is not a perfect movie, yet it showcases incredible acting prowess and raises important questions of philosophy and innocence.
In recent years, the Oscars have not been for blockbusters. Instead, they have catered to the more intimate, small budget films that bolster strong performances and unique yet accessible storylines, and Room, in all its unsettling glory, fits the Oscar formula perfectly for this year.