As a big fan of Emma Donoghue’s novel, I was anxious to see how a book which relies so heavily on specific uses of language to build its world and characters would translate on screen. On page, everything from the deletion of the definite article ‘the’, to the capitalisation of certain nouns and the grappling of concepts between the real and the fictitious carries such emotional weight. It’s fortunate Donoghue acts as her own screenwriter. Room is a superb, loyal adaptation of the novel, not just in content but in emotional resonance.
Much like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (and John Hillcoat’s excellent, atmospheric adaptation) Room is a film about overwhelming, persisting parent-child love in the face of abject hopelessness. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay play Ma (Joy) and son (Jack, 5). Joy was abducted 7 years ago, Jack was born in ‘Room’, it’s all he’s known and his entire universe. Their captor (‘Old Nick’) intermittently comes in to check on them, give them meagre supplies and frequently rapes Joy, with Ma instructing Jack to stay in the cupboard whenever he comes in. Throughout all this, Ma’s resilience, her determination to give Jack routine and her ability to summon strength to give him a sense of normalcy is remarkable and inspiring. When Old Nick lets slip that he’s lost his job and can’t pay to keep them alive, Ma realises if they don’t launch some sort of desperate escape they will die. It’s time for Jack to learn the truth about the world, which is the emotional core of the film and an overwhelmingly emotional depiction of a loss of innocence. It’s a devastating and quietly poignant breakdown of the false lines drawn between the real and the imagined, like Dorothy in Oz with lots more kidnapping.
Initially I was unhappy that the trailer ruins the big twist in the middle of the story but despite already knowing all the twists and turns, the weight of the performances throws all that out of the window and it’s at times sickeningly heart-pounding. I felt myself gripping the arms of the seat, fingernails deep. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are a devastating duo. How they could find such a young child with such a mature sense of emotions is astonishing. If Quvenzhané Wallis could get an Oscar nomination for Beasts of the Southern Wild then it’s a tragedy that the same honour wasn’t given to this young man, plus it would look super awesome next to his Millennium Falcon. Director Lenny Abrahamson gives every character and moment the correct amount of emotional space to flourish. The confusion, elation, terror and attachment all link together seamlessly without once feeling sentimental because the performances are so raw and the script not manipulated., The woman next to me sobbed audibly throughout, which only set me off even more.
Review by David Rank
Room is out now in the UK. Rating 15 (UK). Running time 118 mins.