Ensconced in my favoured aisle seat in NFT1 at the BFI, the lights came up at the end of Room and, as I attempted to look manly as I wiped the tears from my eyes, I felt shattered. Last year Son of Saul had left me feeling like I’d taken a good kicking, with Room, it felt like every emotional sinew had been wound taut and then played by Rodrigo y Gabriela for two hours. Room is a remarkable achievement.
Ma (the wonderful Brie Larson) is a 24 year old woman living with her newly five year old boy Jack (Jacob Tremblay), in a 10 by 10 room, with a skylight, table and a couple of chairs, with minimal washing, cleaning and cooking amenities. It is a functional dwelling for the end of the world, but Ma’s world ended when, seven years before, she was taken and locked in Room. Jack, it is clear, is the product of rape. Yet, within this little world, Ma has created a safe place for Jake that is his whole universe. Nothing exists outside of Room, the TV is showing things from other planets and each morning Jack takes care to greet the few things that make up their existence. But, each night, into their little world enters their own devil, Old Nick (Sean Bridges). Jack is safe in his wardrobe, but Ma is forced to spend another night with her rapist. We view much of this world through Jack’s eyes and the wonder in Tremblay’s performance, at times, makes you forget the nightmare, momentarily. But, little things, the washing line, the vitamins, Ma’s sore wrist, Bad Tooth, the economic situation of their abductor, all point to the sinister truth of their captivity. Ma decides to act and their escape is as thrilling and terrifying as anything you’ll have seen on screen. Director Lenny Abrahamson (of the brilliant Frank) takes author and scriptwriter Emma Donoghue’s source material and allows it to play out at a pace where everything is heightened, yet deliberate, in a way that you are enraptured with Ma and Jack and their journey, literally, into the light.
Once out in the real world, the world Ma has been dreaming of for seven years and Jack has only just come to know existed, bites in small, sharp, subtle ways. Ma’s parents, the brilliant Joan Allen and William H. Macy, are not as they were. The world Ma has conceptualised and dreamt of is similar and yet significantly different. While trying to cope with this, Jake is discovering having to interact with people other than Ma, finding out what pancakes and fruit are and, in an incredible moment, how to work the stairs. Each scene is given room to breathe and everything that happens in World plays out and leaves you drained and at times elated emotionally, and desperate to give your loved ones hugs that would never end, even though never letting go of someone is part of the problem in this case.
Brie Larson’s journey as Ma in Room is one of those honest portrayals so rarely is seen in modern cinema. The relationship with Tremblay’s Jack is felt from the first scene and you never question it. You see the bond, the troubles a single mother faces and the trauma just under the skin of both of them. Larson picked up the Golden Globe for Best Actress recently and it is never more deserved than in this case, Oscar beckons. Young Jacob Tremblay is more than up to the task given him and plays Jack with all the wonder and heart that you can’t believe you are seeing from an eight year old actor. The short scenes back at Ma’s childhood home as this new world they are all living in, juxtaposed against the wonder of it all in Jack’s eyes are pure cinematic perfection. Throughout this film, the tears flowed. While I think it may be the most miss-advertised film of recent times but as a work of art, it stands alone. Room is utterly remarkable and utterly devastating.
On the train home, I posted my thoughts on Instagram. As I thought back over the previous couple of hours spent with Ma and Jack, I smiled, and then started crying again. Film is a special medium, yet it gives us something this moving and sublime so very rarely. Room is one of those rare rarelys. It is a wonder. There may be a tear now, but, you know, it is just something in my eye I'm sure.
Room opens in the UK on Friday 15th January 2016.