Room may deal with the dark subject matter, but the some-what bleak ride is worth it for the heart-warming resolve.
Room drops the audience into a situation that most people have only read about. Ma has been kidnapped, and raped repeatedly for seven years. She’s also reared a healthy boy, Jack, in a room that’s the size of a tool shed. The story begins with the child turning five, and the majority of it is told from his perspective. And while this may be a daring choice—considering the dark circumstances—it pays off. The child’s bright disposition juxtaposes the bleak situation that the two find themselves in.
The raw human element of the film is owed to the acting of both Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson. Without Tremblay’s convincing performance as Jack, much of the film’s realism would fall apart—nothing fucks up a film worse than a child actor that can’t act. His dialogue is also spot-on: It’s never campy or jarringly intellectual. He walks the line between the two, as a brutally honest kid that’s does his best to adapt to the scenario that he finds himself in.
The other half of the human element in Room is Brie Larson. Maybe it’s the tank-top, plastic wrist-watch, and matted brunette hair, but for the first act of the film, she reminded me of Ripley in Aliens, trying to comfort Newt (link)—in this case, Jack. Ma doesn’t physically overpower anyone, but that’s unimportant; her strength lies in her mental endurance. She’s not only adaptive and smart, but she manages to raise a boy that shares her traits and is willing to challenge his whole reality, and escape.
And this is where the film gets interesting; The struggle of the film isn’t the escape, that’s only in the first act. The struggle is a psychological one of two people who escape hell, only to miss it. They prefer the cold dark comfort of ‘Room’ to the bright and loud immensity of the ‘Real World.’ The boy isn’t bothered much by the divide in his head. He builds Lego shacks and looks after his mother, who can’t understand her urge to return to the room.
On a philosophical level—like Ex Machina—the framework of the narrative is that of Plato’s Cave: the idea that, if one were chained in a cave from infancy, facing a blank wall, and never permitted any exit, one would come to accept the wall, and the shadows cast upon it, as the limit of their reality. When given leave, one would see the grand nature of reality, and fearfully return to the cave.
The first act takes place in the Cave. Here, the shadows mentioned above are supplanted by cable television and the small skylight they have to view the world. The second act is their introduction to the outside world, which is captured perfectly by the boy’s reaction to seeing the never-ending sky for the first time—scored perfectly by the song Mighty Rio-Grande by This Will Destroy You. And, the third deals with their desire to return to the cave, or ‘Room.’
And they do, but only for closure; Ma and Jack are stronger than Plato conceived. They revisit the small tool shed, some how smaller than boy remember’s, while an autumn snow drifts in. The boy says his goodbyes in his literal way, and the mother in hers. They leave ‘Room’ behind, and move forward together, embracing the sometimes frightening world that they’ve been thrust into. Ma and Jack are by no means completely adjusted, but they are strong enough to endure the psychological winter ahead.