Larsen & Tremblay in Room

Room movie review

In a nutshell: Brilliantly crafted and performed, psychologically astute and moving, Room contrasts the struggle of a kidnapped mother and child to adapt to life in and out of incarceration.

Room features: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Writer: Emma Donoghue

Australian release date: Thu 28 Jan

Reviewer: rolanstein

More often than not in movie adaptations of novels literary artifacts remain: excessive voice-over narration, complex dialogue, story lines that are crammed or have gaps. In the case of Room, based on a novel by Emma Donoghue (who also wrote the screenplay) the page to screen transition is seamless, thanks not only to the writing, but to the fine direction and cinematography, and the superb performances of the two leads. The nominations of the film for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress in a Leading Role at the coming Oscars are well justified.

The initial setting is the interior of a single room back yard shed in which a mother and son are being held captive. Shot from the point-of-view of 5-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who having been fathered by their captor has known nothing else, the room is presented not so much as a claustrophobic prison, but a space verging on homely that seems larger than it is. The camera lingers over features of the room as the little boy does the rounds before bed and in the morning, bidding goodbye or hello to the toilet, the stove, the bed…

The entire focus of “Ma” (Brie Larson) is on trying to normalise their situation for Jack, and keep him as healthy as possible. She supervises his teeth-brushing and maintains a daily vitamin and exercise regime. She keeps him stimulated by feeding his imagination, and for his fifth birthday makes him a cake.

Jack sleeps in a wardrobe, kept hidden from his unacknowledged father (who makes nocturnal visits for sex). They refer to him as Old Nick. Reducing him to a name like a bad character in a fairy tale and keeping Jack out of his orbit is the only semblance of control his mother has. She may be Old Nick’s possession, but she’s damned if he’s going to have any part in Jack’s life, or Jack any part in his.

True to type, Old Nick is a pathetically self-centered and psychologically immature brand of monster, seemingly oblivious to the outrageous abuse he is imposing on his captives. When he announces that he has lost his job and is struggling to afford their daily vitamin supplements, and complains about how expensive their incarceration is for him, he expects sympathy and gratitude.

Ma has protected her little boy from any sense of limitation or captivity by having him believe that nothing exists outside “Room” (a singular entity like “Earth”, where use of the article is redundant) and the imaginary world of TV. However, with their captor’s loss of income posing a risk of even worse living conditions, she introduces another dimension to Jack’s world – Grandma’s house – which is key to their subsequent escape.

If this sounds like a spoiler, it is and it isn’t. The point here is not their escape from incarceration, but the contrast between life in and outside Room, and how it affects mother and son. The second part of the movie explores this in exquisite and acute detail. For instance, Jack’s initial step on to a new surface – the tiled floor of the hospital – after his first night of freedom, is a profound moment for him and a moving one for us. His discovery of the sky, the clouds and the busy world of roads and traffic through the hospital window fills him with wonder.

While Jack blooms as his world expands exponentially, his mother finds herself in a new prison every bit as imposing as Room and perhaps more acutely isolating. No longer in total possession of her child, she must confront the reality that they are separate beings, that the world of Room that she had so carefully cultured to protect them both is gone forever, that no one else has been through her experience or fully understands it, and that she faces new battles in resuming her parental relationships and confronting her demons within.

Truly fascinating stuff, brilliantly handled by Larsen and especially Jacob Tremblay, who demonstrates a prodigious understanding of his character and capacity to become the part. He must have been tremendously well coached in his role, certainly, and yes, virtually all children are natural actors, but this kid’s EQ is off the charts. For me, the Bolger sisters in In America set the high water mark for child actors – Master Tremblay is their equal.

There has a been a run of terrific movies recently, and Room is another beauty. Make hay.

Movie website:

For other Boomtown Rap movie reviews, see Movie Review Archives

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.