ADAPTED from Emma Donoghue’s bestseller, Room offers the viewpoint of the child of a woman held captive. It’s unusual, and takes a leap of imagination to do this, but it helps that the screenplay was also written by Donoghue.
The children of such captives are given as much privacy as the law can offer, so one does not hear of their accounts when the captives are rescued. What people do hear are the captives’ stories. Recent accounts include that of Ohio’s Amanda Berry who was kidnapped by Ariel Castro, when she was 16. Kept with two other girls for 10 years, Amanda had a child and they were finally found, through the aid of the child, by neighbours, back in 2013.
Another kidnapping was of California’s Jaycee Lee Dugard who was 11 when she was abducted and then held captive for 18 years in a shed in a hidden backyard.
So was the mother (played by Brie Larson who won an Oscar for her performance) of the child in Room. Seven years after helping a man with a “sick dog”, in her being-nice-to-people moment that went awry, Ma as she is called most of the time in the movie, realises her child, who just turned five years old must leave the room, at any cost, if he is to survive.
But it is the perspective of the child, Jack (Jacob Tremblay of the 2016’s Before I Wake fame), that forms the movie, as in the book which is written for adults. Since it’s from a child, the narrative is simplistic and never cruel – even to the kidnapper called Nick (played by Sean Bridgers, last seen in the 2016’s Midnight Special).
Early in the movie, Jack offers his explanation as to why he and Ma are in a room which goes (and I am paraphrasing): “… before I came, you cried and cried and watched TV all day, until you were a zombie… But then I zoomed down from heaven, through skylight, into Room. And I was kicking you from the inside… And then I shot out onto Rug with my eyes wide open, and you cutt-ed the cord and said, “Hello, Jack!”
That came from thinking the world is like what he sees on the television set in the room. What is real and what is TV has to be learnt, to his shock and disbelief. At times, Jack would rather be four years old again.
When Jack has to make his escape bid, the wonders of the world are seen through the child’s eyes. The sky, the buildings, nature are all given new perspective. He’s seeing all this for the first time, and so is the cinemagoer.
The scenes of captivity in the room are intense but thankfully short because the movie focuses on Jack and his mother’s adjustment to life once rescued.
While Ma (whose name is Joy) finally succumbs to the horror of what she had gone through, prompted in part by an interviewer’s question, Jack – being an innocent child — does better.
The movie makes you ponder on what freedom actually means in real terms to an adult, and to a child.
The supporting cast portray their roles well. Joan Allen (Hachi, 2009) as Jack’s loving grandmother is in some heartwarming scenes while William H. Macy (Wild Hogs, The Lincoln Lawyer) plays the grandfather who cannot accept the rapist’s child with conviction. The characters have substance in that they do portray real emotions and not what the rose-tinted kind.
There are memorable scenes including Jack making friends with a dog, the first one he has met in his short life and him telling his grandmother he loves her after she cuts and washes his hair.
Kudos to director Lenny Abrahamson (who did the animation movie Frank, 2014), cinematographer Danny Cohen (The King’s Speech, 2010, Les Misérables, 2012, The Danish Girl, 2015) and film editor Nathan Nugent (also on Frank) for the scenes that made cinemagoers believe Jack’s universe of a small room. From wide-angle shots to close-ups, the shed never looked like a shed until the end, creating believability. It is wonderfully imaginative for the viewer.
As a whole, Room is not about the horrors of being held captive, but more of familial love and hope. Not the made-for-television variety but its reality of jagged sides. There is absolutely no need for popcorn this time.