It is often said that the world is what we make it. Through the eyes of a child, this phrase is even more true. In Room, all of Jack’s world is contained within four walls. Occasionally, he catches glimpses into the ethereal realm beyond a single door and skylight. Unbeknownst to him, he and his mother are prisoners. But, in spite of this containment, everything is right in Jack’s eyes, as the story spun by his mother justifies the world as it exists within the room. His existence and the existence of the room is self-contained, self-justified, and self-regulating. Room is the world, because Room is all there is.
Room tells the story of ‘Ma’ (Brie Larson) and her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) as they live their lives in Room, a simple four-walled, sound-proofed cell that neither can leave. Frequent visits from their captor, Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), bring food and supplies from an outside world Jack has never known and for which Ma yearns. As Jack grows older, hints of a reality separate from Room become more apparent until Ma cannot hide the truth about the nature of Room and the world beyond it. The gravity of their shared plight leads to actions to liberate their bodies from containment and their minds from a fabricated reality.
The performances of Tremblay and Larson are outstanding. Larson effectively portrays the emotions of a mother shielding her child from the horrors of their situation, while attempting to give the boy some semblance of a normal childhood. One can read the suppressed anguish on Larson’s face, allowing viewers to sense the sorrow underlying every scene. A tender, nurturing look toward her son harbors just as much pain and sadness. Larson has proven herself as an actor who can excel in maternal roles, as in Short Term 12 (2013), but is even more eclectic as she balances the tragedy and necessity of her role as a mother.
At Larson’s side, Tremblay gives one of the best child acting performances to date. His performance feels genuine and real. He does not come off a child being fed lines and stock emotions to mimic, but rather a child responding as expected given his position. Much of this can be credited to the directing style and instruction given to Tremblay, who was spared much of the adult content of the film. Before filming scenes, director Lenny Abrahamson would hit Tremblay with scenarios like, “Your friend stole something from you, how does that make you feel?,” giving him tangible links to his own experiences to elicit reactions and emotions that were more fluid and less forced. This is much more of a genuine performance than a dialogue extraction from a child actor.
Tremblay as Jack encapsulates a kind of simple and uncorrupted view of the world with lines like “There’s doors and… more doors. And behind all the doors, there’s another inside, and another outside. And things happen, happen, HAPPENING. It never stops.”
Simple lines like this warrant profound reflection on things in the world we may not always think about. Speaking to the greater nature of the world in a way that only an innocent child could, Jack demands, in many ways, that we rediscover the world that he is experiencing for the first time. These insights do not come from a place of unbelievable moral superiority, as in other child actors (i.e. Haley Joel Osment in Pay it Forward (2000)), but from a child making valid observations on simple aspects of life. Jack says things keep happening, we must ask why.
In its one hour and 58-minute run time, Room explores an enormous amount of ground. Philosophically, Room feels much like Plato’s allegory of the cave, as morsels of the outside world find their way into the enclosure. On this level, the film works well at establishing the parameters of existence for Ma and Jack—Ma’s yearning for the outside and Jack’s ignorance of it.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is placed mise-en-scene and referenced numerous times, paralleling Ma’s plight and languish. Alice was not always in wonderland, and Ma was not always in Room. The effect of all these elements lends to a very smart film, calling to mind what our collective reality consists of, all the while showing how that reality is viewed by a child who has been denied it for so many years.
Room will continue to infiltrate the minds of viewers days after its viewing. It demands a careful eye to appreciate the kind of craft that went into telling a story in a box. It marvelously establishes the fragile balance of innocence and survival, as a mother must defile and dismantle a child’s view of the world, a worldview she created, to secure a better future.
Ma speaks to Jack, urging him to come to terms with the fact that he cannot change some things, that a greater reality exists outside the limited one he knew. Looking on her with innocent eyes, he says he knows.
Fearing that she has failed him as a mother, a tearful Ma says, “I’m not a very good ma.”
Echoing the sentiment she just gave him, Jack responds, “But you’re still Ma.”
And the world kept on spinning.
Featured Image By Element Pictures