Brie Larson won the Oscar, and deservedly so, for her heart-rending performance in Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Irish playwright Emma Donaghue’s bestselling, Booker-shortlisted novel … but it could just as easily have been Jacob Tremblay (eight when he shot the film) taking home a trophy – except that, to the Academy’s lasting shame, he wasn’t even nominated. But no matter, because Room will endure, both as an intensely emotional thriller, and as an enthralling exploration of multiple themes: the unshakeable bond between mother and child, the subjectivity and malleability of a child’s worldview, and the horror of being trapped by circumstances entirely beyond one’s control.
The ten-by-ten ‘Room’ is the only reality five-year-old Jack has ever known: literally born in captivity, he has spent his short life among the few belongings in the eponymous prison in which his Ma (Larson) has been trapped since her kidnap by a Joseph Fritzl type (“just your ordinary monster,” as the novel describes him), who keeps her locked up for his own sexual and sociopathic gratification. Ma is no simpering victim – she’s resourceful and smart, but her captor is no fool either, and it will take more than a careless slip-up if Ma and Jack are ever to escape.
Working from Donaghue’s own expertly structured script, Abrahamson fashions a film that creates its own self-contained reality, just as Ma invents a plausible rationale for the confined space in which she and her beloved son – the unintended consequence of one of her tormentor’s regular rapes – co-exist. Which begs the question, what will happen if they ever escape their prison and rejoin everyone else’s reality? Room’s exquisitely painful turn of the screw means that the viewer, trapped like its protagonists in the artificial reality of ‘Room’, is wondering too. It’s an indelible, unforgettable film, enhanced on Blu-ray by seven illuminating featurettes. It’s just a pity the all-male audio commentators (Abrahamson, production designer, editor and cinematographer) get mired in technical matters: the absence of Donaghue and Larson’s point of view is deeply felt.