Not seven days, nor seven months, but seven years, that is how long the character, Ma, real name ‘Joy,’ has been living in a garden shed at the start of the poignant and unsettling film “Room.” The character is completely embodied by actress Brie Larson (Short Term 12), who won a BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Oscar for her performance in the movie. She is not alone, her son, Jack, portrayed in a nuanced manner by Jacob Tremblay (Before I Wake), has been there for a duration of five years. Their captivity is thanks to Joy’s effort to be kind to a stranger; a trait taught to her as a child by her parents, Nancy and Robert, who are played in the film by three time Oscar nominee, Joan Allen (The Contender) and Emmy winner, William H. Macy (Fargo). A man, known as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), asked a then seventeen year old Joy, if she could help him find his lost dog. The ruse worked, and for her kindness, Joy has been imprisoned in the shed, behind a steel door, that has an electronic keypad. In the confining space, during the evenings, Old Nick has used Joy as his sex slave, which results after the first two years, in her getting pregnant with Jack.
The room Joy and Jack live in contains very little furniture, and their one source of entertainment besides each other, is a television that gets poor reception. There are no windows to look out, but outside light does comes through a skylight on top of the shed. Five year old, Jack, not knowing anything but what his mother has taught him, thinks that the way they live is normal. In addition to structuring Jack’s daily life with routine and learning, Joy has explained to him that ‘room’ is the world, and everything outside of it is outer space, even the people on television, she tells Jack, aren’t real. Larson’s character’s whole world inside the constricting confines of the room is to attend to Jack’s well-being, even her own health, such as the rotting tooth that hurts her, which eventually falls out of her mouth, comes second to Jack’s needs. Joy has hidden the fact from Jack that they are prisoners as a way to protect him. (As an aside: In order to prepare for the role, Brie Larson gave up her telephone and internet, as well as stuck to a strict diet, while confining herself to her home for a period of one month.)
Jack’s hair has never been cut, because after a failed escape attempt on Joy’s part, where she used the lid of the toilet as a weapon to strike her captor, Old Nick has never given her the chance to get her hands on something that can be used against him. A short time into the film, however, Joy begins to again plot an eventual path to freedom for Jack and herself. This is spurred on by Old Nick, who brings the two of them food and supplies. During one evening, he reveals to Joy that he has been out of work for the past several months, and that money is tight; a point which is brought home to her when the electricity in the shed is shut off.
After Old Nick’s financial reveal, Joy realizes she has to begin telling the truth to Jack about their existence. Jack is resistant at first, when Joy begins to explain to him that ‘room’ is just an infinitesimal part of the overall world. He doesn’t want to hear it because in his mind ‘room’ is his whole world. The more Joy tries to convince Jack, the more hard truths she has to reveal, especially the one as to how she came to be in the shed in the first place. Jack, in the end, believes in what his mother is telling him, and tries to help them escape. Joy’s first plan backfires. The next idea she has for their escape is more daring. Jack will be required to pretend he is dead, after Joy rolls him up in a rug. She is hoping that Old Nick, will believe that she is grief stricken, as she cries and screams, at the rolled up rug. Joy makes Old Nick promise to give Jack a proper burial. She knows that he will have to transport Jack in his pickup truck, and has instructed her son to jump out of the truck when Old Nick stops for a light. Afterwards, he is to run and give a note she has written out for him to the first person he sees.
“Room” premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, on September 4, 2015. The 118 minute movie was directed by Oscar nominee, Lenny Abrahamson (Frank). The film was adapted for the screen by Oscar nominee Emma Donoghue, from her best-selling novel of the same name, which was published by Little, Brown and Company on September 13, 2010. The book is narrated from Jack’s point of view, and while the film delivers voice-overs from Jack, Donoghue opted to change her approach when writing the screenplay.
Will Joy’s plan succeed? Does Old Nick discover the boy is alive before he has a chance to flee? There are many other questions that will arise during the viewing that will be answered by the end of the film, but bringing them up in this post would give too much away and I don’t want to spoil it for those of you who have not yet seen the movie.
There is a great deal more to the story than I have shared here. “Room,” while at times for many, might be hard to watch, and understandably so, it is nonetheless a film that should be watched by those who love superb acting and well conceived drama.