There is perhaps no relationship more primally loving than the one between mother and son. Not only do the typical loving responsibilities of having a child come into play, but in my observation, the best mothers of boys take it upon themselves to correct the evils that have been done upon them. It’s a plain fact, women endure a great deal of horror at the hands of men, and when one comes out of their very flesh and blood, there’s a never ending need to create the true upstanding young man. However, what’s a mother to do when the world she needs to teach her son about is taken away from her by the man who helped her create him? Through two wrenching hours of heartbreaking realism, Lenny Abrahamson’s Room attempts to answer just that.
Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) has been living in a man made circle of hell for the past seven years. A man known only to her as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) abducted and sexually assaulted her when she was seventeen years old. Trapped inside a small shed for seven years, Joy only has her now five year old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) for company. The two have formed an unbreakable bond, Joy having convinced her young son that “Room” is the entire world, a perception that quickly changes when an opportunity to escape aries. Once out in the real world, both Grace and Jack have a hard time adjusting to their new surroundings, despite the best efforts of her mother Nancy (Joan Allen).
If the mother/son dynamic in Room had fallen flat, the entire film would have been dead on arrival. Fortunately, we have two exceptionally talented actors in Brie Larson and young Jacob Tremblay. Larson, who showed shades of flawed maternity in her somewhat similar role in the excellent Short Term 12 a couple years back, gives a piercingly raw and authentic performance here. There are so many qualities about Joy that make her incredibly brave, but also deeply troubled. She’s graceful and patient with her son one minute, and about to burst on him another. However, there isn’t a moment where there’s doubt that she loves Jack more than her very beating heart, and wants to both hide and expose him to the flaws that will cripple her until the end of her days. The rage, crushing sadness, along with subtle joy as the world piles in and then expands on her all come across beautifully. It’s a performance that isn’t just worthy of an oscar nomination, but should be a shoe in for a victory.
Larson’s beautiful performance shines most brightly in her chemistry with Tremblay, who is also spectacular especially for such a young actor. Jack is a deeply confused character, one who is essentially born twice. This volatile mix of emotions would be hard for an adult actor to tap into, which makes it all the more remarkable that Tremblay connects so effortlessly. It doesn’t feel like a child who’s acting, but a real person pulled from one of these situations that we just so happen to be watching. It’s perhaps the best turn by a child performer since Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense. Joan Allen is also solid in a slightly undercooked supporting role. Frankly, her character deserves a bit more screen time than she ultimately gets, as her outside perspective is one of the more fascinating personality clashes with both of our recently released leads.
Lenny Abrahamson should also be commended for his subtle but deeply effective touch behind the camera. The first half of the movie is essentially a bottle film, with Joy and Jacob trapped in “Room”, and Abrahamson soaks in every single inch of the tiny space for the audience’s maximum sense of isolation. It also helps that Old Nick is treated as something of a monster in the shadows, his hulking footsteps and limited background making him feel like a force of nature is keeping them confined. Even though we’re only inside “Room” for about an hour, by the time we see the outside world again, it’s a delirious joy parallel to what the characters feel. Once Joy and Jack are free, Abrahamson pulls back a bit, but there is also skill in simply letting the actors fill the space with the words on the page, and that’s exactly what he does.
Room is a film so deep battered in misery that it’s hard to imagine watching it again any time soon. However, it’s also one of the most shattering portrayals of a mother and son ever put on film, that is so well acted that one just might forget that they’re looking at a screen at all. Even as somebody who does not get particularly emotional towards films, tears welled up in my eyes as I watched these two interact. It’s a love story better than any romantic tale in cinema this year.
…I should call my mom.